Ski trail provides winter recreation opportunity with a view
Scott Tichy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District Lake Ashtabula lead park ranger, grooms the cross-country ski trails at Lake Ashtabula, near Valley City, North Dakota, Feb. 17. (Photo Credit: Patrick Moes) VIEW ORIGINAL

Amid the rolling hills and pine trees covered in a blanket of snow overlooking Lake Ashtabula, near Valley City, North Dakota, lies a cross-country ski trail seldom seen across the region.

The ski trail, 5 kilometers in length, is one of the unique winter recreation amenities at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District’s Lake Ashtabula. Scott Tichy, Lake Ashtabula lead park ranger, said the trail is the only one that he is aware of within the Mississippi Valley Division. He said that while North Dakota is prone to cold weather, snow and blizzards, the community still likes to get outside and recreate. “Recreation doesn’t stop just because it’s winter in this part of the world,” he said. “Our visitors want to come out and recreate, and we try to accommodate those folks.”

The ski trail, located within the Eggert’s Landing campground on the east side of the lake, is a quiet area during the winter with an occasional deer or rabbit running atop the snow, or an owl or eagle flying overhead. With the annual wintery white blanket on the ground usually from early November until early April, Tichy said the long snow season makes it a perfect location for cross-country skiing. He added that the Lake Ashtabula park rangers groom the trail at least once a week for both skate skiing and classical skiing to ensure it’s safe for visitors.

For Tichy, the passion for cross-country skiing started at an early age. He grew up racing and participated in the Minnesota State High School cross-country ski tournament three times before moving on to ski for the University of Minnesota. Wanting to share that passion for winter recreation at Lake Ashtabula, Tichy said he started thinking of options. “Whenever I look at providing a new recreation opportunity, I start by looking across the region to see whether another agency is already providing that opportunity,” said Tichy. In reviewing cross-country ski opportunities, he said he realized that there were limited opportunities in North Dakota with the closest trail more than 30 miles away.

He said developing the trail was relatively easy since it was on frozen ground and covered existing hiking trails and service roads. In the 20 years since the team started grooming the trail, Tichy said he’s witnessed the interest in the cross-country skiing increase over time. He said one of the added benefits of doing this has been the opportunity to use the grooming equipment to create a trail for the North Dakota Winter Olympics, which are annually held in Valley City. “Anytime you can partner with somebody else is special,” he said. “To be able to help that community…you are not going to find a group of athletes that are more appreciative of the support you give them. They work as hard as any other athlete does at what they want to do, and to be asked to help make that experience better for them is really an honor for us.”

In addition to cross-country skiing, Tichy said snowmobiling ice fishing, birding and snowshoeing are a few other options for winter recreation at Lake Ashtabula. He added that anyone wanting more information on these opportunities to include where the fish are biting should just give the Lake Ashtabula staff a call.