ELY - Ely has a heritage of cross-country skiing dating back to its founding in 1888. The community’s Scandinavian settlers and their descendents took to skis for wilderness travel and fun. A …
ELY - Ely has a heritage of cross-country skiing dating back to its founding in 1888. The community’s Scandinavian settlers and their descendents took to skis for wilderness travel and fun. A number of ski clubs and groups helped maintain that tradition, holding ski-jumping and downhill and cross-country skiing operations through the years.
The Hidden Valley Recreation Area, located just east of town, is the modern-day reincarnation of that Ely skiing tradition. Alpine skiing and ski-jumping activities have both faded into memory, but Nordic skiing is thriving and the 25 kilometers of trails have gained a reputation as being among the best in the Midwest.
In the late 1980s, Bob Cary, a local newspaper editor, and Bob Sommers, an avid skier, got together a hardy bunch of volunteers to plan out new ski trails near the Hidden Valley Chalet. Thus was born the Ely Nordic Ski Club.
Club president Steve Lampman was one of those original ski enthusiasts. “Our main focus continues to be to provide quality skiing with a good trail system,” he said. The seemingly endless loops of trails wind through forests over mix of city, county, state and federal land.
“Back in the 1960s they had downhill slopes and ski-jumping along with the cross-country trails,” he said. “At that time the high school ski meets here included all three disciplines.”
This reincarnation of the historical Ely ski clubs grew as the trails did, with hard labor, persistence and dedication, he said. “As the club attracted new members and generated support, the trails became the best groomed in the area.”
Today, Hidden Valley boasts a trail system that continues to evolve. “We have added trails over the years and we have reworked some of the trails that were really old,” Lampman said. “There were some trails from 40 or 50 years ago that we have widened and fixed up. We run on basically three different government agencies’ land.”
The city of Ely leases a couple of acres from the Department of Natural Resources on which houses the buildings and parking areas. “They have put all of the responsibility for maintaining this facility on the club,” he said. “Without the city, we couldn’t do a lot of this. They have been so instrumental in helping us out.” He mentioned the city’s snowplow services and the installation of the area’s new lighting system as important examples of ongoing support. “(Ely Clerk-Treasurer) Harold Langowski has been like our patron saint.”
Expanding the Hidden Valley trail system is a long-term goal for the Nordic Ski Club. “We would have to go through all the federal and state channels, and we are looking into expanding for single-track mountain bike trails,” Lampman said. “We hope to get started with that through the DNR next summer. It all takes money. We want to make this a year-round sports center.”
The continued development of Hidden Valley into a premier Nordic ski area has aided the growth of the high school’s Nordic ski program. The Ely Nordic Wolves continually compete at a very high level against much larger school across the state.
Ely is also among the largest Minnesota Youth Ski League chapters in the state. That popular program offers children between the ages of four and 15 the opportunity to learn and enjoy cross-country skiing. The program emphasizes skiing for fun and fitness as a lifelong activity. They meet on Sundays in January and February.
“Last year, over 120 Ely kids participated in our program,” Lampman said. “We have a huge program. We make lots of fun. The kids don’t even know they are learning how to ski. There is a curriculum, not just a fun time. Our high school coach works with the MYSL coaches and there is a plan to the learning.”
The renovation of the Hidden Valley Chalet began about 10 years ago and is almost complete. Most of the work continues to be accomplished by hundreds of volunteer hours from local skiers and non-skiers. Many local businesses donated supplies and materials, Lampman said.
“In the beginning, all we had was a concrete floor and a flat roof,” he said. “The roof leaked and we had very little insulation.” The structure was built in about 1960. “We put in new windows and doors. We now have two inches of foam against the block walls, and we now have a pitched roof with lots of insulation. We cut our fuel bill in half the first year, and now with solar heat and a new furnace we cut our costs even more than that.” A new septic system was also part of the upgrades, along with many new bathroom fixtures.
He said a rubberized floor will be installed in the basement this year. “The office is done down there and we have to panel the exercise room. We are turning this into a nice facility. People who come here are amazed with the facility we have now,” he said.
Lampman said the kitchen area was brought up to code and improved immensely. “We had to jump through a lot of hoops. I think it cost about $25,000 or more. He noted that Nina Haaverson, who just recently died in an automobile accident, was instrumental in getting the kitchen modernized. “No one spent more time in there than Nina,” he said. “She and her family were quite involved. They had five kids and we had her for a lot of years. We really miss her.”
New LED lighting has been installed throughout the facility, and solar-powered trail lighting is also on the improvement list. “We went from burning 1,000 watts to 125 watts with the same, if not better illumination.”
All proceeds from memberships and chalet rentals go back into the maintenance of the building, and the upkeep of grooming equipment. Wayne Pasmick has been a groomer at Hidden Valley for about nine years. “We have three snowmobiles and a variety of implements that we pull behind, depending on what we have to do to the trails,” Pasmick said.
“We obviously groom after every snowfall and periodically to maintain the quality of the trail,” he said. “If I’m reforming the ski track, it is always in my best interest to do it at night because the track has a chance to set for eight hours or more and can withstand more use.”
The Nordic Ski Club also grooms the 6.5 km Trezona Trail loop. “There are a lot of people in the community and visitors who use that trail in the winter, not only for skiing, but for just walking their dog and enjoying the outdoors right in town,” he said.
The Hidden Valley Recreation Area trails are for non-motorized use and are part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) Grant-In-Aid program. As such, users are required to have a Minnesota Ski Pass when using the trails in the winter.
Membership dues are an important part of maintaining Hidden Valley. Members have unlimited access to 25+ kilometers of machine-groomed ski trails and key-less entry to the Hidden Valley Chalet. The Ely Nordic Ski Club is a non-profit organization. Any donations, above and beyond membership dues, are tax deductible. If you are skiing as a non-member, a donation of $5 per day is requested, Lampman said. Basic Membership Dues are: Family/Household, $50 per year; and Individual, $25 per year
Trails Sponsors are individuals and businesses that donate a minimum of $100 to support the trails maintenance each season. As a thank you, the club inscribes the name or business on a hand-routered wooden sign, prominently displayed, at the Hidden Valley trail head.
The Board of Directors for the Ely Nordic Ski Club consists of 10 volunteer members. Board term length is three years with one-third elected annually.
Monthly board meetings are open to the public and held on the first Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Hidden Valley Chalet.
For more information on the Ely Nordic Ski Club, including trail conditions at the Hidden Valley Recreation Area, the Minnesota Youth Ski League, and the Ely Nordic Wolves ski team, go to www.elynordic.org.