The folks behind the luminaries

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January 21, 2013
By: Ingrid Remak
Ingrid Remak

Luminaries are not made, they are hatched.

Over the last seven years, Lake of the Isles has seen the lifecycle of over 8,000 luminaries frozen into existence for the Park Nicollet Luminary Loppet — the largest event of the City of Lakes Loppet Cross Country Ski Festival weekend. This year's festival is Feb. 2 & 3. 

The Luminary Loppet draws over 6,000 participants annually who weave their way along a candlelit path of over 1,500 luminaries. 

“It is a magical event,” said Leslie Foreman who has skied the event numerous times with her family.  “I absolutely love it.”

 While the City of Lakes Loppet has become emblematic of Minnesota winters, few participants know the snowy force behind the mellow glow.  Behind the scenes of this iconic event are an incredible group of volunteers — and the Loppet Foundation, a small non-profit advocating for year round outdoor activity in Minneapolis — especially among inner-city youth. 

The foundation has played a big role in the growth of skiing and the promotion of outdoor activity generally in Minneapolis.  For instance, the foundation has worked with the Minneapolis Park  & Recreation Board to bring skiing to the Chain of Lakes with a groomed trail all the way from Uptown to the Chalet in Theodore Wirth Park. The Foundation was also instrumental in bringing snowmaking to Wirth Park, so that there is a place to ski even when we have an Iowa winter.

Every year the Loppet Foundation outfits Minneapolis Public Schools elementary schools with equipment, coaching and grooming.  Kids learn to ski and about concepts like nutrition and fitness through an eight-week program.  At the end of the program the Foundation buses the students to the Minne-Loppet, a free kids event held during festival weekend.  Each year over 500 students learn to ski through the Minne-Loppet programs.  Most of these students hail from North Minneapolis, and most come from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

The foundation provides many other opportunities for both adults and youth to experience outdoor activity throughout the year.  For instance, the foundation runs two middle school ski and bike teams, providing equipment, coaching and transportation with the hope that this year-round program can change the trajectory of lives.  The foundation runs Trips for Kids, through which the Foundation maintains a fleet of mountain bikes and provides opportunities for inner-city youth to try off-road bicycling at Wirth Park.  The foundation also runs summer and winter Adventure Camps, a Loppet Mentors program, and Run Ski and Tri-Clubs for adults who are interested in developing outdoor skills. 

“The middle school teams are a place where we can begin to dive deeper into the world of racing, and provide other exciting experiences surrounding these sports,” said Anwatin Ski Team coach Allie Rykken.  “The kids love the training trips up north, and also camping in the summer...  We have pasta parties, epic bike trips...  They learn that adventures can lie around every corner.”

The Foundation is currently expanding its breadth of programming to include adaptive athletes, as well as Loppet Mentors, a program that pairs kids on the middle school teams with active adults in the Loppet community.  The hope is that these one-on-one experiences will empower youth to pursue outdoor adventure for the rest of their lives. 

While “Nordic” in its roots, the Loppet Foundation’s youth programs reflect the diversity seen in Minneapolis today.  Because there is no word for skiing in the Hmong language, Hmong students in the program have created their own expression: “Jei-snow” which literally means “riding snow”. 

Other students are paving the way for their families:  “I want my mom to try skiing,” said Bryce Holte to his mother Hope as they talked about the family day their coach organized.  “I only want snow, for HIM!” his mother replied laughing.

Many people tend to think that the Foundation is a subsidiary of the city or that the city subsidizes the foundation, but it is a completely independent nonprofit entity. It supports itself through memberships, grants, donations and event registrations.  

The Luminary Loppet is a mere 5 kilometers, but the Loppet Foundation will prepare the course for thousands of skiers.  Recreational, competitive, new and old, solitary and social folks will come together for a shared night on the snow.  When you register for the 2013 Luminary Loppet, know that you are a part of setting the tracks for many great skis ahead — both for yourself and the community.

Ingrid Remak is the outreach coordinator for the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation