This week, Super Tour racing action continued in Minnesota, a venue that was unfamiliar to me before this week. Traveling to a new location, I was excited for a chance to check out Minneapolis’ skiing hotspots and generally see what the Midwestern city had to offer for the active-minded. As a true New Englander, I could not completely break free from the idea of “fly-over” state which lingered somewhere in the back of my mind as I arrived at the St. Paul International Airport. From the first evening’s recovery jog however, I started to see that there were several attributes to make the city stand out from the normal pavement and brick monotony of a modern city.
First things first, the hospitality of the city’s inhabitants is incredible. In the three days before my arrival, I was able to call the Super Tour organizers and ask about the possibility of arranging a housing option for my weekend. Perhaps this has something to do with the Midwestern moral fiber, or the generosity of the Nordic skiing community, but I had a place to stay, rides to the venue, and even full wax support arranged within hours of my request. I was greeted with a warm smile and treated like family all weekend.
My first impressions of the city itself came on a jog around the neighborhood where I was staying. I had asked for the best place to run, and was directed to the “greenway” a collection of bike paths linking the various suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The paths are completely separated from motorized traffic, and are primarily used by an astonishing number of bike commuters and walkers. The idea of bike paths is of course nothing new, but the expansive network and the sheer number of people utilizing the paths as a way of daily commute immediately gave me a sense that the city’s 3 million inhabitants possess a clear understanding of the importance of environmental conservation and healthy lifestyles.
Speaking of health and exercise, Minneapolis’ population enjoys access to over 30 cross country ski areas within a 40 minute drive of city center. Out of the total, over 10 ski centers have snow making capabilities, lit trails for night skiing, and full-sized grooming equipment. It is no wonder that over 400 participants arrived on Saturday morning for the 2010 Mayor’s Challenge race which served both as a Super Tour competition as well as CXC JOQ race. The event at Theodore Wirth Park was part of the event organizers’ final preparations for next year’s Junior Olympic Championships which will be held here in March of 2011. Truly a spectator’s course, the rolling terrain winds through the park in such a way that the racers can be seen at over a dozen points throughout the race without having the need to change their viewing position.
The only downside to the weekend was the unseasonably warm weather that engulfed the twin cities’ area for the duration of my stay. I was assured by several residents that 33 degrees was quite warm for January, a statement I verified through weather.com’s historical temperature feature. Apparently, back in 1885, the weather was even warmer: a balmy 53 degrees, but since then has been at an average of 21 for this particular weekend. I guess it’s good that the Super Tour was not in existence back then.
In any case, the event organizers did a wonderful job of working with adverse weather conditions, making both days run as smoothly as they should for a competition of this magnitude. I am sure that next year’s Junior Olympic competitions will bring even more exposure to the Midwestern city, and the endless skiing possibilities it provides. Until then, it’s back to Maine for some cold weather and more skiing.