The Roots of Skiing: Racing at Phil’s Farm

Jason KaskApril 29, 2023

The last races of the season are already past. In that last month of ski racing, World Cup finals happened for Para Nordic at Soldier Hollow, the Holmenkollen 50k made history for offering the first women’s 50km race and Spring Series capped off the elite domestic racing here in the states. But those high-profile events were not the only ones being staged: this year, my friend Phil sent out a notice for a race on his trails on April 8th. Racing in April—especially in Minnesota—was something to embrace. Not only was the date novel, but the opportunity to race at a buddy’s farm on narrow single track with a post-race chili feed and hot tubbing was something not to be missed.

Official results: Racing at Phil’s Farm. (Photo: Jason Kask)

It’s a lot of work to put on a race, and small races like this are becoming increasingly scarce. Without bringing in large revenues from crowds of racers, it quickly becomes a labor of love. We were not going to miss the opportunity!

My wife and I loaded up our two-year-old daughter into the mini van and drove over to Phil and Kelly’s. I didn’t have time ski the course beforehand, so I was pleased when the pre-race meeting went over the course. The competitors (all 12 of us) were told it was really fast. So fast, that before the race one participant went to the shed to find the slowest pair of skis available. There were two bare spots under trees and one corner where it was suggested that we go as slow as possible at the top of the hill because it was really fast and there was not enough room to snowplow. Another warning was that the course loops back on itself so if you are going to run into another competitor the person going slower should get out of the way (it was a downhill in one direction). This all added to the excitement of a late-season ski. Nobody had any kick, two people went on skate gear and everyone had a great time.

Perfect end to a great season: post-race relaxation, camaraderie, and storytelling on the deck and in the hot tub at Phil’s Farm. This is what April in Minnesota should be. (Photo: Jason Kask)

I’d spent the entire winter offering wax support on the Para World Cup scene, and advising clients who were worried about the Birkie: Phil’s Farm represented a race of an entirely different sort. There were no timing chips, no fencing, no V-board to follow, no waivers to sign. Just instructions that if you get out of the track you are probably going the wrong way. Race results were written in Sharpie on a damp legal pad. This simplicity was refreshing. Everyone finished and we had a brief awards ceremony before skiing back out to a cabin for chili and hot tubbing. It was a perfect end to a great ski season.

What a ski race is has changed dramatically over the years. My parents told stories of side-stepping whole courses before skiing in a track; now, we expect artificial snow with Piston Bully grooming. It’s easy to see why “perfection” has become the standard: I love a deep perfect track and corduroyed skate lane as much as the next skier, but there is a cost to this perfection. That cost is the impending demise of the little ski race, and that’s a sad thing. Sad, because ski racing is more than giant marathons, more than JNQs on homologated courses, more than SuperTours and the World Cups. Skiers can still love events that are staged without sponsor banners or television coverage; winters can still be loved and enjoyed with just a small group of like-minded, adventurous souls; and hand-timing can still deliver results quickly and accurately. These little races often support clubs or trails that need our support in order to continue maintaining the soul of cross-country skiing. So, if you hear of a little race happening, show up and make it a little bit bigger.


Jason Kask

Owner and operator of Superior Performance, Jason Kask is a coach certified through United States Ski and Snowboard, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

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