Cloquet Ski Club is growing under the watchful (and joyful) direction of Pat Marciniak and Ken RippAt 2 p.m. most Sunday afternoons during winter, the outer walls of the ski chalet at Pine Valley suddenly sprout multiple pairs of skis and poles. Inside, mostly children and teenagers sit around the tables in warm (but not too warm) winter clothes, waiting to hit the myriad of cross country ski trails that loop around the wooded hilly park.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
At 2 p.m. most Sunday afternoons during winter, the outer walls of the ski chalet at Pine Valley suddenly sprout multiple pairs of skis and poles. Inside, mostly children and teenagers sit around the tables in warm (but not too warm) winter clothes, waiting to hit the myriad of cross country ski trails that loop around the wooded hilly park.
Depending on the day, Ken Ripp and/or Pat Marciniak usually divide the kids and any parents going out into separate groups according to ability or type of skis (skate or traditional) and soon the chalet is empty again, as the members of the Cloquet Ski Club head out to play.
The key word here is “play” – not practice or train and certainly not drill.
“We try to teach them as best we can, but mostly try to make it fun and games,” Ripp said. “My big thing is, let the kids tell you what they want to do. Some kids do want to ski, but most want to ski a little and play some games: ultimate Frisbee with a soccer ball, freeze tag.”
And if your kid didn’t start at age 3, they say, don’t worry.
“As a parent and a coach and, back in the day, as someone who competed seriously, I think some folks today go way overboard,” Marciniak said. “I really wonder how much fun those kids are having, especially at a younger age.”
A shared passion
Between them, Marciniak and Ripp make up the perfect Cloquet Ski Club organizer. Their two halves make the whole package.
You have the hometown competitor in Marciniak who practically grew up at Pine Valley. The full-time firefighter learned to cross country ski when he still had all his baby teeth (age 3), taught by father Mike Marciniak, long-time Cloquet High School Nordic ski coach. In this part of the state, the Marciniak name is synonymous with skiing, as Mike coached
numerous high school teams to state championships in the
1960s and ’70s. Pat also skied competitively.
Now meet the doctor who “walks the walk” on physical fitness, running in the summer and skiing with equal enthusiasm when winter rolls around. Ripp also learned the art of cross country skiing from his dad as a youngster. However, while Marciniak skied competitively from sixth grade until he was 19 years old, Ripp was in his first competition during medical school. Ripp grew up in upstate New York and, while the family doctor has been skiing in Pine Valley for 15 years on lunch breaks from work at Raiter Clinic, he moved to Cloquet with his family about five years ago.
Personality-wise, the two also complement one another, with Ripp appearing to lean in the direction of an ever-in-motion Type A personality, while Marciniak comes across as more of a laid back Type B character.
When it comes to introducing kids to cross country skiing (and ski jumping), however, the two have the same idea.
“The big thing is to get the kids out there skiing,” Marciniak said. “We’d like to get it to be a feeder program for the high school, but the most important thing is to let them try it.”
Making the Cloquet Ski Club work isn’t a one- or two-man show, both are quick to point out. Brance Modin has paid for the club to be a Central Cross Country Ski Association (CXC) youth program; Paul Schillo made a track groomer for the club this year. There are other parents who help each week – Ripp noted that the assistance of Darren Rud has been “invaluable” – and other ski enthusiasts, like former Cloquet High School ski coach Brent Smith who teaches skills, city workers who keep the trails groomed and the lights on every night until close to 10 p.m., plus a whole host of people who blazed the trails before them.
People such as John Nowak, Al Spafford, Jack Quinn, John Luomala or, more recently, Schillo, Jon Waugh, Doug and Janice Merrill and Tim Michaelson all helped build the program at one time or another. There are more names, too many to list.
“We just kind of slid in,” Ripp said. “Some of the kids were graduating out and we were ready to take over the reins.”
That was four years ago. In those days, probably eight to 10 kids would show up on a Sunday afternoon, at least two or three of them belonging to Ripp (and wife Carolyn) and/or Marciniak (and wife Kim).
This winter it’s not unusual to see closer to 30 or 40 kids show up when the weather is right, plus a number of parents. In fact, there are so many kids signed up this year, the club ran out of equipment.
“I think a big part of our success is that we’ve kept the price low and we make equipment available,” Ripp said. “I know in Duluth that [buying equipment] was a barrier to a lot of families.”
The total cost to rent skis, boots and poles for the year – members take equipment with them for the season, so they can ski anywhere – plus join the Cloquet Ski Club generally comes in at under $50, versus the $100 to $150 someone might pay to buy equipment a child might soon outgrow. Most of the money collected goes into buying more equipment, much of it at the annual ski swap in Duluth. (Donations of money or used equipment are also happily collected, say the pair, noting that the ski club is a non-profit.)
“I’m proud to say that the Cloquet Ski Club is usually the first one through the door at the ski swap at Snowflake [Nordic Center] and we usually buy more equipment than anyone ever before,” Ripp said, laughing. “We get up there at around 6 a.m. It’s like a rock concert.”
Fun, and healthy too
Because part of every ski club Sunday session is fun and games, kids and parents often don’t realize how much exercise they’re getting.
After all, a game of “Fishy, fishy cross my ocean,” with participants chasing one another on skis (sans poles) uses a lot of different muscles, including whatever muscle is in charge of laughing.
While kids can use skate or traditional skis, Marciniak recommends they start with traditional, which teaches balance and builds the right muscles.
“You need to have a goodclassic technique to skate,” he said. “If you don’t have good balance, skating is just exhausting.”
It’s also a great way for older kids (and adults) to keep in shape between sports seasons.
“Soccer and skiing go together nicely,” Ripp noted. “If your kid doesn’t play hockey, which can get really intense, it’s a nice sport to get the kids outside and keep them moving in the winter.”
Tim Prosen couldn’t agree more. Prosen’s son Cale, 7, is there every Sunday, and a fierce competitor when it comes to the “fishy fishy” game. He’s also a pretty good ski jumper. Cale’s 4-year-old brother, Emmet, is learning to ski now, too.
“It’s good because they learn the skills, but they have fun that goes with it,” Prosen said. “It keeps it fresh, they exercise and have fun. And look at them, they don’t feel the cold either,” he added, gesturing at Cale and Emmet rolling down the hill after a recent ski club outing.
“The fees are nominal, the cardio-vascular benefits are supreme,” wrote Carolyn Ripp, in an e-mail touting the growth of the Cloquet Ski Club and the efforts of both her husband and Marciniak. “It’s a love of the sport they both share. … It is wonderful to see two individuals donate so much of their free time to a sport they both love.”
Ripp just wants kids – and their parents – to get out in the winter and enjoy Cloquet’s best kept secret: Pine Valley and its ski trails.
Kids jump higher in front of a crowd
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1, the Cloquet Ski Club will host the first half of the Northstar Cup, a ski jumping meet with the Itasca Ski and Outing Club from Coleraine. People are welcome to come and watch kids ages 4-15 jump. The meet will last until approximately 8:30 p.m., with all the jumps open and in use. Jumpers compete Tuesday in Cloquet, then Tuesday, Feb. 8, at Mt. Itasca and scores are combined to determine the winners. Food and warm drinks can be purchased in the chalet; proceeds go to the Cloquet Ski Club.
A citywide Nordic skiing and ski jumping meet is set for March 6. Anyone can compete. However, jumpers must be USSA members because of liability issues.
The Cloquet Ski Club meets from 2-3:30 p.m. most Sunday afternoons to ski; jumpers practice after skiing on Sundays and from 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more information on the Cloquet Ski Club or the upcoming meets, call Pat Marciniak at 879-9582.