The subzero temperatures last week couldn’t have come at a better time for Three Rivers Park District. Crews at the district’s Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington were making snow day and night, readying a new 5K cross-country ski trail for its public debut during the holidays.
“I can’t wait for this to open,” said Park District associate superintendent Jonathan Vlaming. “People are really going to enjoy it.”
Vlaming said that snowfalls in southern Minnesota are “wildly inconsistent” year to year and that making snow with machines will increase the average number of skiable days from 40 to 100 each winter.
The district already makes snow for its 2.5K cross-country trail at Elm Creek Park Reserve in the north metro, where Nordic skiing has been so popular that the course is “chronically at capacity and verging on overcrowded,” Vlaming said.
Seeking to fulfill growing demand in the south metro, district commissioners approved the $5.75 million project at Hyland earlier this year. Workers installed a piping system to pump and distribute Hyland Lake water to 15 portable snow-making machines, and they erected 170 light towers for night skiing until 10 p.m.
The only other metro course that makes snow for Nordic skiing is at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
The new Hyland course raised neighborhood concerns about noise, since snow-making machines would operate on a portion of trail along the east side of the park near a residential area.
The Bloomington City Council agreed to grant a noise variance for the project after negotiating conditions that snow machines near the homes operate for no more than 22 calendar days each winter, as well as no more than 100 hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Vlaming said the new Nordic course is actually three interconnected loops: a 1K beginner’s trail (called the Star Loop), a 2.5K intermediate trail and a 1K advanced trail. The loops have turnouts and 0.5K of connecting trail.
He said he expects the Star Loop to be open this week and the other two loops to be ready before the holidays. After making enough base snow last week, crews will spend this week moving the snow, grooming trails and doing touch-up work, Vlaming said.
The vast majority of the new trail was built on existing service roads and trails, he said, so it required relatively little disturbance of the environment.
The park also has a few other Nordic trails that rely on natural snow and will be open as weather permits, Vlaming said.
The trailhead for the complex is at the Hyland Visitor Center, in the southern part of the park, and it has a parking area used by summer visitors to the large picnic area, playground and lake.
The district also operates an Alpine ski and snowboard area in the northern part of Hyland that is served by its own entrance road, chalet and parking area.
Vlaming said the new cross-country trail at Hyland will help the sport become even more popular by providing a reliable supply of snow each year.
“If you’re going to bother to take something up like skiing where you develop skills, you want to know that [snow] is going to be there for you,” he said.