Cross-country ski clubs and Nordic non-profits in North America (for simplicity, let’s just call them “clubs”) are crazy-diverse and often unsung, but they play a vital role in creating lifelong skiers – not just elite racers but the equally important recreational participants.

Clubs are the base which spread the word, coach kids, bring their families skiing, buy clothing and equipment, even volunteer to maintain and groom trails. And that inherently means buying and repairing grooming machinery plus cutting firewood for lodges and trailside cabins.

More than 400 clubs, especially in Canada, are effectively cross country ski areas – grooming trails, running programs, holding events, generally concentrating on kids’ learning to ski and often race, with plowed parking, base lodges, even equipment rentals. Many have Masters racing programs and some concentrate on operating XC ski trips, domestically and sometimes internationally.

COVID Winters generated major growth in club membership, which can range from dozens to thousands. An increasing number have dedicated snowshoe and fatbiking trails. Several clubs mix in downhill skiing. You’ll even find a small but growing number with snowmaking, like Alaska’s Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage and Nakkertok Nordic in Quebec.

The North Star Ski Touring Club (NSSTC) in St. Paul, Minnesota, is eclectic. It no longer has its own trail network, but it is big, influential, and impressively active.  Okay, maybe that should be “hyperactive.” Their motto is “Cross Country Skiing is our passion, but we have fun all year!” They’re involved with events like hiking, biking, paddling, fall trail- clearing trips, lectures, regular meetings, a new mentoring program for new skiers.

The North Stars have evolved a lot over their 55-year history, but they keep alive a sense of play. One of the largest Nordic ski clubs in North America, they are devoted to non-motorized outdoor recreation. The club’s sweeping mandate is to “enjoy and promote cross-country skiing in Minnesota and elsewhere.” Originally winter-only, they’ve evolved into a year- round organization that runs all kinds of events – not just in the Midwest but also to Norway as well as Idaho’s Sun Valley and Washington’s Methow Valley.

Founded in 1967, the club’s first project was developing a trail network that formed part of course for the Victoria-Jonathan-Chaska Ski Tour and Race Course, a famous event that pre-dated the American Birkebeiner.

The club has been a major winter sports influence around the Twin Cities. The late Peter Hale, one-time importer of Madshus skis, remembered the North Stars as “advocates for the sport, forging a link between tour racing and today’s skiing. The club was a huge source of knowledge

and energy. They were committed to participant cross-country, not primarily competitive cross-country, and they welcomed families.”

NSSTC has played a significant political role in Minnesota XC. In 1970-‘71, they helped persuade the Hennepin County Park Reserve (now Three Rivers Park District) to support cross-country, including limiting snowmobile trail expansion. They also campaigned against snowmobile access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and played a pivotal role in development of a statewide ski pass to supplement state funding for ski trails.

There’s a lot of racing history too. In winter 1972-‘73, NSSTC helped haul snow for the U.S. National Championships at Hyland Park Lake Reserve in the Twin Cities. In 1973, three club members completed the first American Birkebeiner at Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. In those early days, women weren’t supposed to ski the full distance, but club member Jacque Landeskog completed the event, though officials refused to include her in the finishing list. She’s now recognized as the first woman to finish the Birkebeiner.

Club projects have included work on the Vasaloppet trails in Mora, Minnesota; North End SkiTrail near Telemark, Wisconsin; and the Gunflint area trails in northeastern Minnesota. They’ve also contributed to projects such as lights for night skiing and snowmaking at Wirth Park inMinneapolis. In 2022, they’ve awarded thousands of dollars to clubs and schools for new trail building, upgraded grooming equipment, and ski equipment.

Perhaps unsung, they’re still a force in Minnesota’s Nordic community.

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