While downhill skiing is the main attraction at Lutsen, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are two important sideshows. They both are means of getting across the frozen landscape using muscle power alone. Both will get you into areas you would have a hard time reaching on foot alone, during winter. They both can help you disappear into vast forests and whiteness.

But if you really want to see the whole forest, you need to go slow. Snowshoes and cross country skis will take you places downhill skis and ATVs simply can’t.

Joe Trela has worked at Duluth’s Ski Hut for over 30 years. Naturally, he is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about winter sports. Though downhill skiing is great, he notes the advantages cross-country skiing has over downhill.

“You aren’t dependent on the ski operations and light,” he said. “With cross country skiing you can go anywhere there is snow.”

The picture changes when the snow gets very deep. Cross country skiers have to stick to trails once the snow gets thick. Though there are many trails close to Caribou Highlands Lodge, sometimes you don’t want to be kept in line.


“You can get more in tune with nature with snowshoes. When you snowshoe you are making the trail a lot of the time,” Joe said, “You might see someone on your trail and you might not see anyone.”

Snowshoeing is the ultimate in winter mobility. But, it is slow work, especially when breaking the trail. Joe notes that people staying at winter cabins will often make a few paths to the few places they will be going and keep packing those down.When the snow isn’t too deep or there is a trail, cross-country skiing is the way to go.

“I use to snowshoe in college and hike,” Joe said. “Then, I saw these people slide by on skis and I said that looks like a whole lot more fun. And that is when I got into it.”

Though not as mobile as snowshoes, Joe notes that cross-country skiers can often go off trail. He says that it is easier to learn on a groomed trail. This helps you get used to keeping your skis side by side until you learn the motion. It is also best to avoid hills at first.

There isn’t much to learn to go snowshoeing but it helps to pick out the right equipment. He suggest picking shoes that are rated for all the weight they will hold, including packs and clothing. Some like the old bigger shoes but the newer ones are lighter and more maneuverable. Caribou Highlands Lodge is happy to lend you a pair of snowshoes.

Using shoes or skis he recommends using the buddy system, in case you get hurt or get stuck. You are there to have fun, not act out the end of Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”

In the past Joe has used both shoes and skis to get where he was going. He even added in a third means of winter travel, ice skates. He used them all for a sort of wilderness triathlon.

“I used to have one pair of boots and you could swap it into all three of those items and do all of them at one time,” Joe said.

He would skate on a lake until the ice gave way to the snow. Then he would snap of the skates and put on the skis. When he the path became too narrow, like at the Boundary Water’s portages, he would snap on the go-go gadget snowshoes and keep moving.

In each case he was switching to a slower to but more versatile form of transportation, as the path kept getting rougher. None of the three modes were inferior. Each one was just made for a different terrain.


Skiing by Timo Newton-Syms licensed under CC BY SA
Snowshoeing! by Howard Kang licensed under CC BY SA