Nordic skiers have plenty of happy trails in Rochester
There are four parks in Rochester that each have more than 10 kilometers of groomed trails for cross country skiing. One facility will soon have snow-making capability.
ROCHESTER — Minnesota has plenty of winter weather, but Andy Wood would prefer if the cold and snow lasted all year long.
Wood is a longtime Nordic (cross country) skier who is among the many enthusiasts in the area who take advantage of the four groomed trails in Rochester.
“I’d ski all year long if I could,” Wood said.
Thanks to people like Wood and many others in the Rochester Active Sports Club and Nordic Ski Club, cross country skiers of all levels have ample opportunities to enjoy the sport, and the season should extended in the near future.
There are four main cross-country ski trails that are groomed regularly in Rochester: At Quarry Hill Park, Essex Park, Chester Woods Park and Gamehaven Park. Each facility has at least 10 kilometers of trails.
“I would estimate there are a couple of thousand (area) people who ski a fair amount,” David Herbert said. “And there’s a lot of people that might go rent a pair of skis at Quarry Hill Park.”
Herbert is the president of the Rochester Active Sports Club and the head coach of the Rochester Nordic high school team. The high school team has 120 members in grades 7-12, which includes students from all of the Rochester high schools and also from a number of area schools. The team also includes 40 volunteer coaches.
Volunteers maintain trails
The ski trails at both Quarry Hill and Essex Park are maintained by volunteers from the RSAC. The volunteers also work on the trails in the summer, mowing the grass to provide hiking trails and also keep a nice base for the winter season.
“Our goal is to teach a lifetime sport to everybody in Rochester,” Wood said. “All of us are very passionate about Nordic skiing.”
Keeping the trails groomed to perfection is part of the plan to get as many people as possible involved in Nordic skiing in the area.
“RASC has been heavily involved with building these trails and that’s been a core for getting these kids out on skis,” Henry Walker said. “Because you really need good conditions for kids to learn how to ski, adults, too.”
The 56-year-old Walker is the main trail groomer at Quarry Hill, and he is the junior varsity coach of the high school Nordic ski team. Wood, who is also an assistant high school coach, is the top trail groomer at Essex Park.
Walker said the key for a strong course is to have a good skiing base that is smooth and well groomed. He said skiers shouldn’t have to fight ridges or rough terrain and should be able to control and manage their skis.
“It just makes a world of difference,” Walker said. “They learn faster and pick it up faster that way. … You want a good smooth surface that people can predict and it takes the scariness out of it.”
Quarry Hill Park and Essex Park have two separate groups of volunteers, about seven at each, and with equipment at each facility.
The grooming process starts with pressing the trails with a roller, which is pulled behind an ATV. A second person is then sent out in an ATV that tows a Ginzugroomer, which sets a skate deck and can also set a track (a groove for skis) for classic skiers. Snowmobiles are also used to help groom trails.
There are enough trails in Rochester that skiers of all different levels and abilities will be able to enjoy the sport. A flat surface may be more beneficial for a beginner where seasoned veterans like the challenge of a course with steep climbs and downhills that are extremely fast with big sweeping corners.
“We’ve certainly added some really good hills and some challenges,” Walker said. “But there is also a broad spectrum that any skier can take on. Quarry Hill has beautiful trails for just a beginner and then a little bit more intermediate and a little better. And we also have some very tricky hills for anyone who wants to ski at that level.”
Walker said a grooming session for him at Quarry Hill is about three and a half hours. Wood said it takes him about two and half to three hours to groom the trails at Essex Park. Volunteers try to groom both facilities twice a week.
Chester Hills and Gamehaven are maintained by the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department.
Making snow at Gamehaven
Gamehaven Park opened in 2022 and not only features 11 kilometers of trails, but 3.5 kilometers of the trails will have access to snow-making equipment to keep the trails stocked with fresh snow and open longer each season.
“We’ve been really advocating for that because it will allow us to get skiing earlier and the snow-making that gets laid down, the snow is super cold so it lasts a really long time,” Herbert said.
With about five days of 20-degree weather, the snow-making machines could be ready to set up the 3.5 kilometer course, which would be 10-12 feet wide and 18 inches deep.
The end of the season should also be extended as Herbert said an 18-inch snow base could last well into April. That will delight the hard-core skiers like Wood.
“We have the equipment, the pumps, hoses, but we have not turned them on yet because they’re waiting for final checklists and permits,” Herbert said.
In addition to the funds the city has put up, the RASC has a goal of raising $200,000 to help out Gamehaven. Herbert said about $60,000 has already been raised. The RASC, which has more than 700 members, has a website at rasc-mn.org which lists club activities.
Gamehaven also has a tubing hill and in the warmer months there is disc golf and numerous hiking and bike trails.
“Really establishing snow-making at Gamehaven is the biggest key so we have consistent trails,” Walker said. “The environment keeps changing on us. We’re going from really cold to really warm conditions, it’s so unpredictable.”
One thing that will be predictable, however, is die-hard skiers like Walker and Wood will be out maintaining and using the trails in the city.
They will also try to educate and teach anyone who has a desire to learn about the sport. There are different skis, boots, poles and waxes not to mention all different types of clothing to wear depending on the weather. There is also the matter of nutrition and hydration for skiers.
“I could teach you how to cross country ski in an afternoon,” Wood said, “but you will spend the rest of your life perfecting it. That’s the cool thing about it, I learn something new every year.”
Groomed ski trails in Rochester
Quarry Hill: Skis are available to be rented for use at this park. There are about 12 kilometers of trails and the park is groomed by volunteers of the Rochester Active Sports Club.
Essex Park: There are about 10-12 kilometers of trails at the park. The park is groomed by volunteers of the Rochester Active Sports Club.
Gamehaven Park: The park opened in 2022 and is groomed by the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department. There are 11 kilometers of trails, and there will be snow-making equipment to maintain 3.5 kilometers of those trails and keep them in use longer each season.
Chester Woods Park: The Park Department grooms the trails and there are about 10-12 kilometers of trails. There is no admission fees to use any of the four facilities.