Bike to Ski: Making the Most of a Dry Winter

This winter’s unseasonably dry weather has been a boon for winter cyclists. We have been able to get by without having to worry too much about road salts (any applications were washed away in the late December rains), and for the most part, we have not needed the winter tires so necessary to traverse snow and ice. But for winter sports enthusiasts, the lack of snow has been a bit depressing. It’s been too warm for many of the skiing venues to make snow — until recently, that is. With the return of colder temperatures this January, the snow machines are working overtime, and avid skiers are able to head to their favorite destinations to get their glide on.

In recent years, I’ve been eager to see how many of my traditional car trips I could replace with a bike. Commuting, shopping, appointments, camping trips: Those are all errands and activities I’ve tried to conquer on two wheels. I’ve long toyed with the idea of somehow hitching a trailer to haul my skis and poles to my winter recreation destinations.

“Bungee loops” or “toggle loops” are available in multi-packs at hardware stores for less than $10. The Finn Sisu yellow straps bind skis and poles for easy cartage.

But then, I found those bungee loops (or ball cords) in my shed. Bingo! I don’t need a trailer. I just need a way to lash the skis to my bike frame. Boom! Works fine.

Living in St. Paul, I have traditionally been frustrated by having the venues that produce snow for Nordic skiing across town, in the west metro: Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington, Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove and, of course, Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Now those of us in the east metro have a new facility at an old and wonderful location: Battle Creek Park, in the southeastern corner of St. Paul. Battle Creek is currently the only place in the east metro that makes its own snow; and with a steadily improving off-street bike network in our city, Battle Creek is now much easier to access on two wheels.

The new bike trail along Kellogg Boulevard connects the Capitol City Bikeway to the Sam Morgan Trail via North Sibley Street.
The underpass between North Sibley and Union Depot features a river motif stamped into the concrete, plus decorative lighting.

Approaching Battle Creek from downtown St. Paul, I took the new off-street bike path along Kellogg Boulevard to get to Union Depot, where North Sibley brings you right across Warner Road to the Sam Morgan Trail. The ride along the Mississippi River affords sweeping views of the bluffs of Indian Mounds Regional Park, and the distant hills of Woodbury and Newport.

A fresh dusting of snow reveals the day’s bike tracks this early January day along the Sam Morgan trail.

A rise in the trail takes us past a cement plant and over a rail yard.

The Cemstone plant at the bend in the river, and at the juncture of barge and rail traffic.

On to Battle Creek

If, like me, you have been transfixed by the Minnesota DNR EagleCam, you might have noticed the sounds of nearby barge horns, freight trains, helicopters, trucks and planes, from the vicinity of the eagle’s nest every spring. All of that noise points to this specific location: a DNR property at the base of Mounds Park, where there is a nearby rail yard, barge traffic and the downtown St. Paul airport, as well as Shepard and Warner roads. If you had ever driven that stretch of Warner, you might have noticed an impressive aerie in a denuded tree, and what seems to be a camera mounted on an adjacent branch. Sadly, that aerie collapsed in a storm last April, but the camera itself remains in operation, catching occasional glimpses of the eagles still active nearby. 

This entrance to a DNR facility leads to wooded bike paths and a shortcut to, and under, Highway 61.

Just across the street from where that eagle’s nest once stood is a trail entrance through the campus of the DNR Central Region Headquarters.

Head into the woods, where there is apparently an archery range.

The Battle Creek Trail connects Point Douglas Road to Century Avenue, along Lower Afton Road.

The trail brings us to the edge of Highway 61 and follows alongside it for some distance, to a tunnel that passes under the highway and to one of many entry points to Battle Creek Park. From here, we have to navigate our way to the Recreation Center, because no signage is there to help (the entrance is near Upper Afton Road on Winthrop).

On a Sunday afternoon in January, skiers swamped the only curated ski trails in the east metro.

Battle Creek Regional Park’s new facilities include equipment barns for grooming trails. Until very recently, Ramsey County used temporary shipping containers for that purpose.

The park gets heavy use by high school Nordic teams and practiced skiers along with families with young, novice skiers. Trails are groomed for both traditional and skate skiing. Skis, poles and boots are available for rent in the rec center.

Wayfinding signs are helpful and now feature colorful descriptors of natural features.

The park features around six miles of trails, but less than half of that course offers machine-made snow. When I was there, only about a mile was open for skiing, but the “snow guns” were working overtime to prepare more trails for snow-starved skiers.

Battle Creek is very hilly and features some challenging terrain for more advanced skiers. The course features prairie, hardwood and conifer forest, spectacular views of the river valley, wayfinding signs that include colorful descriptors of natural amenities and a hill appropriately named “Cowabunga!”

Cowabunga! (March 2023)

In addition to the ski trails, Battle Creek also features snowshoe and hiking trails. Of course, this winter favors boots over skis, and with all of the cancellations and modifications of winter events, we may be better off getting around with waterproof hiking shoes than with snowshoes and skis.

One of my favorite spots in the course, at the bottom of a steep-but-not-treacherous hill. By this point in the course, the crowds have thinned out, and we have the woods to ourselves (March 2023).

Still, with winter snow less of a certainty as our seasons continue to warm, it’s good to find those facilities where manufactured snow is still an option. And should we need the reminder, it’s also good to favor low-carbon emitting means of getting there.

Photos by Ed Steinhauer

Ed Steinhauer

About Ed Steinhauer

Ed Steinhauer is a teacher and artist living in St. Paul, Minnesota.