Desperately seeking snowfall
CLOQUET - When asked Tuesday how long he has been coaching the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton cross country ski team, Les Martin chuckled.
"This is my third year," he said, "and second with no snow."
Martin said this season he's been more of a planner than a coach, explaining his daily regimen of practice schedules drawn up due the lack of snow accumulation in these early winter months has been a
"I always have about four plans ready to go," said Martin, whose Lumberjacks have practiced indoors, outdoors, in a pool and on a pond all in their first month of the sport. "This isn't quite what we all signed up for. We're just hunting for snow."
His skiers agreed.
"Some days we don't even know where we're going to practice," said Cloquet senior Alyssa Michaelson. "Without snow, practicing is tough."
"You can't really ski without snow," added Esko senior Elly Siptroth. "You can't really train how you would like to. You can't get ready for the season fully."
Michaelson and Siptroth are the lone two seniors in the entire CEC Nordic ski program. The pair of ski enthusiasts has been on the varsity since seventh grade and both can remember back to when their first winter was much like this one - snowless.
"It wasn't this bad," said Michaelson about her Monday afternoon practice on a small pond just off of Big Lake. "We couldn't stand in a group, because we were afraid we might all fall through the ice. By the end of practice, the ice was cracking."
"You could even hear it popping!" added Siptroth.
Along with practicing on a pond, Siptroth said she and her CEC teammates have spent a few days training at Mont Du Lac in Superior, Wis., working out in a swimming pool, training inside on cardio workouts and running laps on their home course at Pine Valley in Cloquet.
So far this season, CEC participated in a meet at Mount Itasca last week and at Spirit Mountain Tuesday. Even with man-made snow, things didn't feel normal.
"I'd say this is probably the worst it has been," Siptroth said. "I mean, working on dry land and doing cardio helps, but it's nothing like working on your technique, form and speed on snow with your skis."
Martin compared it to basketball, explaining it's kind of like playing the game without a hoop to shoot in.
"... But more like having someone holding the hoop in place for you," he laughed.
That optimism has kept his Lumberjacks going thus far. Martin noted that around 35 kids are out for the boys and girls teams combined, mostly beginners.
"We have some good numbers; I think we'll be in good shape," Martin said. "I feel sorry for the parents and kids who have just been running around all over. We're never in the same place. I really do appreciate their efforts."
Martin also appreciates his pair of co-captains in Michaelson and Siptroth.
"They've been through this more times than I have," he said of his longtime skiing speedsters, who have become good friends through the sport. "They're constantly helping the younger kids keeping up their morale. Both of those two stuck with it for a long time now. That, in itself, says a lot."
Behind Michaelson and Siptroth, the CEC girls will look to defend their Lake Superior Conference title from a year ago, with lots of help from Esko juniors Molly Meysembourg, Korbyn Danielson and Esko freshman Hannah Erickson.
Despite losing Parker Goessling, who moved, according to Martin, and Reid Borchardt, who returned to wrestling, the boys will be paced by Carlton junior Duncan Fox, while Esko sophomore Matt Rengo, Cloquet sophomore Josh Carlson and Cloquet freshman Nolan Ripp will all also contribute to the boys team.
"We'd like to win the conference again," Siptroth said of her girls team. "But I'd really just like to get some snow. If not, we'll just adapt. Just like everywhere else we go."
Alpine hurting too, not as much though
CEC alpine ski Coach Ryan Zimny feels for the always-adapting Nordic crew.
"They're hurting," he said. "Spirit Mountain doesn't have their racing hills open yet, but for us, hey, it's better than nothing."
Entering his 10th season with the Lumberjacks, Zimny said the slight snowfall has hampered his team somewhat, but they are having an easier time than the Nordic team.
Like the Nordic bunch, Zimny's downhillers opened their season last week at Lutsen.
"That was an early race, we're still getting the cobwebs out," Zimny said. "The kids are very dedicated. Yesterday we practiced in the rain and I didn't hear one single complaint. Our girls team should be alright, while our boys are still young."
Zimny explained Esko sophomore Paige Tranah and Esko freshman Sarah Severson will be the head pair of skiers for the girls, while Cloquet sophomore Kaitlyn Knutson and Cloquet freshman Carly Boder will also contribute.
Esko sophomore Alex DeRocher will be the centerpiece for boys, while Esko sophomore Sam Sinnott and Cloquet juniors Isaac MacMillan and Jack Fossen will fill out a depth-plagued team with just a handful of skiers, Zimny said.