Nordic Centers II: Minnesota, NoDak, a little Manitoba
We lived in the upper Midwest from 1992-97. Five and a half long years, a lot of good times--the kids were born there--but I wouldn't want to go back other than maybe a brief visit.
Bemidji, MN (1995-97): Bemidji had a great trail system for a small town. The county and state there create and maintain trails and these are essentially free to use; all you need is a State Park pass to park in the access lots. There were about 50K of trails within a 15 minute drive of down.
We had a 2K lighted loop in town at Montebello trails. It was just a flat loop. They had a Wednesday night series, hotly contested fun races under the lights, and we'd also have interval sessions there fairly frequently.
The best skiing was usually at Buena Vista and Movil Maze. Buena Vista is the host site of the long-running Minnesota Finlandia ski marathon, which was a feature sport event of the year in Bemidji. The event seemed to lose some luster from the mid-late 80s heyday of the Great American Ski Chase, but still some big name skiers came out and were challenged by the 25 km of rolling/twisting trails, designed by Olympic medalist Bill Koch.
Movil Maze had no infrastructure other than a parking lot, and only 11 or 12 km of tracks, but these were fun and fairly challenging, a little bit like a circuit that would include White Bear Access, Moilanen's Meadow, and Warm Up Loop. Put in a lot of Ks there.
Lake Bemidji State Park offered about 10 or 12K of classic trails and a fun 10K race every February. It was rolling, with a couple of moderate climbs. About like UAF, but right along a lake.
Club system: No formal club that I recall. Just a dozen or two racing enthusiasts and the more casual racing/touring set. The high school had a team, but there was no development program.
Racing: I kind of complain about the racing scene here sometimes, wishing for some diversity of venues and opportunities. But we have it very good compared to there.
The Wed Night races were more workout than race; The Minn-Finn was the big one of course. Other than that just had a 16K at Buena Vista and the 10K classic. For more you had to drive a couple hours for a low key, often very cold, opportunity to race. I think one year we did the 16K freestyle and it was something like -28F. That was the coldest race I ever did and vowed never to try such a thing again!
I'd ski almost as much as here, five or six days a week from late October until mid-April, but only get in three or four races a year.
Grand Forks, ND (1992-95): Grand Forks is a hockey town and hardly anyone skied at the time. There were literally a handful of people who were interested in racing. But with four or five months of winter and some pretty bitter temperatures and winds (not unlike Delta Junction's weather), we had plenty of time to ski. I think things have gotten better since then.
We had a 2.5 or 3K loop at Lincoln Park, just across the street from where we lived for two winters, which connected to the Red River. Flat park setting, not much of interest. But you could get a workout. The biggest downside was the dog walkers insisting that they had every right to walk down the middle of the ski track. Parks and Rec just shrugged their shoulders and refused to enforce any kind of trail etiquette. It was maddening.
Things are probably a little better now, with set tracks along the Red River on the new flood control greenway belt.
Turtle River State Park, about 20 miles away, offered about 10 or 12K of groomed classic tracks through some interesting oak woodland. Usually fun for a weekend outing.
Club system: Not even close, just the four or five local racers, and then on weekends you'd see some people on touring skis.
Racing: I think one year we had one race, a Run Ski Run (5K each) event that was sort of fun. That was it. Still, I'd put in 70-80 training days a year and travel to Minnesota and Manitoba for races.
Manitoba: I didn't get to spend much time there, but did an exciting race weekend in Winnipeg ca. 1995, that included 150 meter sprints on Saturday (for money) right in downtown Winnipeg and 30K freestyle on Sunday (along with several members from Canadian National ski team) at a park along the Red River. And also the Manitoba championships out in the sticks somewhere in 1995. Good memories. One year I did the Prairie Rose Winter Games at some very remote park in south central MB--I mean it was out there maybe 3 hr out of Winnipeg. We (4 or 5 skiers) met in a parking lot. You took off whenever you felt like it and they recorded your time, gave you a brat and hot chocolate and sent you back across the border.