Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Braving the cold: cross-country skiing

By Nick Bravos
Cardinal Staff

Minnesota winters do not hinder cross-country skiers—in fact, they’re probably the only ones who do not want an early spring.

The trail system in the bluffs has been described as one of the finest in the Midwest, and on Jan. 30, SMU hosted 100 participants in the seventh annual 10K cross-country ski race. Not only do the trails bring together skiers of all ages, styles and talents, but they are also a hot spot in the warmer months for hiking and running.

Since the mid-1970s, skiers in Brother John Grover’s month-long classical skiing class have cruised the trails in the bluffs.

For the past 40 years, Grover has found his passion in cross-country skiing, and can be seen powering out the trails. “I go every day when I can; there’s no better exercise,” said Grover.

SMU’s Environmental Awareness Center (EAC) holds an arsenal of outdoor equipment such as skis, ski boots, tents, sleeping bags, canoes, kayaks, and snowshoes that are free to rent with a student ID. “There have been times where the ski equipment is almost completely checked out,” Grover said.

Most of the equipment in the EAC is donated from within the community, and the money Grover makes from his class goes towards new equipment. “So, really, I don’t get paid for the class, it’s just a hobby,” said Grover.

Every year, 7,000-8,500 other skiing enthusiasts from all across the nation gather in Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner. “The Birkie” is North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon stretching from Cable to Hayward, Wis.; it spans 50K (31 miles) for skaters, and 54K (34 miles) for classical skiers.

“There are fewer than 30 of us who have completed the 54K Birkie more than 32 times,” Grover said. Veterans like Grover “get to wear a special golden bib during the race.”

Beginning in 1976, Brother Jerome Rademacher carved out and groomed the trails in the bluffs known as Yon’s Valley into the “35-year work in progress it is today,” Grover said, “around 16K.”

Two years ago, Rademacher’s battle with supranuclear palsy became severe, causing him to now reside at St. Anne Extended Healthcare. In Rademacher’s absence, Winona’s Nordic Ski Club has stepped in to help take care of grooming.

Before Rademacher took his leave for health reasons, skiers could see him doing what he loves: grooming the trails with his tractor and skiing. SMU has its own grooming tractor, or Piston Bully, that runs up and through the bluffs with a sled behind it to manipulate and compact the snow. “We also have two snowmobiles with different sleds that compacts and creates grooves,” Grover said.

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