RIDGEWAY, Minn. — Undeterred by wind and slush, kindergartners and first-graders at Ridgeway Community School took to their snow-covered playground Friday morning for P.E. class.
But before they went outside, they got strapped into colorful kid-sized cross-country skis, with help from teachers and parent volunteers.
The skis were donated to the school through Nordic Rocks For Schools, an educational program run by the Central Cross Country Ski Association, or CXC. Funds come from the local CXC Masters Team in Winona, an adult ski club that supports the CXC competition team.
Ridgeway, Jefferson and Bluffview schools each got a set of skis this year, but Bruce Manske, development coach with CXC, said the goal is to eventually get a set at all the elementary schools in Winona.
The Nordic Rocks program, in its third year in the region, is aimed at generating excitement about the sport of cross-country skiing among youngsters.
As winter stretches on, kids can get complacent and prefer to sit inside, Manske said. Nordic skiing, with its emphasis on balance, flexibility, and strong muscles, is another way for kids to be active outdoors.
“The main thing is it’s an outside winter activity for kids and families,” he said. “If they find a game or activity that they truly enjoy, getting outside can’t be beat.”
Mary Cappel, physical education teacher at Jefferson, said the skis have been a hit so far with her students. Nordic Rocks’ motto is that if you can do it in boots, you can do it on skis, with no groomed trails or poles required. Two inches of snow, and you’re in business.
“It’s really low-key, just to get the kids on the skis and seeing what it feels like,” she said. “It really is opening a door for them.”
Back at Ridgeway, school coordinator Jodi Dansingburg was near the gym door helping student Caidence Tullius strap her skis on.
Dansingburg said the school has had an afterschool ski club for about 10 years, using trails on a neighboring farm, as part of their focus on lifetime fitness activities.
But before they got the Nordic Rocks skis, they didn’t have many skis small enough for the younger kids. They also got a sit-ski through the program, for a student with disabilities.
“It’s nice to get them started, get them exposed to it in the younger grades,” Dansingburg said.
Which isn’t to say everybody gets it right away.
Tullius, who looked down as Dansingburg tightened the binding around her boot, said she’d given skiing a fair shot.
“I tried — not yesterday but the day before. It didn’t go that good.”
Dansingburg chuckled and sent Tullius outside, where physical education teacher Dusty Larson and several parent volunteers were helping the young skiers get up after their frequent tumbles.
Larson reminded them how to get back up on skis: lay on your back with your skis parallel, then roll over to one side.
“We watched a video about that,” he said. “They’re having fun with it, so that’s the main thing.”
Behind Larson, student Damian Felfen scrambled up a snow mound on his skis, using his gloves for traction.
Asked what he thought of skiing, he said, “It’s crazy!”