After 39 years and 7,352 miles of cross country skiing, there are still miles and miles of Minnesota ski trails Kurt Zuppke hasn’t skied yet.
This drives him to find that next wonderful trail experience.
“I realized the other day, I’ve skied Movil Maze, Lake Bemidji State Park, trails near Park Rapids, Walker and Waubun, but I haven’t skied Itasca State Park,” remembers Zuppke.
“That’s the beautiful thing about Minnesota. There are so many great destinations whether it is the North Shore or a small county park near Alexandria, we’re in great shape for ski trails.”
Zuppke, a retired railroad contractor, has kept a journal of every time he has skied since 1973-74. It started as a way to track what wax works the best in different conditions. He also records the miles, location, temperature, snow conditions, people he’s skied with, and sometimes the skis he uses.
His first entry was a short trip behind the house he lived in near Wayzata. Since then he has skied 28 state parks, 19 regional parks, 11 Three Rivers Parks, on, near, or alongside 52 lakes, 35 rivers or drainages, seven national parks, many different mountain ranges, 10 wildlife refuges, 22 golf courses, 18 ski resorts (cross country downhill), and abandoned railroad grades, like the Luce Line, hay line, and the Willard Munger Trails. It’s interesting to note that he’s very proud of the fact that he’s skied over 2,200 miles out his back door, from wherever he has lived over the years.
“All these areas and trails have their own charm. One that stands out for me is the trail starting at the Northwoods system in Silver Bay, MN that takes you to Tettagouche State Park. It doesn’t even seem like you’re in Minnesota. It’s more like mountain country, unusual and breathtaking,” said Zuppke.
“But good conditions often make the day or even your whole trip. I had one of my best times at the little Kensington Runestone Park near Alexandria. Good conditions make the trip,” added Zuppke.
After spending a day in Las Vegas, he had his most moving ski experience the following night at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
“It was a spiritual experience to be looking over that vast canyon with no humanity, no satellites, and no noise after being in the bright lights of Vegas,” remembered Zuppke.
He also skied off the summit of 14,000-foot Mauna Kea in Hawaii in 1976.
He likes to carry a “quiver” of waxable, no-wax, skating and wooden skis to match any snow condition or trail system.
“I started following my father on skis back in the fifties when there were old pastures, woods, and trails in the northwest corner of Edina, but I became serious about skiing in 1970 while briefly working in Tofte at what was then called the Edgewater Motel and today is called the Bluefin. I skied from town to the Carlton Peak Trail on a pair of 1935 Warner Hardware skis with crude bear trap bindings and no grip wax.”
“There weren’t any groomed trails then-we would follow snowshoe trails. Now there are some incredible trail systems up there,” said Zuppke.
While he has tried skate skiing, he believes his 6’ 7”, 240-pound frame is best suited to diagonal skiing. He prefers waxable skis and occasionally uses his “woodies”.
“I use a pair of light touring or racing skis but it doesn’t hurt to have a pair of woodies along. If you prepare them properly from tip to tail, polish them up, that ski can do things for you that no other skis can do. They climb like crazy, have good kick and glide but you do lose edge control,” said Zuppke.
His 39 years of keeping a log have helped him match his waxing to conditions as variable as glare ice, frozen rivers, bottomless powder, and temperatures from 30 below to 60 above, but he says,” I have seen days out there that nothing works, not even no-wax skis.” He has found that freshly fallen or settled snow just below freezing is the easiest and fastest to wax for- unless you like icy, crusty conditions which can be incredibly fast but dangerous.
Clean, fresh-fallen snow, spring corn snow, or even walk able crust is the most fun. Temperatures in that 20 to 30 degree range are good. The toughest is the cold, dry, wind-driven snow with no moisture.
“You may also look for trails where college teams train. They are well groomed and well used. St. Mary’s in Winona, Carlton in Northfield and Greystone in St. Cloud are some real surprises,” said Zuppke.
He loves going through his log books and trail maps.
“I like going through SkinnySki.com and the Minnesota Trails to find new trails to ski. Fresh snow, good skis and a great trail, these are the things that memories are made from,” concluded Zuppke.