On January 31, 2019, the high temperature in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was three degrees below zero; the low was twenty-three below. Most people wouldn’t dare to brave weather like that—even with the help of multiple layers and insulated boots.
But the people of Minnesota are a different breed. They are dedicated to making the most of their environment, taking full advantage of the wealth of outdoor adventures available year-round. The annual City of Lakes Loppet Festival, which takes place toward the end of January each year, is a shining example of just how unfazed most Minnesotans are by the cold—and how they choose to embrace it.
The festival began in 2002, thanks to a group of organizers led by Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and two park board commissioners, Jon Olson and John Erwin. The group wanted to help foster a passion for outdoor exploration in the greater Minneapolis area, with a focus on inclusivity and creating a lifelong dedication to being active. With skiing being such a popular winter activity in Minneapolis, they decided to hold a point-to-point ski race modeled after some of the area’s other cross-country races. More than eight hundred skiers participated in that first event, and its success led to the creation of the Loppet Foundation, which now organizes not only the Loppet Festival but also a handful of other popular events and programs.
“Over the years, the organization has grown to include many other initiatives,” says the foundation’s marketing manager, Alora Jones. “At its heart, it still focuses on holding high-quality, large-scale events like the City of Lakes Loppet Festival, engaging the north Minneapolis community in outdoor activities, and building a community around this active lifestyle.” According to Jones, the Loppet Festival continues to be the driving force behind the foundation, and its success helps keep its other programs running throughout the year.
Loppet of Leave It
What started with eight hundred participants has expanded to an average of 15,000 to 20,000 volunteers, competitors, and spectators each year. There are eight categories of events, including cross-country skiing, skijoring, fat-tire bicycling, and family events.
The events geared toward local children and families are among the most important and are closely related to the foundation’s mission of stewardship and community.
Youth athletes can compete in a number of events, such as the Minne-Loppet, which is designed to introduce children to cross-country skiing; the Junior Loppet, with divisions for ages 19 and under; and the Loppet Age Gap Relays, a combined event for adults and kids to race together. In addition, the Minnesota Youth Ski League SuperCarnival offers a number of relay and obstacle course events for kids of all ages.
The Loppet Festival doesn’t just attract skiers, though. There are many more exciting events representative of the region. For example, the Captain Ken’s Kubb Tournament—the largest winter kubb tournament in the world—encourages first-time players and those experienced with the game to compete head-to-head. The game brings out
Minnesota’s Swedish roots, as it dates back to the age of the Vikings. It’s comprised of two teams facing each other, attempting to knock down the other’s five kubbs (small, upright wooden blocks) by throwing a baton. Five kubbs are lined up in a row on each side. There are also Loppet events for orienteering, snowshoeing, and skijoring—a popular winter activity that is similar to dogsledding.
Jones says that, seventeen years after the festival’s inception, the most popular event of the entire weekend remains the UCare Luminary Loppet, which has been a part of the festival since 2006. Over 10,000 people walk, snowshoe, or ski their way around the Lake of the Isles to look at massive snow sculptures, watch special performances, and enjoy interactive activities, all surrounded by beautiful luminaries and light displays.
Blazing a Trail
One of the most exciting parts of the 2019 Loppet Festival was its new location at the recently completed Trailhead at Theodore Wirth Park. Traditionally, the larger ski races, such as the Skate Marathon and the Tour Skate, began at the park and ended at the city’s largest lake, Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun). However, 2019’s events began at the Chain of Lakes and finished at the new Trailhead. “This new 14,000-square-foot facility now serves as a year-round hub for outdoor adventure in Minneapolis,” says Jones. “At its new location at the Trailhead, the Loppet Foundation is poised to serve more people than ever and will soon be host to some exciting new events as well.” One such event is a Cross Country World Cup ski race, which is slated to take place in March of 2020. This is the first event of its kind in the US in nearly twenty years, and it will bring some of the world’s most talented skiers to the Loppet Foundation’s headquarters at the park.
The Loppet Foundation always strives to provide Minneapolis residents with new ways to have fun and be active
in their backyard through a culture of inclusivity and an appreciation of nature that is deeply rooted in this state. “That outdoors and active culture is definitely evident, not just in our organization but also throughout the state of Minnesota,” says Jones. “Even without the world-class facilities and trail systems, we believe that everyone benefits from being outdoors and active because it improves quality of life across so many metrics—and it’s something that everyone deserves to experience.”
For more info, visit loppet.org