The basketball team claimed the gym, the Alpine ski team the loft above it. That left the Armstrong Nordic ski team with the locker hallway for practice on a rainy afternoon this past week.

Controlled chaos ensued. About 80 skiers flanked the lockers and performed push-ups, situps, lunges and other body weight exercises. After 30 seconds, they rotated to the next exercise.

“We kind of go where we can find a spot,” longtime coach Steve Hopke said.

“We’ve got 80 kids and 30 of them have never done it before.”

The key, he said, is ensuring they do the exercises correctly.

Across the metro area, Nordic teams are preparing for the snow with dry land routines that include strength training, running, roller skiing and other exercises that mimic skiing motions.

Hopke said his team does two to three weeks of dryland training each year and would ideally start skiing around Thanksgiving. That doesn’t always happen, however.

“Ideally we’d like to have snow right now,” Wayzata captain Michaela Keller-Miller said. “Then we would just do strength training on top of it.”

Forecasters are calling for a mild winter because of a strong El Niño. A warmer-than-average November also could push back the snowfall, though Elm Creek and other parks typically start making snow by the first week of December.

A later start doesn’t hurt experienced skiers as much, Hopke said. It’s the younger kids who can lose out.

“The strength isn’t going to help you as much as the technique is,” Wayzata captain Andrew Millan said. “It really takes a while for you to get the hang of it.”

Roller risks

For now, both teams are focused on a mix of strength training, roller skiing, pole walking and “bounding” — a slow run in which skiers “mimic skiing without skis,” Armstrong captain Ellee Petersen said.

Roller skiing is the most comparable dryland training to actual skiing, but the Armstrong captains said it’s much easier — and more painful — to fall while on wheels.

“On normal skis there are multiple points of balance,” Armstrong captain Clayton Hubred said, “but on roller skis, there are only two.”

As soon as a couple inches of snow falls, count on Armstrong and Wayzata to start skiing. Both own snowmobiles and groom trails near the schools.

A ‘clear favorite’

The training has helped both schools develop into state powers, with each placing high at the state meet.

The Armstrong girls’ team is ranked No. 1 to start this season, according to SkiSkinny.com, ahead of three-time defending champion Wayzata. The Falcons return their top five skiers, including senior Hannah Rudd and three ninth-graders, after finishing second the past two seasons.

The Armstrong boys’ team is unranked after finishing third last year in Section 6. The Wayzata boys are ranked fourth, but that may not reflect the team’s potential, coach Larry Myers said. The team returns sophomore Anders Sonnesyn, who Myers said could place in the top four at state. Millan could finish top 10, and the team also returns state participants Luc Golin and Jack Gossen.

“We’re going to surprise people,” Myers said.