Recreation Wellness

Chippewa Valley Offers Ample Opportunity for Cross-Country Exercise

Lauren Fisher |

The New You of the New Year needs a New Commitment to fitness, but the old standbys – such as running and biking, perhaps – are greatly inhibited by the chilly weather and several inches of snow on the ground. In the spirit of winter, it might be time to strap on some skis and take on a new sport.

Cross-country skiing is a hell of a great workout. It’s low-impact, aerobic, and full-body; and an often-proven path to becoming a healthy, mobile octogenarian. Best of all, it’s an easy sport to get started with in the Chippewa Valley winter.  We’ve got a few shops that can get people set up with all the equipment they need, trails galore, plenty of snow, and a robust community of skiers to get moving with.

The Benefits

• A full-body workout. Cross-country skiing – whether you’re a skate skier gliding across wide paths or a classic skier jogging along the side of a groomed trail – engages every part of your body. Skiers push with their legs and arms, strengthening shoulders, back, core, and glutes on down with every stride. Skate skiing, especially, opens up the hips, and all forms of skiing improve balance.

• Low-impact exercise. Unlike running, which requires athletes to pound the ground, skiing is all about getting your glide on. Skiers with good form don’t slam their feet into the earth; they push themselves across the top of the snow, minimizing the stress on your joints.

• A cardiovascular and respiratory win! Coordinating all that movement at a good pace will get your heart rate up, that’s for sure! Skiers build their endurance with every kick of the ski and pump of the pole.

• Low-input, high-reward. While skiing has many of the same benefits as running (plus a few, since it involves upper-body work) once you get into the swing of it, you get a lot of results from your efforts. The average human running speed is about 6-8 mph, while skiers on average 7-10mph. There’s nothing quite like flying along a well-groomed trail on a freshly waxed pair of skis.

• Great for solo skiers, great for social skiers. A solitary ski through a wooded trail can be just the thing to energize an introvert. However, if you’re in it for the post-ski beer with buddies, you’ll find plenty of company. Ski with a friend and challenge and encourage one another. Cross-country enthusiasts are generally a friendly bunch, and new friends can be found in warming huts and at ski swaps.

The How-To

Joe Wawrzaszek, co-owner of Spring Street Sports in Chippewa Falls, wasn’t always enthusiastic about winter. During his first year of college at UW-Eau Claire, one of his roommates had to drag him out into the snow to get him to see the light. They rented cross-country skis from the university recreation facility and started striding. It was all Joe needed.

“I was like, I am getting the hell out of this cold weather as soon as I got out of school,” Joe said. “But then I went cross-country skiing and I fell in love with winter.”
He loved getting out and moving, staying warm while taking in the snow-covered scenery. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the trail near campus was great to explore. “With skiing, there was a little bit of a thrill to it, too,” Joe recalled. “Some speed, a little more excitement to it.”

And he took that excitement to its limit, pursuing ski racing in college. These days, he’s more of a casual skier, really taking the time to enjoy it for itself.

Getting into skiing just takes a bit of support and investment. New skiers can purchase all-new equipment, hit up a ski swap (Spring Street Sports hosts one every November) pick up some used gear, or even rent skis, boots, and poles for a trial run. Both Spring Street Sports and Simple Sports in Menomonie offer these services.

There is one very important decision to make before putting down the cash, though: Do you want to skate ski or try classical? Skate skiing is a lot like ice skating in practice, with long, gliding strides, while classical skiing is much more like running, keeping skis parallel.

“We see a lot of folks rent to try out both styles of skiinig,” Joe said. “It’s really a whole different personality. Skating is definitely more dynamic, people want more speed, they’re maybe a bit more workout oriented, while classic, it’s something to do in the winter to get out and have fun.”

Joe encourages new hobbyists to pick a skier’s brain to learn more about the differences and find out what’s best for them. Any educated store hand will gladly discuss the benefits of each before fitting a new skier.

Joe remembers working as a ski instructor years ago, and how much of the job was just showing the motions to students so they could visualize and mimic them. “Now you can pull up dozens of YouTube tutorials and watch them while you’re eating your lunch,” he said.

For those who might want a more guided lesson, a local ski education group, the Ski Striders, offer adult lessons a few times per season (visit https://bit.ly/2SXA7En to learn more).

For beginning skiers, Joe has a few nuggets of wisdom. First, get right-sized gear. “You can’t teach a kid to ride on the wrong sized bike,” he said.

Second, start on the right foot. Choose a nice, not-too-cold day with good snow conditions for your first skiing excursion. He pointed out a second time, “If you’re going to teach a kid to fish, you’ve got to take ’em where they’re going to catch a lot of fish.” Especially for those trying to establish skiing as an exercise habit, a successful, lovely first time on skis will make for an experience you’ll want to return to again and again.

Joe scratches his head when people say they hate winter, or complain that it’s too cold or absent of opportunities to have fun.

“There isn’t bad weather, there’s just bad clothing,” he said. “We went to the moon a little while ago; I think we can go outside for a couple hours and not die.”

The Trails

Ski trails are plentiful, so get out in the snow!

Beaver Creek Reserve • S1 County Hwy K, Fall Creek • (715) 877-2212 • $5 for adults, $3 for children • Four miles of trails and seasonal ski rentals.

Carson Park • Riverview Drive, Eau Claire • A roughly one-mile loop of easygoing, wide, groomed trails.

Hickory Ridge • Bob Lake Road/225th Avenue, Chippewa Falls • (715) 726-7880 • 14.2 kilometers of winding groomed trail with various technical levels.

Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area • 730th Avenue, Colfax • (715) 232-1242 • Daily ($5) or annual ($25) trail pass required for skiers 16 and older • Nine miles of ski trails groomed for skate and classic skiing, varied technical difficulty.

Irvine Park Trail • Bridgewater Avenue, Chippewa Falls • (715) 723-0051 • Easygoing wooded trails above zoo area. Accessible from parking lot on County Highway S.

Lake Wissota State Park • 18127 County Hwy. O, Chippewa Falls • (715) 382-4574 • Trails through woods, meadows, lowlands, marshes, and along Lake Wissota shoreline. Must have daily or annual state park vehicle admission.

Lowes Creek County Park • South Lowes Creek Road, Eau Claire • (715) 839-4738 • A two-way trail system with multiple loops over 250 acres. About five miles of ski trails.

Northwest Community Park Trail • 650 Van Es Parkway, Eau Claire • Several trail options double as mountain bike and ski trails. Some paths are narrow and steep.

Pinehurst Park • 3523 Delbert Road, Eau Claire • Wide, groomed cross-country ski trails with hills of varying steepness. Groomed for skate skiing and classical skiing.

Tower Ridge Recreation Area • 955 S. 82nd Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 839-4783 • $6 daily / $60 annual pass • About 12 miles of trail with terrain of varying difficulty. Three miles of lighted trails.  Heated chalet with indoor bathrooms.

Red Cedar State Trail • 921 Brickyard Road, Menomonie • 715-232-1242 • http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/redcedar/ • This 14.5-mile rail trail shadows the steep walls of the Red Cedar Valley from Menomonie to its connection with the Chippewa River State Trail. Along its route, the trail passes through the communities of Irvington and Downsville and the Dunnville State Wildlife Area.