The sport of hok skiing is popular in European countries as well as at mountain resorts, but is new to many Minnesotans.
There will be an opportunity to try the hok ski, which provides the advantages of both a snowshoe and a cross-country ski, at a free event from noon to 3:30 p.m. this Saturday at Shingobee.
Hok, pronounced "hawk", is the word for "ski" in the Altai Mountains of Siberia where the inspiration for the design was born.
The Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail Association will host the event, which will also be open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Five pairs of hok skis will be available for anyone in fourth grade and up who wants to try out the sport.
Hok skis and snowshoes should not to be used on groomed cross-country ski trails.
Nestled along the rolling hills of the Shingobee River Valley, the Shingobee Recreation Area is located five miles southwest of Walker along State Highway 34.
Parking is available on the drive, and there is a gradual walking trail that goes through the woods to the historic Shingobee Chalet at the bottom of the hill where the hok skis will be available. Treats and hot chocolate will be provided by staff from the Chippewa National Forest Service, who will also keep the fire going to warm participants. Florence and Carter Hedeen are volunteering as hosts for the event.
A presentation about the North Country Trail will be held at noon, followed by a family-friendly group hike/ski from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Those who want to try out the Shingobee sledding hill are invited to bring a sled or toboggan.
The Hok ski is well-suited to Minnesota's terrain because its short, wide design makes it easier to maneuver in thick woods than a traditional cross-country ski. A partial "climbing skin" in the base digs into hills when climbing. The skin also makes the ski slower and easier to control than traditional skis.
This is the third season Park Rapids area resident Curt McCabe has enjoyed hok skiing. He found out about the sport through friends of the North Country Trail Association, Jim and Jill Isley.
"I think of this ski as a cross between a snowshoe and a cross-country ski," he said. "The main difference is it takes less energy than snowshoeing because you don't have to pick up the skis to move them, you just push them and glide along. You don't need a certain amount of snow." McCabe explained that the moleskin on the bottom provides traction for climbing hills.
"Mole skin acts like dog hair," he said. "It has a grain to it that is smooth in one direction and provides resistance the other way. This grabs the snow so you can climb hills, but still allows some glide moving forward."
Another feature McCabe likes about hok skis is the binding system. "The bindings are super slick," he said. "You can just wear your regular outdoor boots and there's a strap over your toe and another strap that comes from the back by your ankle and they're locked in position with a ratchet. When you want to release them, you push a button."
McCabe said that he prefers hok skis for getting around in the backcountry, and mainly uses his cross-country skis on groomed trails.
"My favorite place to hok ski is the North Country Trail," he said. "It's so pristine out there. You're out in the middle of nowhere. I've also hok skiied at Shingobee, on the Eagle View Golf Course and on the walking trails on our 14 acres. That's the beauty of it; you can go anywhere. I rarely use my snowshoes any more because the hok skis take less effort and they are fun. "
The hok skis aren't as easy to control going downhill, however. This can be a problem on the North County Trail because there is only about four feet of width to maneuver.
McCabe said he uses a pair of old downhill ski poles with the skis for two-pole hok skiing, while some people prefer to use one pole.
"You aren't using them to push yourself along like you do with a cross-country ski," he said. "Mainly, I think it's for helping you balance if you're getting in some more difficult conditions so you can easily get by with one."
Eric Haugland of Park Rapids has been hok skiing for two winters and a member of the North Country Trail Association for three years.
"I had cross-country skied and snowshoed before," he said. "I saw this couple from Fargo-Moorhead that went on a hike at Itasca and I asked them about their skis and found some online. It's nice because its like snowshoeing, but you don't have to lift up the snowshoes. You can just glide along and get in the woods. You can climb up hills without sliding back and get going really fast going downhill. I have the shorter ones that are better for going in the woods."
He said to stop when going down hills, the "snowplow" maneuver used in cross-country skiing is used.
The Hok ski is available in three sizes: 145 cm, 125 cm and 99 cm, which is sized for children. According to the Altai website, 125 cm is more like a snowshoe, maneuverable, better in thick woods, easier to control and with a little better grip. It is best suited for beginners in the sport. The 145 cm works better for those looking to use the Hok skis on big hills because it glides a little more easily and has a little more floatation for deep snow.
The skis are available online and at some larger sporting goods stores in the region, but McCabe said at this time of the year friends who have looked for them have found them sold out at many locations. The skis sell for $300 to $350.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail Association can go to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the Feb. 17 event at Shingobee is available by calling Haugland at 218-252-7151 or emailing email@example.com. While memberships are encouraged, the association's events are open to both members and friends.