Reusse: At Wirth Park’s Trailhead for skiers, ‘wildest dreams’ are realized

My longtime radio partner Joe Soucheray has several admirable qualities. Patience is not among them.

This is the reason for Sooch's advice to his vast listening audience that, when faced with a traffic snarl, don't lollygag — "make a move."

The best possible ''move" is one that's pre-planned. Thus, when there's snow, sleet, rain or just gloom, I try to stay off Hwy. 100, and I don't even consider encountering Interstate 394 as it heads east toward Satan's Tunnel.

Golden Valley Road, right on Wirth Parkway, to either Plymouth Avenue or over to Hwy. 55 … that's the ticket.

For several years now in the winter, there's a bonus with the second option:

You get to observe the activity taking place at what's called the Trailhead, the centerpiece of the long effort to get more for the public out of the urban treasure that is Theodore Wirth Park.

"Wirth has 975 total acres, about the same as Central Park in New York," Claire Wilson said. "And what's amazing is you can see the skyline of downtown Minneapolis while participating in almost all of the activities."

Wilson, the executive director of the Loppet Foundation, added: "You can also start at the Trailhead and ski to downtown on a trail.''

My curiosity about the place started in the early winter of 2020-21. We still were either canceling or limiting crowds for most events, but skiing and other events were witnessed at Wirth — crowds, outdoors and cold enough to prefer a mask.

"I think we are all pleasantly surprised as to how quickly the Trailhead became popular,'' Wilson said. "We do suspect that COVID-19 was part of that. There wasn't as much else to do, and folks rediscovered it was great to be outdoors.

"We have so many people involved now. For instance, on Thursday nights we have an organized group of young Black women snowboarding, and they are having such fun … it's tremendous.''

The Trailhead building that is now a leaping-off point for activities was the dream of the Loppet Foundation (founded, 2003). It's just around a parkway turn from the stately Wirth Chalet, which opened in the 1920s to serve the golf course.

The Trailhead building opened in 2018 and was a necessity for getting an event on the World Cup circuit for cross-country skiing in 2020. As the pandemic caused many civilians to return to outdoor activity in the winter at Wirth, it also caused the World Cup race to be canceled.

"It is extremely rare to have a World Cup cross-country race in the United States," Wilson said. "It has been decades."

The cause is not lost. No official announcement yet, but there will be a World Cup Nordic event at Wirth in February 2024.

Jessie Diggins, Minnesota's international star in cross-country skiing, is on the World Cup circuit. racing this weekend at Livigno, Italy.

Asked by email about what's been taking place at Wirth, Diggins responded:

"I'm very supportive of the Theodore Wirth trails and all the efforts that have gone into making them such a great place to ski. I'm so grateful to all the volunteers and organizers that have made these trails so fun for beginners and racers alike."

Sydney Drevlow, a sophomore at Hopkins, was a state champion last February and the winner of a national junior event when that championship was held at Wirth in March.

"I love Wirth, with the variety of snow … manmade and natural, and with great hills," she said. "It's amazing to have a place like that so close to where I live."

R.T. Rybak, the Minneapolis mayor from 2002 to 2014, skied in the Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis., for the first time in 2000.

"I was astounded by how many people from the Twin Cities were participating" Rybak said. "The group I was with, we started saying, 'Why can't we have something like this tied in with our lakes?' "

Some of those people were involved in the early days of the Loppet Foundation — which I pronounced "Lop-it,'' and R.T. corrected me with "Lope-it."

The City of Lakes Loppet started in very modest fashion in 2003. It continues now as a large event Feb. 4-5, with a trail that starts at Wirth, goes under Hwy. 55, past Wirth's Quaking Bog, across an I-394 overpass, then Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and finally Bde Maka Ska.

Rybak, now the head of the Minneapolis Foundation, said:

"The city, the Loppet Foundation, the generosity of David Dayton with the Trailhead, the endless volunteers … what we have had happen at Wirth is beyond my wildest dreams."

Mine, too, R.T. — and my only dream was a quicker route downtown when there was sure to be heavy traffic.