ISHPEMING - Ishpeming resident Mary Epperson and her children were among the first to arrive at Thursday night's Torch Light Trek at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming - and for good reason.
"The year before last, we got there too late," Epperson said. "So this year, the kids wanted to get here early."
The temperature might have been in single digits, but the fun was immeasurable for the kids participating in the event, which serves as the kickoff to the Noquemanon Ski Marathon weekend.
Christopher Steele, 5, starts down the ski trail as his sister, Samantha, 8, prepares to follow. Both are watched by their mother, Mary Epperson of Ishpeming. The Steeles were two of the dozens of participants in Thursday night’s Torch Light Trek in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Bob Hendrickson, right, and Spencer Giroux light the first flame for the Torch Light Trek at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming. Hendrickson coordinated the event, which is a free cross country skiing evening for kids that serves as the kickoff for the Noquemanon Ski Marathon weekend. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Epperson's children Samantha Steele, 8, and Christopher Steele, 5, were bundled up and ready to ski. They, like many other of the more than three dozen participants, were loaned skis and boots for the event, which is designed to let newcomers get a taste of the sport. Skis and boots were loaned out from the nearby Birchview School, which has cross country skiing as part of its physical education program.
But youngsters with some experience took part in the Torch Light Trek activities as well, like the Giroux brothers: Spencer, 12; Levi, 10; and Joe, 6.
"Joey just got started," said the boys' mother, Anne Giroux, who lives in Ishpeming. "But Levi and Spencer have done some cross country with the (Ishpeming) Ski Club. It's a great program."
Joe Giroux was on his skis right away, at first without his poles, but then having his mom hand them to him so he could go uphill.
His brother, Levi, was zipping around on his skis right from the start of the event.
"It doesn't feel cold to me," Levi said.
Oldest brother Spencer helped Bob Hendrickson, who was coordinating the event for sponsoring organization, the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, set up the tiki torches which lined the area to show the kids where to ski. Spencer had the honor of lighting the first torch.
"I've done the Torch Light Trek before," he said as he lit the torch. "This year, I am volunteering. I am in the Strength from Within program (through Bell Hospital) and we need to get volunteer hours.
"I like cross country skiing, maybe not as much as downhill, but I like it," he said. "It's really fun."
Ski Hall CEO Tom West brought hot chocolate and cookies to the course so kids could enjoy a snack while warming up by the small fire pits on either side of the staging area.
"I think this event stimulates an interest in skiing in kids," West said. "It can encourage kids in a way that's perfect for the sport. Skiing is a part of this community's heritage. Plus an event like this promotes good health."
Kenzie Etelamaki, 3, was among the youngest Torch Light Trek participants. She was bundled up by her mom, Christi, to get ready to hit the trail.
"This is a nice program," Christi Etelamaki said. "Kenzie actually was here last year, too."
Kenzie wasn't talking to the press, but she did give a shy nod when asked if she was ready to ski.
And off to ski she went, her mom and her dad, David, right beside her as they joined dozens of others enjoying a chilly night of cross country in Ishpeming, the birthplace of skiing in the United States.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.