Balance

Adventure afoot

  • Article by: ALYSSA FORD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2011 - 8:54 AM

Sample winter sports with your family - no equipment required.

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Mike Kratochwill, left, helped a fellow snowkiter launch a kite on White Bear Lake in Mahtomedi Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008. Snowkiting is done by using a large kite or wing to pull a skiier or snowboarder across the snow.

Photo: Jeffrey Thompson, Dml - Star Tribune Star Tribune

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Throw off those blankets and switch off those space heaters. Round up the kids and get them in their snowsuits. The weather outside is blustery and cold, which means it's time to go out and play in the snow. And with so many beginners' courses, you can sample all the winter sports and then come back for your favorites. CURLING

It's an eccentric Scottish sport that's kind of like shuffleboard on ice. The object is to get the 44-pound curling stone in the bull's-eye (called the "house") by manipulating its path on the ice with long-handled brushes, called brooms.

The St. Paul Curling Club offers three hours of private instruction and the use of its curling stones, brooms and other equipment. The catch is you have to have a group of eight, so hunting down another family might be in order. Kids 9 and older should be able to take part without any problems. Dress warmly, in layers, and wear clean tennis shoes. Curlers wear curling shoes with Teflon soles, but those aren't necessary for beginners.

Cost: $20 per person; group of eight needed for private session (four players per team). Cost includes equipment and instruction from an experienced member of the St. Paul Curling Club. Classes take place at the (unheated) Biff Adams Arena at 743 N. Western Av., St. Paul.

Sign up: Reservations required; call the St. Paul Curling Club at 651-224-7408.

UNDERWATER-CAMERA ICE FISHING

It's done by drilling a hole (or lots of holes) in thick lake ice in the hopes of catching northern pike, sunfish, crappies or walleye. And you can stay warm because it's often done in an ice-fishing shelter that has many comforts of home.

Kurt Erickson, a native Minnesotan, grew up ice fishing with his dad on Lake Minnetonka. Now he takes groups and families out for their first ice-fishing experience, often in his "Grumpy Old Men"-inspired ice shanty. He also has a number of underwater cameras that allow his guests to watch on small TV screens as fish are lured in by bait. Best for kids who are at least 8 or 9, depending on maturity and attention span. Erickson says he wears jeans and a hoodie in the ice house. "It's pretty warm when you're inside," he says. But if you're planning to be outside more, he recommends bib overalls. Don't forget a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa.

Cost: $300 for a half-day excursion; three-person limit.

Sign up: Call 612-801-5058, or visit www.ericksonguide.com.

SHOWSHOEING BY CANDLELIGHT

Snowshoers say "if you can walk, you can snowshoe." There's a little more to it than that, but snowshoeing is one of the easier winter sports to try. Shuffling along atop the snow is particularly magical on a lighted trail or when the moon is full.

Try it: Make tracks to the once-a-year Luminary Loppet, when hundreds of sculpted ice luminarias ring the north end of Lake of the Isles in Minneapols. Snowshoers and skiers are invited to take part in a noncompetitive "race." Don't miss the glistening ice pyramid or the after-party with bonfires, cocoa stations and a heated tent featuring a 1970s-style cover band. If you don't have snowshoes, the University of Minnesota's Center for Outdoor Adventure rents them for $7 per day; call 612-625-8790 or visit www.recsports.umn.edu/coa. Hours are limited, so plan ahead. Winter boots are the best accompaniment to snowshoes.

When: Feb. 5, 6 to 8 p.m. (various start times; preregistration required).

Cost: $10 to $20 per person, if paid three days prior to event.

Sign up: www.cityoflakesloppet.com or call 612-604-5330.

SKIJORING

Dog Skijoring is essentially cross-country skiing with some additional momentum from a dog (or three). Vicki Valeri of the Midwest Skijorers Club said she recommends the sport for people who have at least a 30- to 35-pound dog. But, she said, little ones do OK, too. "You don't get as much horsepower with a little dog, but they do seem to enjoy it."

The Midwest Skijorers Club offers free classes to individuals and families. They provide the specialized equipment, such as the dog harness and tow line, if you provide the dog. The most basic class is taught on solid land, so leave the skis at home. Classes are taught sporadically and at various spots throughout the metro area. Dress warmly, with cold-resistant winter boots.

Cost: Free, but registration is required.

Sign up: Call 763-218-5956, or visit www.skijor.org.

SNOWKITING

Kiteboarding is any sport that involves getting pulled around by a kite. If you're doing it on water skis you're kitesurfing. But if you're in an open field, on skis or a snowboard, you're snowkiting.

Thankfully for novice kiteboarders, winter is the absolute best time to learn either iteration of the sport. And it's exceptionally fun, says Mike Kratochwill, who has been a snowkiter and a kitesurfer for nearly 10 years. "You can sail downwind, you can cut across the wind current, and then tack upwind," he says. "It's a blast."

Kratochwill offers full-day classes for beginners through Lakawa, his private training school. He supplies all gear and instruction, plus a few freebies to take home. "If you decide you love it after the first day, you'll know enough to be able to really practice," Kratochwill promises. Classes take place in an open field near Maple Grove. Minimum age is 9, depending on athleticism and interest. Dress warmly, but not with so much bulk that you can't move around. Cold-resistant footwear is a must. The clinic lasts about six hours.

Cost: $300 per adult. For families, Kratochwill offers a special deal: $300 for each parent, plus an additional $100 for each kid, age 9 to 18. (Minimum of three people to take advantage of the deal.)

Sign up: Classes are often held on short notice, as the sport is dependent on wind conditions. Kratochwill recommends signing up for his e-mail newsletter at www.lakawa.com for updates, though he is also reachable at 612-296-3201.

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