Tag Archives: Saint Mary’s University

SMU Ski trails are joint effort for community benefit

The room where skiers wax their skis and bundle up to face the cold will fill with Nordic ski enthusiasts at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3 in Brother Leopold Hall to honor a man that put Saint Mary’s University on the map as having one of the best cross-country ski trails in southeastern Minnesota.

Brother Jerome Rademacher, an SMU physics professor, made the trails in the 1970s. However when his health declined in 2006, Rademacher put the Winona Nordic Ski Club in charge of maintenance, said Bruce Johnson, WNSC member. Since then, he said, the club’s volunteer trail maintenance has groomed the trails nearly every day during winter.

“We’ve created a monster. We groom the trails so well that people expect them to be perfect all the time,” Johnson said with a proud smile.

The SMU ski trails, located in SMU’s backyard Yonn Valley, are groomed and maintained through the joint effort of SMU staff and WNSC volunteers. Cross-country skiers travel from neighboring states to train and ski on these trails, Johnson said. The trails are also open every day for public use.

The trails are groomed for two purposes: skate skiing and classical cross-country skiing.

Similar to ice skating, skate skiing is done by alternating skis away from each other at an angle. Classical skiing is done by putting skis in two parallel tracks cut into the snow and shuffling the legs in a striding motion.

Rademacher, the trail’s first solo caretaker, used a machine known as a piston boy to groom the snow, said Johnson. Luckily, when Rademacher gave up this passion, Johnson said he was able to continue that legacy.

“When I retired, I said ‘I can help. I can volunteer’,” Johnson said. “He said ‘here’s the key to the piston boy.’”

Since then, the community has shown massive enthusiasm to help make the trails what they are today, Johnson said.

“All hell broke loose—in a positive way,” said Johnson of Winona’s ski community grabbing this chance to maintain and improve the SMU trails. “There’s a hardcore group here.”

WNSC raised funds for two specialized snowmobiles called ginzus and state of the art equipment for trail grooming to replace Rademacher’s “stone age” equipment, Johnson said.

Today the WNSC and SMU staff maintains the trails using three primary pieces of equipment, said SMU Associate Vice President of Student Services, Chris Kendall.

“It’s not just like cutting the grass with a lawn mower,” Kendall said. “There’s more of an art to it.”

The trails need maintenance for a variety of reasons: fresh snow or change in temperatures, humidity or sun, Kendall said. Weather depending, the WNSC members may work every day or not for a week, he said.

After a fresh snowfall, Kendall said WNSC groomers renew the trail’s solid surface by knocking air out of fluffy snow with the Snowcat. Next they’ll use the ginzus to soften icy snow and further pack it, making a consistent base. Kendall said proper timing is critical in this process.

If Mother Nature decides snow isn’t in the forecast, then their two snowmaking machines come in handy, Kendall said. Furthermore, parts of the trail that get more sunlight are prone to melting, so maintenance makes snow and moves it to those spots.

“That’s kind of the art of it—managing what you have to make it as nice as possible,” said Kendall.

According to Kendall, cross-country ski enthusiasts travel from Northern edges of Minnesota for SMU’s advanced trails. Although these trails are unnamed, regulars give them names of affection, such as “rattlesnake,” a name given to an advanced trail.

“I think we’re a god on the map,” he said, due to the WNSC’s ability to fine-tune the trails, make them versatile and do the proper upkeep.

Since they’re well-maintained, the trails are used by a variety of local groups including physical education classes at SMU, the WNSC, the Minnesota Youth Ski League and the Winona Senior High School Ski team, who use the trails as their home court.

Jason Mork, WSHS Ski team coach, said his team practices six days per week on the trails. They’re maintained really well, he said. In particular, the ability to practice after dusk gives his team an edge.

“With the lit trails, we don’t have to rush,” Mork said, while other teams may hurry to cram practice in before nightfall.

Although they’re well maintained, Mork said the SMU trails could improve their outreach of adult programs, since there are several nights each week devoted to Nordic ski programs for children. Mork also wishes pedestrians would be more conscientious of skiers as well as keeping off the ski trails.

