For a state with plenty of winter, one way to get through it is to embrace the sports of snow.
Carrie Lee was inspired to put on a pair of skis as a sixth-grader at Washington Middle School in Brainerd. She boarded a bus bound for Ski Gull, on Cass County Road 77, without knowing a soul and discovered a lifetime passion that she handed down to her children.
"I just wanted to learn to ski," Lee said. "That Christmas I asked for skis. I spent every weekend out here I could."
Lee gained friendships and a skiing ability that has lasted throughout her adult life. Three years ago, Lee started working as an instructor with Ski Gull's program teaching sixth-graders to ski. The program works with 1,000 children.
Thursday, as the staff was busy preparing Ski Gull for the holiday weekend, Lee's 6-year-old daughter Paige was seated on a wooden bench in front of a laptop in the chalet. She broke into a wide smile when offered the chance to go outside on a mild December afternoon. Minutes later she was going down the slope on her skis.
"I like going fast," she said. And she likes going tubing and hitting the snow-covered slopes with her 13-year-old brother Garett. And there are the appealing wave-like jumps.
For Lee, having an outdoor activity that can be part of a winter lifestyle for young children as well as grandparents is part of the appeal of the ski slopes. She said she couldn't play basketball with her kids but skiing is an activity they can all enjoy - and enjoy together.
Garett is on the Brainerd High School alpine ski team. Paige is part of Ski Gull's alpine club for children. And Lee is the new executive director at Ski Gull.
"It seemed like a natural fit for me," Lee said of Ski Gull. "It's just a great resource for kids in the community to have."
Ski Gull is a nonprofit organization.
"A lot of people consider Ski Gull their winter playground," Lee said, noting people come from Little Falls and Detroit Lakes, as well as the immediate Brainerd area.
Lee's biggest goal this year is resurrecting the bus that first took her to Ski Gull, so other children will have the chance to learn to ski. Lee said she wants to get buses to all the schools Ski Gull serves - Pine River, Crosby, Pequot Lakes, Brainerd, Staples-Motley, Pillager, St. Francis of the Lakes and Lake Region. She has a Crosslake to Pequot Lakes bus trip worked out to Ski Gull and is working on one from Brainerd. The idea is to offer the bus trip to Ski Gull on Friday nights and Saturdays.
"It's a safe, healthy environment for kids to spend a lot of time at in the winter," Lee said.
Lee said she sees a huge benefit in introducing young people to the sport and encouraging an activity that is an individual sport but one that is inclusive of others.
"You can do it your whole life and it's never too late to learn either," Lee said, noting a member of the Ski Patrol at Ski Gull first learned to ski at age 40.
With a specialty hamburger menu, other food options, wine and beer, Lee said the tubing hill also makes for a great date night.
Ski Gull is also benefiting from the experience of Brian Moon, who was added to the staff as outdoor operations manager. A professional skier, Moon has more than 12 years of ski and snowboard industry experience, most recently from Summit County, Colo..
"Brian has been an incredible asset for Ski Gull," Lee said.
Moon is also experienced in freestyle park design, construction and maintenance. Ski Gull, which has 12 ski runs, is expanding its terrain park where athletes can push themselves with aerobatics and tricks.
And Moon noted recent work to re-engineer the tubing area making for a hands-free ride up the hill that allows people to lay back on the tube in a basically effortless transport. The link from the tube to the tow rope automatically separates at the top. Moon said it is now fast, fun and easy as people are able to power lounge the whole way.
Ski Camps, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 27, 28 and 29, offer to teach the basics to beginners or advance skills for those age 5-15. A snowboard camp is offered 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 30 and 31.
Ski Gull is closed Christmas Day but is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go online to www.skigull.com or call 833-2SKI.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.