Their race to the finish

Published 12:34 pm Saturday, January 9, 2010

It’s been more than 20 years since there has been a cross-country ski race at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, but thanks to chance interest in the sport by two Austin brothers the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Ski Race is entering its second year.

While the race’s recent development is certainly a bonus for the popular Nature Center, the story behind it begins with Kyle and Kevin Dammen simply looking to stay in shape.

The Dammens, twin brothers who were stand-outs with the Austin cross-country team and graduated last year, wanted a different way to train through the Minnesota winter.

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“It was more we wanted something to do during the winter,” Kevin Dammen said. “Once we started, it was so much fun, we quit running and kept skiing.

“We decided originally that we wanted a race started again,” he added. “There aren’t many cross-country races in this area.”

The brothers approached Nature Center executive director Larry Dolphin.

“They approached me about doing this, and I said, ‘as long as you’re doing the work,’ ” Dolphin said, laughing. “They didn’t even hesitate.”

The race drew around 40 skiers in its first year. Going into the second year, the brothers admitted the going has been smoother.

“This year has been much easier seeing is that we have everything set-up,” Kyle said.

In the beginning, when the Dammens were planning the first race, there really had been no question as to where the race should be held.

“We love skiing here,” Kyle said. “It’s the best place I’ve ever seen.”

There was also no question as to where the money the race raises should go. Right back to the Nature Center.

Last year, the race earned $460, which they donated to the Nature Center. The same will hold this year with the hope of drawing at least double the number of skiers from last year.

However, the race doesn’t come without concerns, namely the unpredictability of the Minnesota winter.

“We do worry about that,” Kyle said. “We’re figuring out what we’re going to do if it’s postponed.”

Like all events, the Dammens are hoping to improve on their first year success, having drawn a positive reaction. Rather than one race, there are now three. The 13K freestyle/skate race, an 8K classic and a one mile race for kids and new skiers.

The courses themselves will also take a detour from last year, which last year took skiers on a more flat, open-course route.

“This year we wanted to get into the woods,” Kevin said.

“In the woods is more of a challenge.”

And like last year, each skier will receive a T-shirt with engraved mugs being given to the top-three finishers in each race.

“It’s been an interesting process,” Kyle said. “We’ve heard from the people last year that they were pretty happy with the race.”

“I’m thoroughly impressed with the wonderful job they did last year,” Dolphin said. “I heard a lot of good things about the race.”

2010 Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Ski Race

Where: Jay C. Hormel Nature Center

When: Saturday, Jan. 23.

Times: Beginners/kids race, 9:30 a.m.; classic race, 10 a.m., freestyle, 11 a.m.

For more information and registration: contact Kevin Dammen at 507-437-2757, Kyle Dammen (507) 319-1136 or the Hormel Nature Center (507) 437-7519.

Ski rental available at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.