Cross-Country Skiing: Learning Ski Techniques, Embracing Minnesota Winters and Discovering a Sport to Enjoy for a Lifetime

Participation in the sport of cross-country skiing has increased for high school girls in the last several years. Of the 178 students registered with the Rochester Nordic Ski Team (RNST), 110 are female.  

Paul Ehling, district representative of RNST, says most girls on the team pursue lettering with their high school athletics department, a symbol of commitment and hard work for students. Cross-country skiing is one of the sports a high school girl may letter in after meeting requirements, which include attending practices and competitions, participating in community service and demonstrating proficiency in ski techniques.  


With RNST, students from Rochester area schools in grades 7-12 learn a form of cross-country skiing known as skate skiing. Along the trail they often develop a love for the sport that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

RNST was founded in 2001 by Henry Walker, Darald Bothum and Michael O’Connor.  It was originally a community education offering, but because interest in the sport grew, the team is now hosted by Rochester Active Sports Club.

The season begins the week following Thanksgiving and runs through the end of February.  Practices are three times each week at Quarry Hill or Essex Park, if there is snow cover, or at the Heintz Center for dry land practice. Meets are scheduled throughout the season with both Winona and Red Wing. The team also participates in the Rochester Invitational each January, and Maplelag Ski Camp allows students an opportunity to more intensively train during a three-day weekend.


Fiona Ehling, a Mayo High School sophomore, is in her third year with RNST. She does not aspire to letter in the sport but rather, has set her sights on participating in the Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski marathon in North America.  

Fiona says that at first, she had a fear of racing and that the idea created a lot of stress for her. But last year she decided to race in a competition in Winona. She was happily surprised with the results.

“I placed second,” she says.  “Just to place in a Nordic race was really exciting. It was the most amazing feeling ever.”

Fiona loves the feeling of being on skis. She says racing feels like flying through the snow.  She enjoys the cold in her face and how she has to use her entire body to push herself through the snow.

“At the end of it, I feel accomplished,” she says.  “Tired but so ready to do it again.”


Leah Karsten is one of 46 volunteer coaches for RNST, but her story is unique. She came to the program first as a student and skied as a member of the team from eighth grade through her senior year. She lettered in the sport as well. She appreciated her experience in RNST and wants to give back to the community that fostered her love of skiing.

Leah, who loves endurance sports and the feeling of accomplishment in having traveled a long distance on skis, says she considers herself a lifetime skier. “It’s a great way to embrace the winter,” she says. “I love that it’s a silent sport, a time to connect with nature.”

For Leah, it is the sense of community in being a member of RNST that has remained in her memory and has inspired her to coach. She says becoming more involved with the community and getting to know students from other high schools was rewarding.  Also especially meaningful was seeing the coaches’ dedication to the sport and their love for skiing and their community.

Holly Galbus is a Rochester freelance writer.