What? Cancel skiing because of snow?
CLOQUET--The school district called off all after-school practices Tuesday. It was an incongruous policy act for a ski team; however, it didn't seem to stop the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton cross country ski team from enjoying an unofficial gathering at the Pine Valley chalet and ski trails.
First, assistant coach Dusty Olson arrived. He was there to get keys from veteran but new-to-us coach Glen Sorenson. Olson, an adventurer, had been in Bozeman, Mont., earlier in the week. He brought home with him his tackle boxes of ski waxing gear and waxing tables that folded like massage tables. In tow was his beautiful chestnut dog that belied her 16 years by pouncing and prowling in the bounty of new snow. She played her favorite game while we waited for Sorenson, jumping and biting at the snowballs that Olson soft tossed toward her muzzle.
"I tell people from Steamboat [Springs, Colo.], Sun Valley [Idaho], Breckenridge [Colo.] that we've got lighted trails and they're like, 'Really?!?'" Olson said. "None of those places have lighted trails. This is quite a place."
Sorenson arrived carrying a bevy of cross country skis like logs to a fire. This is a man who doesn't ever carry himself too seriously, though we should take him as such. He's a science teaching savant -- the most engaging high school teacher this author ever encountered. He started the Proctor girls cross country ski program in 1979, then the boys in 1989. He opened the Marshall -- then Cathedral -- Nordic ski program in 1982. He retired from Proctor in 2010, and is now working at Esko. This is a fortuitous development for what is currently a 50-member CEC Nordic ski program.
Sorenson marveled that Cloquet Parks director Les Peterson had already groomed the trail. "I wasn't expecting that," he said.
Sorenson knows little about his team except for its enthusiasm.
"I haven't seen them ski!" he said.
He's been running the participants around the trails for a couple weeks, and getting them up to speed with 20-minute core workouts in and around the chalet. He says dry land workouts won't matter anymore, that his young charges will get their strength training by "double-poling up hills, no-pole skating ..." One gets the idea that he's got a list of workouts as long as Pine Valley's 5K. It is in these workouts that he'll learn his skiers' competitive DNA. And, in another fortuitous turn, he'll learn about their racing beginning Saturday, at the Snowflake 3-by-3K freestyle relays off Rice Lake Road in Duluth.
"It's the first meet of the year," Sorenson said. "It's always on the schedule and it's always canceled."
This is the earliest snow in many years. It not only drew Sorenson and Olson for the handoff of keys, but it drew some of the team's skiers, too. You can't lock the gym doors at Pine Valley. Sophomore Robbie Sobczak was the first to arrive. He's a first-year skier and already an eager student, having surrendered his hockey career for a turn in the fluffy stuff. He said he's drawn, in part, to the magnetism of both his coaches.
Lest anyone worry that Sorenson or Olson organized these impromptu arrivals, they did not.
"They didn't cancel skiing," said Sobczak, whose free will was his guide. "If there's a sport to be canceled today it should not be a groomed ski trail."
Fifth-year team member Hannah Erickson of Esko was among the next to show. She's a senior. When she woke to fresh snow, a prayer was
"I have been waiting for it to snow since last spring," she said. "It's what we train for.
"I enjoy the skiing high so much. It's like flying -- except safer."
A later arrival, wearing a look of determination on her face, was the team's fulcrum, a skier the admiring Erickson described as "blazing fast:" Erika Fox. The freshman from Carlton missed the state meet by a single finishing position at last year's sectional. She'll join Josh Carlson and Nolan Ripp as team leaders.
"I need to work harder this year than last year," said the all-business Fox.
Thus, there is not off day for her. There is no cancelation in training. There is only snow, and what to do with it. For the CEC ski team members, clearly theirs is a mantra of "use it before you lose it."