colorful vintage cross-country skis in a line

Morning Mug Series: Cross Country Ski Trail Edition

Cameron’s had the opportunity to step out into the awesome urban parkland, Theodore Wirth Park, one morning this week with Robert Ibler, Trails and Operations Director for The Loppet Foundation.

Robert oversees the grooming of cross-country ski trails across Minneapolis, ensuring that they are safe and enjoyable for all visitors. We followed Robert on his snowmobile to learn a little about what it takes to groom these gorgeous urban trails, why he loves his job and what his morning routine looks like. While Spring is on its way, there is still plenty of snow around and time to get out and enjoy cross-country ski trails!

What is your name and your role within The Loppet Foundation?

Robert Ibler – Trails and Operations Director

Can you tell us about your morning routine as a cross-country ski groomer?

It can vary quite a bit depending on what conditions warrant. Sometimes I’m up early to get out grooming first thing, other times I’m here late at night to groom overnight. Sometimes, like if we are having a snowstorm, it can be both! If I’m getting out early, I try to wake up and have a quick breakfast and coffee and get out the door before I lose momentum. If I’m going to be working late, I’ll usually sit on the couch with my dogs for a while and relax a bit before I head in.

What time do you usually wake up in the morning and how do you get going to get outside on a cold Minnesota morning?

Anywhere between 4am and 9am, depending on what my morning looks like. If it’s cold out and I’m going to be out for a while, putting on a ton of layers is a good place to start. Knowing that there are skiers who will be using the trails we are making right away makes it easier to get going.

Do you have any specific morning rituals or routines that help you with understanding what you need to do for a day of grooming?

I check my weather apps about a million times a day, which helps me know when the best time to go out will be and what the conditions will be like, but I still often don’t know quite how things will be until I get out on the snow.

How did you get started grooming trails with The Loppet Foundation?

I started as a volunteer! I live right near Theodore Wirth Park and I spent so much time in the park using the trails that I started helping out with maintaining them.

What’s involved in grooming the trails?

Grooming ski trails can accomplish several things to make a nice skiing experience.  It packs down new snow, loosens up old hard packed snow, smooths out bumps and ruts, and leaves a nice corduroy surface and classic tracks that skis can track nicely on.  We have a number of different machines and implements we can use for different situations, from big snow cats to snowmobiles pulling a smaller groomer or roller.  Most of our trails get groomed every morning or overnight.

Where in Minneapolis and beyond do you groom trails for Cross Country skiers?

We maintain ski trails at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, on the Chain of Lakes in Uptown, and at Columbia and Hiawatha golf courses.

We understand it takes a team of volunteers and other groomers to complete all the grooming… how many miles of trails are being groomed and how many are on the team to groom them?

We maintain about 40 miles of trails. There are five Loppet staff who groom trails, mainly at the areas we make snow in Wirth Park, as well as dozens of volunteers who help groom natural snow areas in Wirth, on the Chain of Lakes, and at Columbia and Hiawatha.

What’s your favorite part of your daily responsibilities?

I love that the services my team and I provide can support all the cool things the Loppet organization does, from getting kids exposed to outdoor recreation who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity, to elite level races, not to mention all of the everyday skiers who come out to enjoy the trails each day.

 What do you love most about your job?

I get to be outside in nature at weird hours of the day when everybody else is asleep, and it can be pretty awesome. 

What do you like most about the morning? 

I actually love being outside before the sun comes up. It’s a special time to be out, because not many other people are around. Sunrises are always a bonus.

Thank you Robert for letting Cameron’s tag along with you and The Loppet Foundation! Check out the cross-country ski conditions and the grooming report anytime here folks!

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