This is the article in the “XC Town USA” series that I have been
After finishing our tour of the west, we flew east to New England. How could
I be dreading writing about New England, you ask? Well, I'm not dreading that
– writing about New England will be fun. I grew up there, I already know my
favorite places. The part I am dreading is telling all the midwesterners that
we skipped right over their whole region on our way east. How do I explain to
thousands of fanatical cross country skiers that I didn't even go to their area
to find XC Town USA? Well, it won't be easy, and I am pretty sure that none
of my reasons will be acceptable to anyone between Michigan and North Dakota.
But I still have to try to fast-talk my way out of this one. Here it goes…
The main reason for our exploratory road trip was to find a new place to live;
finding XC Town USA was a secondary goal. And one simple fact had convinced
me that we weren't moving to the midwest: The last 10 races I have gone to in
the midwestern part of the continent were all cancelled. Yes, thats right: ten
in a row – all cancelled. The 2000 Birkie, the 2000 Canadian National Championships
(scheduled for Thunder Bay – all four races moved to Canmore, which I could
not get to), and last year's Olympic-qualifying Continental Cup races in Thunder
Bay and Telemark Resort (five races between the two venues). That is a lot of
money wasted to get to races that did not happen. I fully understand that, when
snow is at least average, the midwest has some of the best skiing anywhere.
But in recent winters, Mother Nature just hasn't cooperated. Last December,
while I was in Minnesota praying unsuccesfully that the Continental Cups would
happen, I was rollerskiing (!) with Erik Stange and Chad Giese. Chad and I were
discussing my plan to move away from Park City. He said that based upon what
I had gone through on that trip, he was "not even going to try to convince
me to move to Minnesota." He knew that this was just one bad experience
too many for me.
Rollerskiing in the Twin Cities in December 2001 – note the green grass
But that is not the only reason. After all, any place can have a bad snow year
or two. Another reason is that I love big mountains. I love to look up at them
and feel very small. It is a good reminder that no matter how wrapped up we
get in our lives, we are all just a very small part of a much bigger whole.
But even more than looking up at them, I love to get to the top of the mountain,
by my own power, and look down. The hills of the midwest just aren't big enough
for my liking. I have often wondered, if I could only have snow or mountains,
which would I choose? The more I think about it, I think I could handle no snow
better than I could handle no mountains. But fortunately, I plan on moving to
a place that has both.
One more thought. Since I started writing this column almost two months ago,
I have received many emails from people nominating their favorite ski towns.
People have suggested towns from Portland, Maine to Fairbanks, Alaska with many
in between. But curiously, I did not get a single suggestions for any place
west of New York and east of Colorado.
So having said all that, I am going to do my best to discuss the places in
the midwest which deserve recognition. After all, the midwest is still a wonderful
place to be a cross county skier. It seems like a number of places in the midwest
should be near the top of the list. A strong Scandinavian heritage prevails
throughout the midwest. That means that not only do a lot of people ski, they
also have an appreciation of the sport and its long history.
First of all, you have to consider Hayward & Cable Wisconsin because of
the Birkie alone. Any town that can attract 8000 skiers to a race could easily
be XC Town USA. But one race and one trail do not make an xc town. For one week
a year – next week in fact – the Birkie trail and the towns on either end are
the undisputed XC Town USA, but for the other 51 weeks, I don't think they can
keep the title.
Minneapolis/St. Paul has more cross country skiers than any other city in America,
and with the success of their recent City of Lakes Loppet, the Twin Cities deserve
notice. But without a top notch ski facility within the city, and very scarce
snow the past few years, it will be hard to convince those from out of town
that this is the best ski town we have to offer. Now if they ever build the
ski tunnel, we might have to reconsider.
Giants Ridge is an excellent ski facility, but there really isn't a ski town
to go with it. Whenever I have gone to Giants Ridge, we have stayed in Evelyth.
And the town that hosts the Hockey Hall of Fame is not also going to be the
best xc ski town in the country.
Duluth is also a big town for xc skiers. To be honest, I have driven through
Duluth but never stopped, so I can't sit here and tell you why or why not it
is a great ski town. I have heard that it is, but maybe someone else can fill
me in on the details?
Marquette, Michigan is probably the strongest contender among midwestern towns.
Great snowfall, good trails. They also have a US Ski Team development center at
Northern Michigan University. In fact, when I graduated from college I came
very close to going to Marquette to train. I thought it was a done deal and
I was ready to go. But, at the last minute, that plan fell through and I went
Utah instead. For that reason alone, I did not want to go back to Marquette
at this time.
Those would be at the top of my list. But I am, by no means, an expert on the
midwest. So as a peace offering to those of you who may, rightly, feel slighted
by my overlook, I would like to publish an article with thoughts from those
of you who do live in the midwest. Would you consider a certain midwest town
to be XC Town USA? Which one and why? If I get enough responses, I will publish
excerpts from the best. Send me an email!