“We want them to shy away from walking,” on the trails Mork said. As these trails are used for hiking in the summer, pedestrians walk them in the winter as well. However, sometimes they walk directly down the middle, he said. “We just want to say, come on, you know, get a pair of skis and go fast.”

Pedestrians aside, Mork credits the growth of WSHS’s Nordic ski team to the trail’s youth programs. Since area children begin skiing earlier, more experienced skiers join the WSHS team each year.

As for Johnson, the SMU cross-country ski trails are not only a continuation of Rademacher’s work, but also an asset that encourages community health, he said.

“This is a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s the whole idea of get off your butt and go do something. Do you really want to stare at a computer screen your whole life?”

Winona Diocese Braves Weather for March for Life

A blizzard could not keep a busload of 46 local high school teens, college students, and staff members from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona from attending the national March for Life in Washington D.C. over the weekend of Jan. 22.

This year marked the 43rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, ones that extended women’s rights to have legalized abortions in all 50 states. The March for Life is a pro-life movement that opposes the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions with demonstrations held across the nation, with the national event held in Washington D.C. annually, according to Ben Frost, the Diocesan Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults in Winona.

According to the March for Life website, the vision for the annual March for Life is to “bring together pro-life leaders and groups to organize and strategize around a common message, and to communicate this message to the government, the media, and the nation in a way that is powerful and life affirming.”

While an impending winter storm deterred some groups throughout the United States from making the trek, around 15,000 to 20,000 young people attended, said Frost.

The weekend consisted of attending the “Life is Very Good” conference on the eve of the march, followed by the Rally and Mass for Life the next morning, presided by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington.

“They gain a real sense of courage; a courage to be able to go into this world, that oftentimes diminishes the worth of human persons,” said Frost.

It was Frost’s third time attending the march in Washington. “This was a unique experience,” he said because the weather provided some challenges, and a blizzard was on the way. Frost said there was a special message from Pope Francis given by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Carly Radke, a senior at Saint Mary’s University double-majoring in theology and psychology, and is president of Students for Life. She organizes events at SMU that align with the values of the pro-life movement, and this is one of their biggest events of the year.

This was also Radke’s third time experiencing the March for Life weekend in Washington. She says “just going and being around like-minded people to be a witness was powerful.”

On the bus ride from Winona, Radke said Father Andrew Vogel encouraged students to practice talking with each other about the power of respecting life from the time of conception, so they could educate others.

With the pro-life movement being such a hot-button issue, Radke said “it’s really encouraging” to see young people coming together as a community to serve as witnesses to life.

One of the highlights she said was after leaving the Mass for Life at the Verizon Center prior to the start of the March. Radke said she saw people looking out their windows at the demonstration and watching the group start their march towards the nation’s capitol. She said it was powerful because maybe they were able to influence some people who were on the fence about the topic of being pro-life.

Ultimately, the snowstorm forced the group from Winona to cut the trip short. Instead of participating fully in the march, they made the decision to climb back aboard the bus and head for home, but not before saying a prayer for all those who would forge ahead until reaching the nation’s capital. The risk of getting stranded on the highway was simply too high, Frost expressed.

In addition to a bus going to Washington, a bus of Saint Mary’s University seminarians, who participated in a similar rally in St. Paul over the weekend.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona is comprised of more than 100 parish groups. Eight of those parish groups helped raise funds to cover the transportation, hotel, and food expenses, according to Frost.

Frost said the trip cost between $275 and $300 per person.

The Diocese makes an annual trip to either Washington D.C. or Saint Paul, it depends on what day of the week Jan. 22 lands. If it happens to land in the middle of the week, Frost says it’s challenging for students to miss at least two days of school.

Though the trip got cut short because of the snowstorm, Frost was adamant when he said, “it was a beautiful witness of faith…it was a very powerful trip.”

For more information on the March for Life, find them on the Web at www.marchforlife.org, or call 202-234-3300.