I love Snow and Ice. I love winter. I started cross country ski racing when I was 8 years old and have not stopped. I love the crisp frost on the tree limbs and the crunch of cold snow under my boots. To this day I kick an ice chunk in front of me whenever I am walking in the winter.
In the 1970’s as a kid, I was skiing on the tracks at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Hopkins, the trails of Baker and Hyland Park Reserves, and the courses at Theodore Wirth Park. The solitude of skiing across the wide-open spaces of Meadowbrook at dusk or the calm of the woods at Baker resides deep inside me. My pulse still races as I recall the terror of standing at the top of what was known as the “shoot” at Wirth knowing full well that if I did not crash in the middle of that steep, and always icy, downhill I would still have to successfully navigate a high speed corner, one misstep would result in my 10 year old body jettisoning uncontrollably onto the parkway road that lay beyond. This mountain of a hill was to be attempted on my beautiful wood Madshus skis with three bin bindings. My cool white ski boots were little more than Norwegian tennis shoes with holes below the toes. Today I am still skiing and coaching on those very same trails. Now, what I once called terror, I call exhilaration as I approach the very same downhill. Today the grooming is better, it’s incredible actually, and the current equipment is fantastic – offering so much more control than my stylish 1970s gear.
But the major difference in my beautiful sport is the snow.
When I was young, we could ski all winter long, every winter. In low snow years we skied on Meadowbrook Golf Course, but most years we reveled in the many kilometers of ski trails in the west metro. Even in my junior year in high school, the winter of 1980-81, when there was not enough snow to ski on the golf course, it was cold enough to ski on the wind blown snow of Medicine Lake. That year, the entire season of practices and races were held on various lakes throughout the metro. We were rewarded my senior year with good snow.
Today cross country ski racers in the area cannot rely on lake skiing and golf courses. The lakes are not freezing early enough nor has there been reliable snow for golf course skiing. Now we are dependent on the snow making courses at Hyland Park Reserve, Theodore Wirth Park and Elm Creek Park Reserve. I am thankful for this luxury which has become a necessity for my sport. The grooming of these trails is fantastic and the loops are challenging but the total number of kilometers available at each park is 5km, 3.5km, and 2.5 km respectively. Of course there are environmental issues related to increased snowmaking, but as a family of skiers, my sons are experts at skiing on re-groomed ice crystals. Cutting through fresh, fluffy, new snow on skis is a rare treat for my boys.
The change in the local cross-country ski scene has brought climate change home to me. I have experienced the change in Minnesota winters over time. As a teacher, it has become imperative for me to teach the science of climate change to my 8th grade students. When I began, I needed something tangible as a starting point in the conversation on climate change with my students. My experience in skiing was not something I could show my students. So I began a mission to visually record change due to climate within my lifetime. As I said earlier, besides snow, I love ice – glacial ice to be specific. I headed to glaciers I had been to previously in an effort to identify change in my lifetime. I found change!
Briksdalsbreen, Norway, 1984, 2014
Every glacier I visited in Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Montana and Alaska was smaller.
Solheimjokull, Iceland, 1999, 2013
This is where I start when teaching climate change. I am passionate about snow and ice. I start with the change that has occurred in my lifetime.
I am hopeful that we will have more than 10.5km available this winter. When the arrival of my favorite season begins, it fills me with a sense of responsibility. The responsibility to educate my sons, their friends, and my students in the science of climate change. These middle schoolers were born between 2001 and 2003. It is this generation who will be living with, adapting to and solving issues related to climate change. These kids will be the problem solvers, critical thinkers, the agents of change for the future. I have full confidence in them and I am hopeful.