Reefs under stress

How does this: In Northern Minnesota, ‘Snow Farmers’ Make Sure A Ski-Racing Tradition Endures

Volunteer Don Olson walks past a mound of artificial snow created by a snow gun on Tuesday at the Vasaloppet Nordic Ski Center in Mora, Minn. Christine T. Nguyen /MPR News

Relate to this:

  • Both involve water within a particular range of temperature and environmental conditions;
  • The places evolve, survive/thrive through mutual adaptation of the inhabitants’ motivations and capabilities;
  • The inhabitants of each have had to respond to changes in their environments due to global warming;
  • And both are the kinds of places where individuals can find each other.

The questions that come to mind in relation to cross-country skiing are around the increasing efforts required to sustain commitment to the sport. For instance what, if anything, would replace the Vasaloppet in this Minnesota town, should the commitment wane? Would there be a critical loss to the social fabric if the specific blend of skills, land, and community interest featured in the story were made irrelevant?

I happen to think there’s something very special about cross-country skiing. Part of it is because it takes place in the outdoors, and takes advantage of an undervalued time of year. If you’re a farmer, you’re tied to the land, so you might as well have some fun in winter. For sub/urbanites, it’s a way to acknowledge and enjoy the fact that nature is what it is. For the 98% of Americans who aren’t involved in farming, we can choose to be part of the seasons.

Every cross-country ski area is like a reef, with its own particular community of participants. From business owners to the trail crew, park administrators and land owners to coaches and instructors, there has to be a sufficiency of each type. Moreover there has to be a sense of willingness in order to make it a place for skiers to come to- and come back to with the little fishes skiers.

Like coral reefs, winter seems to show nature at its most vulnerable, its most precious and precarious side. The stressors are easier to mark and make note of in the conditions needed for reefs and cross-country skiing alike.