This article originally appeared in the 2008-2009 Ely Winter Times.
In 1961, the Ely Ski Club punched a road through the woods on the east end of town, cleared slopes and trails by hand, installed ski jumps and tows, and built a first-class chalet. An amazing amount of work went into creating this ski area, but when winter lasts as long as it does in Ely, it’s important to have something to make you love it, and something to get the kids outside so they don’t drive the adults crazy. Skiing has been that something for many generations of Ely area citizens.
The activities and ski facilities at Hidden Valley have changed many times over its nearly 50-year history, but the need for a place to warm up has been a constant. As use and budgets declined in the 90s, so did the condition of the chalet. Built when fuel was cheap, insulation was minimal, and windows were single panes, it was horrendously expensive to heat in spite of its sunny southern exposure. Money for renovation was not in the city budget.
Enter the angels of mercy who have brought Hidden Valley Chalet and Ski Area back from the brink of decrepitude: The Ely Nordic Ski Club, a legion of volunteer workers, a host of community-minded contributors from Ely and far beyond who have donated over $70,000 in money and materials, and the DNR who matched part of the contributions. With such good will and hard work, the Nordic Ski Club has been able to install a whole new roof system – insulated, of course; completely gut the interior, re-insulate and rewire; remodel the bathrooms; put in all new energy- efficient windows, new paneling, a new floor, a new concession area that’s up to code for food handling, and new tables and chairs. Still $5,000 short to cover the costs of all this, the Ely Nordic Ski Club is hopeful that the needed funds will be donated this winter as people see and appreciate all that has been done.
The building project has been a bit of a distraction from the club’s primary focus, which is maintaining and grooming the trails at Hidden Valley and grooming the Trezona Trail. Those who just enjoy the trails in winter may not realize that this is a year-round job. To make the trails ready to ski with the first snows, they must be mowed in the summer. There are also plenty of trees and branches that blow onto the 15 miles of trails. Grooming is nearly a daily task during ski season. And volunteers do it all.
This is a big enough task for a small group, so when they added the chalet renovation to their responsibilities it required a lot of dedication and hard work. Members and non-members, local contractors and construction companies, parents and kids, skiers and non-skiers all showed up to help out and to donate materials and equipment. The facility is so nice now that people are asking about renting it for special events. Club president Deborah Sussex says the club is considering how to make that work.
The club is an important source of support to young skiers. Ely’s high school nordic ski team is one of the most competitive in Minnesota, and Hidden Valley and the Ely Nordic Ski Club have helped. Last year Ely had seven skiers compete at the state high school meet, and coach Paula Anderson was named Minnesota Coach of the Year. Several state competitors were 9th graders, so they may keep alive the Ely tradition of growing Olympic-quality skiers. Most of the ski team got their start at Minnesota Youth Ski League, a state-wide program that generates enthusiasm and skills for skiing in the very young. Taught by volunteers, Ely’s MYSL program has over 100 participants ages 4-14, making it one of the state’s largest chapters.
Until this year, the chalet was open only for the high school team practices, the MYSL lessons, and ski races and last year’s Wolf Track Classic Sled Dog Race. Now the chalet will be available anytime to club members by means of a keyless entry system. That and unlimited trail use for the season make club membership a very good deal.
Although trails are restricted to skiers during ski season except for sled dog race weekend, there is plenty at Hidden Valley for non-skiers to enjoy. The hills around the chalet are safe but thrilling sliding hills, and the stadium area is lit at night. Snowshoers can hike the open slopes or through the woods off the trails. In fall, grouse and deer hunters use the trail system. At other times, many people visit the area for biking, hiking, and bird watching.
Now that the chalet project is nearing completion, the club will get back to further developing the trail system. Gravel extraction in the area, which provides income for schools, has changed the landscape, but also provides opportunities for trail growth. The club has a good relationship with the gravel deposit excavators and has been pleased with the cooperative effort involved in rehabilitating the area.
If you’d like to learn more or become part of this important Ely volunteer organization, visit their website at www.elynordic.org, or stop on out at Hidden Valley and strike up a conversation. You’ll be welcome!