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Nordic Ski Club sees membership boom during pandemic

While many Carls choose to hibernate and avoid the bitterly cold Minnesota weather, the Nordic Skiing Club at Carleton does just the opposite: they eagerly await the snow and the promise of freshly groomed trails so they can get outside and ski.

Nordic Skiing, also commonly referred to as cross-country skiing, has been a part of Carleton’s sport offerings since 1939. Initially, Nordic Skiing was a Division III varsity sport that competed with other schools, but in the early 2000’s the school cut the varsity team. Coaches left and it transitioned to a club sport. 

Along with the shift from varsity to club, there’s been a change in values as well. For example, rather than focusing on racing, the Nordic Skiing Club is now predominantly focused on “teaching Carleton students how to ski, and sharing our passion with other people,” according to David Ahrens ’22, a captain.

In previous years, the club has been fairly casual; students who showed up to at least two practices a week could get a PE credit, while students were also welcome to show up with no set schedule. However, because of COVID-19, the club has had to make a few changes: the main one being the formation of pods to regulate the number of students in contact with each other.

Captain Cara Meyer ’21 said the club is organized into eight pods of fourteen people, with two pod leaders each. The pod leaders are more experienced skiers, and are there to lead their respective groups and provide advice.

The club has always fielded participants with a range of experience, and that has not changed. Club member Karina Suwal ’23 said that she joined last year with relatively little experience in Nordic skiing. “It was really nice,” said Suwal. “They expected everyone to come in not knowing how to ski… they anticipate everyone having little to no experience.”

Pod leader Patrick Djerf ’24 emphasized the different levels of experience varying from skier to skier. “It’s been really fun,” Djerf said. “Everyone in my pod seems really enthusiastic about skiing and we have a good range from stepping on snow for the first time to some of us having skied in high school.”

The club has seen a drastic increase in membership this winter. From just 42 active members last season (an active member being someone who attends twice a week to get the PE credit), membership ballooned to roughly 110 skiers this year.

Ahrens thinks the increase in membership can mainly be attributed to the pandemic, as many in-person PE classes have transitioned online to Zoom, boosting demand for a safe and socially-distanced alternative. “People are very excited to have an opportunity to be outdoors and have a safe chance to participate in an in-person PE class,” said Ahrens.

In a typical year, the club would be preparing for overnight weekend trips to destinations such as  Giants’ Ridge, a recreational area with miles of ski trails in Northern Minnesota. However, because of COVID-19, the club has been forced to postpone trips for the foreseeable future and will stick to skiing in the Upper and Lower Arb.

Despite drawbacks brought forth by the pandemic, Meyer noted that “Since we always meet with the same group of people in pods, a lot of us have gotten to know each other more than we might have in a normal year.”

Similarly, club member Annabel Cohen ’23 highlighted the social aspect of the club, which has provided some relief to Carls who feel isolated quarantining in their dorms. “Being in-person and outdoors, skiing together and getting to know new people is amazing. Especially this year,” Cohen noted.

Along with enjoying the social part of skiing, club members mentioned how much they enjoy being outside. Djerf said his favorite part about Nordic skiing is “just to be outside experiencing nature with other people. In Minnesota we have so little sunlight during the winter, so it’s really nice to do something that gets your body moving, that gets your body some sunshine and helps you find joy in this cold season.”

The serenity of skiing in the crisp winter air resonates with Suwal as well: “It’s just an hour and a half of the wind in my ears and me just wandering around until I feel satisfied.”

Photo courtesy of Isaac Crown Manesis.

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