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Why Minnesota is a Mecca for Cross-Country Skiing

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Cross-country skiing's elite athletes will converge at Theo Wirth Park for the World Cup in March 2020 / Paul Vincent
Winter Sports // Article

Why Minnesota is a Mecca for Cross-Country Skiing

If there's one thing that's synonymous with winter in Minnesota, it's snow. And if there's one thing Minnesotans love to do when it snows, it's ski.

With more miles of cross-country ski trails than a trek from St. Paul to Los Angeles, Minnesota is a destination for novice and pro skiers alike. Just ask Jessie Diggins, the Stillwater native who, along with teammate Kikkan Randall, became the first American women to medal in cross-country skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The golden duo will return to Minnesota this March for the Cross Country Ski World Cup at Theodore Wirth Regional Park in Minneapolis, with general admission tickets starting at $30. In addition to races, the multi-day event will include free concerts, a block party, parade and other outdoor fun.

If you're not in town for the big event, there are still plenty of ways to participate in this fun and family-friendly winter activity.

Cross-Country 101

Also referred to as Nordic, cross-country skiing is much different from the downhill variety. The skis themselves are much skinnier, and the boots click in at the toes, leaving your heels free as you glide.

There are also two distinct styles: Classic, or parallel skiing, is the easiest to learn; and skate skiing, which leaves V-shaped tracks, is more technical and often preferred by more experienced skiers. The skis and poles are slightly different for each style, and ski trails are groomed specifically for classic, skate or both.

If you're new to the sport, there are several parks and ski areas that offer lessons and equipment rentals. The Loppet Foundation at Theodore Wirth in Minneapolis offers regular group lessons on weekend for both classic and skate skiing.

You can also find special events, including Winter Trails Day at Minnesota State Parks like Fort Snelling, and Free Play Snow Day at Three Rivers Park District parks in the Twin Cities area, including Elm Creek in Maple Grove and Carver Park Reserve in Waconia.

Take note: Skiers 16 and older must have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed trails in Minnesota state parks or forests, or on state or grant-in-aid trails. The fee helps support Minnesota's cross-country ski trail system.

two cross-country skiers in woods from above

Experience Minnesota's winter wonderland on cross-country skis / Paul Vincent

Where to Ski

From remote wilderness trails to trails with views of the city skyline, there is no shortage of options for cross-country skiers. Several destinations have made themselves virtually weather-proof by making snow when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. Theo Wirth, Elm Creek, Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, the Vasaloppet Nordic Center in Mora, Mt. Itasca near Grand Rapids and St. Mary’s in Winona all make snow to ensure the longest ski season possible.

With three 70 km trail systems, the famous Gunflint Trail in far northeast Minnesota cuts a well-groomed path through some of northern Minnesota’s most beautiful and remote wilderness. Just north of Detroit Lakes, Maplelag Resort is Minnesota’s premier cross-country skiing resort, with nearly 70 km of trails on the property. 

In southeast Minnesota, the 60-mile Root River State Trail system offers gorgeous and relatively easy skiing on a former railroad route beneath dramatic, limestone bluffs. The trail passes through nine small towns on its journey through Minnesota’s Bluff Country, including the state’s charming bed-and-breakfast capital, Lanesboro.  

Minnesota State Park yurt exterior in winter

At three Minnesota State Parks, you and up to six friends can stay in a yurt / @yayoubetcha

Plan Your Ski Getaway

Minnesota is blessed with a variety of scenery and a wide selection of destinations for skiers, from classic north woods lodges to cozy bed-and-breakfasts to rustic backwoods yurts for adventure lovers. A winter getaway can focus exclusively on cross-country skiing, or can be combined with downhill skiingdogsledding, exploring antique shops and galleries, and even taking in big-city attractions.

Use our lodging listings to find the perfect place to stay. You can search for resorts that have trails and ski rentals on-site.