It is only 9:45 on a Sunday morning, but the Dakota Ridge parking lot is already bustling. Youngsters spill out of mini-vans and SUVs as their parents fumble with skis, poles and backpacks stuffed with gear.
The Tetrahedron Outdoor Club Dakota Ridge Jackrabbit Program, which offers ski instruction to kids aged four through nine, had to be cut short during its second season due to warm weather, but that fact, combined with the light drizzle, has done little to dampen the spirits of the children and families participating in this wrap-up event on Feb. 28.
Once snowsuits are zipped and ski-boots laced, the children are gathered to listen and watch as their coaches enact a dramatic reading of The Race of the Birkebeiners. This slice of Norwegian history, which features brave warriors, an infant prince and his saintly mother racing across mountain passes in flight from murderous villains, has borne the Birkie, one of the world's best known cross-country ski races.
When the story is done, all strap their own infant princes to their backs, then head up to the skills area for a somewhat tamer version of the race. While the four to six year old "bunnies" ski a circuit around this practice space, the seven to nine year old "jack-rabbits" race through a more hilly course in the woods above.
For each circuit completed, bunny and jackrabbit alike are allowed to pluck from a basket a home-baked cookie. With this incentive in place, the dramatic improvement in student skill becomes apparent.
Some of these young folks, who, until a few weeks ago, had never strapped on skis, are now climbing steep hills and spraying snow as they navigate tight corners before sailing up to the cookie table like Olympians.
It all ends quickly, children brushing crumbs from their lips as their parents pull them back into vehicles so they can catch the start of the Canada/U.S. gold medal hockey game, giving the coaches barely enough time to share goodbyes and wishes for a return next season.