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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Keeping skiers motivated in a snowless winter

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/13/23

ELY— Motivating athletes in practice is always a challenge for a coach. But motivating Nordic skiers in the North Country’s thus-far nearly snowless winter to date is providing an even …

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Keeping skiers motivated in a snowless winter


ELY— Motivating athletes in practice is always a challenge for a coach. But motivating Nordic skiers in the North Country’s thus-far nearly snowless winter to date is providing an even bigger test for Ely Nordic Ski Head Coach Todd Hohenstein, now in his second year at the helm of Ely’s always impressive team.
“It has been very different from last year,” noted Hohenstein. “It’s a great lesson in accepting what is not under our control and doing the most with what we do control.”
The maintenance staff at Hidden Valley can often work miracles with even a few inches of snow, but in a winter featuring near record-warm temperatures for weeks and barely an inch or two of snow in the few weeks, there’s just nothing to work with. Last year at this time, the area had nearly two feet of snow on the ground and trail conditions had been excellent for weeks, giving skiers a great start to the season.
This year, rather than skiing, team members are training through trail running, hiking with ski poles, bounding up hills, and building strength through a variety of other exercises.  “It’s all good training,” said Hohenstein, “but over-use injuries, both the physical and mental, have increased. So, we’ve tried to be creative with keeping practice fresh.”
Recently, the team took a break from the physical training and sat down at the Hidden Valley chalet to watch a replay of the women’s World Cup racing from Finland.  “There were snacks at the chalet, while our skiers took a break from their workout to think about skiing on snow,” said Hohenstein.
This past week, the team did get its first opportunity to train on real snow during a visit to Giants Ridge. “There were plenty of logistics to make it happen, but I have never been at a practice for any sport that was as joyful and euphoric as those two hours on snow,” said Hohenstein. “All the skiers were smiling as they finished the practice doing several intervals as if finishing their race.  It was exactly what our team needed to get through to our first meet on Tuesday.”
The practice at Giants Ridge was possible only because the ski area’s snowmaking capabilities. The ski course in Duluth also has the ability to make snow, so that meet was able to go on despite the lack of snow generally. “Our next meet in December is on the 19th,” said Hohenstein, so, hopefully by then we are grooming natural snow, but Grand Rapids also has snowmaking capability.”
While better than nothing, Hohenstein noted that skiing on man-made snow generally limits the courses to short oval loops. “Skiers end up doing multiple loops on courses that may only be 1.5 kilometers long,” he said.
Skiers may end up with a break after the 19th, depending on the weather. “After the 19th, we’ll take it one day at a time,” said Hohenstein. “Another trip down to the Ridge for an afternoon is definitely a possibility.”
Assuming the snow finally arrives, the Ely skiers have high hopes. The boys’ team, dominated by sophomores last year, is returning with all of last year’s strong competitors. “Duluth East will be very hard to beat, but the boys are setting their sights on earning a state tournament entry by taking second at sections,” said Hohenstein. “The girls will be rebuilding from last year as 4 members of the section team graduated.  The younger skiers are excited about the opportunity to move up.”
For now, they’re all waiting on Mother Nature to deliver the white stuff.