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Register for Cloquet Kids Ski this week

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It may not feel like winter is ever coming, but odds are good that the Northland will get snow this year and the trails and jumps at Cloquet's Pine Valley will be a hive of activity like they have been for more than 50 winters since Joe Nowak first dreamed up the idea of a ski training area for Cloquet.

The Cloquet Kids Ski programs is for younger Nordic (cross country) skiers (and their parent volunteers) and kids who want to try ski jumping. Current member registration is Sunday and Monday. New member registration will run from 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, Nov. 15 and 17, at the ski chalet in Pine Valley. Registration is $35 each, plus $5 per piece of rented ski equipment, including skis, poles and boots for Nordic (cross country) skis, alpine skis and jumping skis, depending what the child signs up for.

The Cloquet Ski Club meets for Nordic skiing fun in the chalet at 2 p.m. Sundays when the weather allows it, and jumpers meet at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and after Nordic skiing on Sundays, also when the weather allows it. Kids take their equipment home for the season so they can use it wherever and whenever they please.

Depending on the day, Cloquet Kids Ski Club coaches Ken Ripp and/or Pat Marciniak usually divide the kids and any parent volunteers 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.” 

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 Kids 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 five years ago. 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 Joe Nowak, Al Spafford, Jack Quinn, John Luomala or, more recently, Schillo, Jon and Billie 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.”