MARQUETTE - With NCAA Central Region Nordic ski titles under their belts, the Northern Michigan University men's and women's Nordic ski teams ended a successful weekend by doing things a little differently than past years.
The group of NMU skiers met up with the Superiorland Ski Club's Ski Cats group at the Forestville Trailhead Feb. 19 after a weekend of racing for a couple hours of some relaxed skiing and games.
"(Events like this) expose the youth of the community to another aspect of cross-country skiing," said NMU sophomore and Nordic skier George Cartwright. "It doesn't have to be something where you go out with your parents and go on long skies through the woods, because at that age, your attention span doesn't really focus on that."
Superiorland Ski Club Ski Cats member Lucas Basal, 5, ducks under a obstacle during an afternoon of fun and games with college skiers recently.
Northern Michigan University athletic mascot Wildcat Willy makes an appearance at the Ski Cats outing at the Forestville Trailhead.
Ingrid Fjeldheim, assistant coach of the NMU Nordic ski team, right, helps a group of Ski Cats practice their baseball skills on skis at a recent outing. (Journal photos by Amanda Monthei)
The Superiorland Ski Cats, which is a six-week program through the club, were also in their last week on the trails, and wanted to end the season doing something special for the 5-10 years olds that attend.
"We wanted to allow kids to see what they could eventually do," Ski Cats coordinator and Superiorland Ski Club board member Megan Dixon said. "Being that cross-country skiing is kind of a non-traditional sport, us families that do ski want our children to see what they can be and what their potential is - especially at the collegiate level."
Ingrid Fjeldheim, assistant coach of the NMU Nordic ski team, is also a member of the Superiorland board. The decision to have a 'fun' day on the final day of Ski Cats and on the Sunday of regional weekend - came pretty easily once the two began talking.
"I had been discussing it with Ingrid and we both thought it was just a really fun opportunity to bring in Wildcat Willy and make the last day of Ski Cats just a really fun event," Dixon said. "We also wanted to do something different than what most days of Ski Cats are."
While the Ski Cats typically work on technique and fitness on Sundays throughout the winter, the last Sunday of the season was designated for games like tug-of-war, obstacle courses, Frisbee and baseball. All the games were played on cross-country skis and under the supervision of one of the many NMU skiers in attendance.
"The main thing is to just learn to have fun on skis when you're young," Fjeldheim said. "Kids can't go out for long ski (trips), but short stuff like this with other kids around is important. It's so important at this age to fall and get up and balance and have fun.
"(The sport of cross-county) skiing is growing so it's fun to be a part of it."
Ultimately, and as Cartwright put it, the kids in Ski Cats were being exposed to potential role models - racers that they may one day become.
"I would say that anytime you can get involved with the community, it helps with just kind of showing that there is another side to the competition," he said. "It's about investing in the future. Some kid here will probably be one heck of a ski racer and will someday be contributing to a (Division) I university. Someone here will undoubtedly be skiing at a higher level and here we are exposing them to it."
Amanda Monthei can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.