Now that Central Minnesota has officially assumed its annual destiny as a six-month icebox, many of us are prepared to spend that time making a steadfast effort to stay outdoors for as little time as possible. But just because being outside may require a little more ardor and quite a few more layers, that doesn’t mean that we have to give up the enjoyment of the outdoors for the winter months. St. Cloud residents, and SCSU students in particular, have a vast array of options available for outdoor leisure and adventure.
Outdoor Endeavors, part of SCSU’s Campus Recreation department, is one resource students can utilize for trip planning and equipment rental. Equipment offered for rent through Outdoor Endeavors includes snowshoes, expedition sleds, ice fishing equipment, snow sleds and winter camping gear.
While they don’t rent out nordic ski equipment at Outdoor Endeavors, you can rent some at local ski shops or at several different state parks within Minnesota. There are a number of trail options in St. Cloud and the surrounding area, three of which are within two miles of SCSU.
Riverside Park has 15 kilometers of trail and is heavily utilized by local high school Nordic ski teams, along with other St. Cloud residents. Graystone trails offers a 17-kilometer mix of flat trail in open terrain and hilly trail in wooded terrain.
A ski pass is required to use this trail, which can be purchased online or at any state or county center that also sells fishing licenses. Another shorter, easier trail starts directly across Minnesota Boulevard from St. Ben’s Senior Center. Ivan Bartha, coordinator for Experimental Education, suggested a few other great trails in the area.
“We have some outstanding cross country ski trails around,” Bartha said. “The best one, in my opinion, would be Quarry Park. Some other good ones, a little farther away, are Lake Warner and Lake Maria State Park.”
Alpine Skiing / Snowboarding
Powder Ridge Recreation Area offers a close option for downhill skiing and snowboarding for a reasonable price. They often offer special deals to students on certain days of the week as well. If you don’t have a car or know someone who can give you a lift, Outdoor Endeavors has partnered with Powder Ridge and the Youth Shelter Supply to offer a shuttle that will bring students to Powder Ridge.
“The first date of that is Dec. 11,” Bartha said. “Students that don’t have transportation and that don’t have skis or snowboards can actually sign up online to register for the bus, which is $5 round-trip, and then on those nights lift tickets and rentals are discounted for SCSU students. We have five nights planned for that.”
At $9 per day, snowshoeing is one of the cheapest options with many trails close to campus. Riverside Park and Talahi Woods, which is just south of Riverside Park, are two close snowshoeing options. Other trails in the area include Quarry Park, St. John’s Arboretum, Charles A. Lindbergh State Park and Lake Maria State Park. You can also rent and snowshoe at 30 different state parks in Minnesota.
It goes without saying that ice fishing is a popular activity during Minnesota winters. A full range of ice fishing equipment is available for rental at Outdoor Endeavors, which is a rare option on a university campus.
“We are one of the only university outdoor programs in the country that rents ice fishing equipment out,” said
Bartha, who also shared his hopes to plan an ice fishing trip for international students in January.
“A lot of international students want to experience Minnesota culture but they don’t get the chance to experience certain things,” Bartha said. “We’ll take them out ice fishing for the day and come back and have a fish fry. Students have such a great time doing that.”
He said that in past years Outdoor Endeavors has organized the event for international students on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
This winter, SCSU’s Campus Recreation department will be adding a new rental item to its repertoire: fat bikes. A fat bike is a bike with over-sized tires and large forks to accommodate the wider rims. They are designed to be ridden over softer and unstable terrain such as snow, sand and mud.
“Hopefully by Dec. 1, we will have eight fat bikes for people to rent out,” Bartha said. “We are going to groom some of the trails in Talahi woods for riding the fat bikes.”
Some trails in the area that are designated as mountain biking trails in the summer months can be used for fat biking in the winter. The River Bluffs Regional Park trail system is an example.
Plan a Winter Trip
The bitter cold probably doesn’t automatically make many of us think about getting out and traveling, unless in an attempt to escape to warmer climates, but students have some great resources on campus to help them go on an extended adventure.
Outdoor Endeavors used to plan longer distance trips that students could sign up for, but they have become more hesitant to plan such trips, because of people withdrawing from the trip at the last minute.
“We used to do mostly open-enrollment trips,” Bartha said. “But there was always a magical number that we had to meet in order to break even. One person could make the difference between going and not going.”
He explained that one challenge they encountered was people wanting to sign up for trips without putting down a deposit. If they don’t put down a deposit, then it’s not a certainty that they will attend, which makes it a challenge, administratively, to plan a trip.
A couple examples of past spring break trips planned by Outdoor Endeavors includes sea kayaking in the Everglades, and a surf camp in Southern California.
“I’d be open to doing those things again, the problem is when we have all this money out there, have everything lined up, and have a contract with another university but then, at the last minute, people are pulling out and not wanting to pay,” Bartha said. “The amount of effort it takes administratively sometimes outweighs the return for the program.”
Because of the added challenges of long distance trips, Outdoor Endeavors is currently putting its focus on regional, custom trips. Bartha gave some ideas of regional, custom trips that students could put together, one being the Sandstone Ice Festival in Sandstone, Minn. The festival is Dec. 12 through 14.
“We get a bunch of people together and go up and camp out,” Bartha said. “It’s a great opportunity for students who like climbing, or are interested in winter camping, or would like to try something new in the outdoors.”
Another custom trip option is an overnight stay at the Outdoor Endeavors field house on Mille Lacs, next to Kathio State Park, where there are many options for activities, including snowshoeing, geo-caching and snow-kiting.
“One place we could go that would be a lot of fun would be the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We’ve rented a cabin or house close to the ski area. Even going up to Spirit Mountain would be a good trip,” Bartha said.
Another option later in the winter would be a Spring break service trip planned through the American Indian Center and the Department of Campus Involvement. Students travel to Lame Deer, Mo. to work with Native American children through the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation for the duration of spring Break.
While it may require you to bundle up, be creative and try something new, the winter months offer an array of fun activities that are unique to the season. If you embrace the season and utilize your resources, you just might be rewarded with an unforgettable adventure.