ISHPEMING - With shrieks and laughter, a class of third-graders literally tumbled out onto the snow of the Al Quaal Recreation Area, Wednesday, for their first day of Birchview Elementary School's cross country skiing program.
A long-running program at the school, which is situated adjacent to the Ishpeming park, the school allows third -and fourth-grade students to learn roughly eight weeks of skiing and then switches to snowshoeing once snow conditions no longer allow skiing in the spring.
"You don't have to be a superstar to enjoy skiing," said gym, music and computer teacher Anne Asplund, who has been instructing the program for the past several years.
Third- grade students stand ready to head outside for their first cross country skiing session of the year. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The program provides boots, poles and skis for each student to use during the school's gym classes, as well as snowshoes to use later in the season.
Although Wednesday marked the first day of skiing for the third-grade group, the kids spent some time beforehand learning about their equipment.
"We learned how to put our shoes on. We learn how to hook ourselves in," Asplund said. "We learn how to fall."
Although the first session outdoors is mostly about letting the kids, many of whom have not skied before, get a feel for the skis, in the coming weeks they will learn different techniques that will help them develop into more confident skiers, like tackling some of the small hills on the "school" loop at Al Quaal.
For kids, the skiing program is not only a chance to be active outside during gym, but also a chance to try out an activity most end up enjoying a great deal.
"That you get to go down the hills," said Amanda Dougherty, 9, who also participated in the program last year. "We learn what positions to be in and what to do."
Although the first couple days of the program might lead to some falls as the kids adjust to having the skis strapped to their feet, for kids like Dougherty, the weekly skiing sessions are something to look forward to. And this year, Dougherty has big plans.
"Trying to go on hills I was afraid of last year," she said of what she was looking forward to this year.
This year the school was able to purchase more than $2,000 worth of new ski and snowshoe equipment thanks to grant money, donations from local businesses and the help of Birchview's parent group. The school also worked with local outfitter Wilderness Sports, which helped to secure good prices on the equipment, said Birchview Principal Brian Veale.
"It's a lifelong activity," Veale said of skiing. "They can use this all the way through life."
A cross country skier herself, Asplund said cross country skiing in particular is important for all kids to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and to have an activity to do in the winter.
"Everybody can do this," she said. " I didn't do well downhill (skiing), so it's a passion of mine."
West end kids who want to learn to ski, but who don't necessarily attend the Birchview School can still learn through the Ishpeming-Negaunee-NICE Community Schools enrichment program for kids in grades two to four. The program begins Jan. 17 and runs for eight weeks, with enrollment limited to 15 students. For more information on the program, call the community schools office at 475-4173.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.