By Tim Ruzek, Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
At least a half-dozen people ventured onto the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s 9 miles of cross-country ski trails Monday morning.
That followed the center’s busiest weekend yet this winter for ski rentals, said Ryan Leveque, an intern teacher and naturalist.
Last week’s icy winter storm didn’t leave the center’s set ski tracks in the best condition, Leveque said, because they now are much more slick. If you’re not experienced, he said, you definitely want to be careful going downhill.
Staff at the center, run by the city of Austin, planned to groom the trails Monday.
Ideally, if another two to three inches of snow falls, the tracks can be reset, Leveque said.
The skate-ski portions of the trails -- where you ski without the use of set tracks -- still can be used without much problem, said Leveque, who is in his first winter at the nature center.
Trails are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Rentals are available when the visitors center is open every day, including from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday -- New Year’s Day.
Nature center officials -- who promote cross-country skiing as a “wonderful way to enjoy the snow in the winter season and get the benefits of exercise” -- started ski rentals Dec. 12. It’s an earlier start than most recent winters.
If the current weather keeps up and brings more snow, it could be a good year for cross-country skiing, Leveque said.
Skiing at the nature center is a fun experience, Leveque said, giving you a way to cover ground much faster out there.
“It’s very nice,” he said. “It’s a whole different perspective than just walking.”
Dr. Richard and Belita Schindler, of Austin, have offered to pay $5 per child, enabling children age 18 and younger to rent skis at $1 for three hours.
People ages 16 and older must buy a cross-country ski pass from the state of Minnesota. Daily passes are sold at the nature center, and annual passes are sold at several local businesses as well as online at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web site.
Money generated from ski passes comes back to center to help fund equipment and maintenance of the trails.
Cross-country ski rentals
Where: Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, 1301 21st St. N.E., Austin.
When: 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Cost: For three hours, $1 per child (ages 18 and younger) and $6 per adult.
State ski passes: A cross-country ski pass is required for ages 16 and older. The nature center sells daily passes for $5; annual passes are $15 at Kmart, Wal-Mart, Ruskell Hardware or the state DNR’s Web site.
Free ski rentals (ages 15 and younger): 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28; Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25.
Extras: Hot chocolate, tea and coffee are sold for 50 cents at the center.