Clubs: North Star Touring Club
by Paul Nicolaus
Formed in 1967, the North Star Ski Touring Club (NSSTC) is the largest ski-touring club in Minnesota and one of the largest in North America. The mission of the all-volunteer organization is to enjoy and promote the development of cross-country skiing, which is fulfilled through group activities, education and trail development.
The winter-activities schedule offers a wealth of trips from December through March. While day trips remain within a reasonable drive of the Twin Cities, weekend ski outings take members to resorts scattered throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and upper Michigan. “We understand that the quality and depth of our annual-trips schedule is very much the identity of the North Star Ski Touring Club,” says longtime club participant and current board member Mel Peterson. “Our many trip leaders take the time and the effort to lead trips because they truly love the sport of cross-country skiing and want to share their experiences with others.”
Weeklong ventures take participants all over the country and world. Past destinations have included Colorado and Montana, the Canadian Rockies and the Laurentian Mountains near Montreal, Que. The 2016 extended-trip line-up includes Stokely Creek Lodge north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Jan. 6-14), New Hampshire and Vermont (Jan. 31-Feb. 7), Gunflint in northern Minnesota (Feb. 21-25) and an overseas trip to Norway (March 12-21).
Service work and giving back have also been ingrained in the group's DNA. The club maintains ski trails throughout Minnesota, and each fall, it sponsors three to four trail-clearing projects – an annual tradition that is more than 30 years strong. Club members have volunteered at the annual City of Lakes Loppet and events such as the Junior Olympics when held locally. The Ski for Light foundation and various trail-improvement projects have benefited from the group's generosity as well.
While most active members fall in the age fifty-to-seventy range, the club is interested in finding ways to grow and to attract new participants of all ages now that the membership has leveled off at roughly 650 to 700 (previously, it reached a high of approximately 1,400 members). The club has provided seed money and equipment to the Minnesota Youth Ski League, a group that promotes ski touring among young people in and around the Twin Cities. “We support their endeavour totally because those young people could one day join our ranks and become our members,” Peterson notes.
While many members participate in long-distance Citizen races such as the Birkebeiner and the Mora Vasaloppet, the club has not produced any elite racers in recent years. “One of our founders back in 1967 was Norm Oakvik, a former National cross-country-ski champion who was the first alternate on the 1956 U.S. Olympic Nordic-combined ski team in Cortina, Italy. Norm, who passed away last year at the age of 94, was a guiding force in our club for nearly four decades,” said Peterson.
“While the club no longer stages any competitive events, we do have the distinction of holding the VJC Victoria-jonathan-chaska ski race in the 1970s and '80s. This was the first-ever organized ski race held in the state of Minnesota, attracting nearly 1,200 skiers, but it died out due to a number of poor snow years and the increasing competition from other organized races,” he added.
The club is also currently looking into the possibility of joining community-health initiatives to promote ski touring as an excellent healthy-lifestyle option. “We are considering going into communities and giving speeches and seminars, sharing slideshows of trips we've done and letting them know that if you want to be healthy, there's no better way to stay healthy than cross-country skiing,” Peterson says.
Perhaps even more noteworthy than the fitness benefits, however, are the opportunities for developing lifelong relationships with fellow skiing enthusiasts. “To this day, 36 years after joining the club, I would say that some of my best friends in life are those I've met through the club,” he adds. “We have a lot of members who have family scattered throughout the country, and they've learned that our club has become their extended family here in the Twin Cities.”