HIBBING — When Brian Karich was out on the Carey Lake Ski Trails, he happened to bump into Lisa Dolinich and the pair started talking.
The topic of conversation was setting up a nordic event.
After all, Carey Lake has a course that’s 11K long, which is more than enough to hold a legitimate challenge, and the Carey Lake Classic Nordic Ski Challenge was born.
The challenge will take place on Feb. 19, and will include eight age divisions for both females and males.
There will be a 3K course for the 14-and-under divisions, and an 11K course for the 15-and-over divisions.
“It’s not supposed to be intimidating,” said Bethany Jones, who is one of the members of the committee. “There’s a lot of intimidating races out there. There’s 25Ks. There’s 55Ks. This is an 11K course, and I think people might seem intimidated by that number, but it’s doable for anyone.
“People want to be outside so we can gather in larger numbers. This gives the community the opportunity to get together.”
The 3K race will be capped at a maximum of 30 entrants. The 11K race will be capped at 120.
“The reason we capped them off is we’re smaller for our first year,” Karich said. “We want to make sure we can handle the numbers. Those are the numbers that the committee felt were workable without being overworked with a small staff.”
According to Karich, it was long overdue to have this kind of challenge.
“After that conversation, the initial seed was planted,” Karich said. “I met with Pete (Hyduke) to see if he could help us out. Pete rolled out the red carpet for us and said that anything we needed, he’d be more than happy to support us.
“With that encouragement from the city, that’s how it initiated and started the organizational part.”
Karich, along with Dolinich, Cory Kolodji, Jones, Brian Baird and Cindy Hyduke, formed the committee to oversee everything.
“We’re organized in every aspect of a special event,” Karich said. “Now we’re thinking, ‘How will the numbers be in the first year?’ If we exceed 100, we’ll be successful. Those are the seeds that are going to grow into the second and third years where it is a successful skiing event for the community of Hibbing, the Iron Range and the regional area.”
According to Kolodji, every member of the committee has done their share of the work.
“The city has been fantastic,” Kolodji said. “We got started before the snow flew, and the city got in there and made some trail improvements. They made us a parking lot in the area that was logged recently, so we can park a lot of cars right at the start.
“The local businesses have been fantastic. Several of the mines have kicked in funding. The support in the community has been great. I know the skiers are going to come out of the woodwork. Maybe they’re waiting for it to warm up a little bit, but we have plenty of snow and fantastic trails.”
Dolinich is an avid skier. She has competed in the Birkebeiner, and other races around the area.
She knows the popularity of the sport.
“When we go out skiing at Carey Lake, or on the Iron Range, you see people from all over the place,” Dolinich said. “There’s people that travel from Duluth just to see different parts of the area, to ski different trails.
“For winter enthusiasts, it’s a good way to pass time in the winter and stay fit, get fresh air and get out of the house. Winter can drag, but it’s popular.”
Nordic skiing has also taken off at the high school level with Grand Rapids, Ely, Mesabi East and Deer River all fielding teams in the high school league.
The Minnesota Youth Ski League has programs scattered throughout the Iron Range, too.
“I want people to realize that winter isn’t that bad,” Dolinich said. “People use winter as an excuse to go indoors and hunker down until April. You can get some snowshoes or rent some skis and come out here and realize that when you’re in the woods, you can see an owl in a tree.
“You see things. You hear things. It feels so good. It’s relaxing. It’s healthy. Some people, when they go out there, they realize this is something they can enjoy. They might ask a friend to go and it becomes a regular thing. I would like to see people do that.”
With a facility like Carey Lake, it was an ideal location to hold a challenge.
“The Carey Lake ski trail system, I’ve always thought that it’s second to none,” Karich said. “It’s not like Giant’s Ridge professional area, but for a locally groomed trail across the Duluth/Iron Range area, I don’t think there’s any better.
“The grooming and tracking is done on a regular basis for us. Skiing in Hibbing is great. A part of me is selfish because I like being out there by myself, but the more we can grow skiing. The more people we can attract to Hibbing to ski Carey Lake, we can do more with the trail and the event itself.”
Jones agreed with that assessment.
“With this event, we can help make more improvements on the trail, better signage, better grooming, more improvements to keep trees off the trail,” Jones said. “Maybe we want to put more hiking trails out there. Maybe more snowshoe trails.
“A lot of people walk and snowshoe out there, but they can’t access the same places that the nordic ski trails can access. They want to see that as well. If we can make those improvements, that’s helpful for the community and city.”
The one thing the committee doesn’t want is to make it a race. That’s why they call it a challenge.
“We want to emphasize that the Challenge is whatever you, the entrants, are going to make the challenge,” Karich said. “For me, I’ll challenge myself to see if I can make that distance in the hills. Other people’s challenges might be to see how fast they can get through the course.
“Whatever the individual challenge is, that’s what we’re focusing on. Within that challenge, we have multiple ski levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced. If you have never been to an event before, we want to encourage you to come out and be a part of an event, whether you’re a beginner, recreational or nature skier.”
According to Dolinich, the awards for each division will be worth making the trip to Hibbing.
“I have wood slices, and each division will get a first place wood-burned plaque with the Carey Lake Classic logo on it for males and females,” Dolinich said. “We have another for the overall course record in the shape of Minnesota.
“They’re hand made by local artists with a laser engraver. It’s cool.”
There is early-bird registration through Sunday for $25. For online registration and complete information visit www.hibbingnordic.org. Each participant will receive a Carey Lake Challenge long sleeve tee.
“We’ve got an opportunity to make Hibbing shine here,” Kolodji said. “When the high school ski season ends, all of those kids and their families can think of something else to do. A lot of people from those communities will show up.”