The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

4-H makes skiing fun, affordable


February 10, 2020


Ironwood — A youth ski club developed from a 4-H organization’s effort to develop programming that reflects the community in terms of outdoor recreation.

The Sisu Endurance Team XC Ski Club is open for K-12 youth in Gogebic County and Iron County, Wisconsin, said Neil Klemme, the 4-H youth development educator for UW Extension Iron County.

“This is another entry point for 4-H in the community,” Klemme said. “We’ve had kids do this and join the other clubs and they’ve also come to skiing after joining through another activity.”

There are 4-H special interest clubs and the cross-country skiing activity started three years ago, he said. It started with cross-country skiing and grew into mountain biking and running in the summer.

“But the ski program is probably the most popular with 37 kids enrolled in that right now,” Klemme said.

The club is designed for the beginner or advanced skier. Two experienced volunteer instructors, Tom Piikkila, and Susan Spaete, teach everything from using the poles to kicking and gliding technique.

“The coaches are awesome because they are among the best skiers in the community and the right people to be teaching people how to ski,” Klemme said.

Piikkila, a retired forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, had previously taught an after school ski program in Mellen. When that ended he looked to help with the 4-H program.

“I grew up skiing and really enjoy skiing,” Piikkila said. “I’d really like to pass that along to future generations and get them interested in skiing.”

If the kids learn right they might enjoy it more and then continue doing it as a lifetime sport, he said. It doesn’t take a lot of special skill and they might end up appreciating the area ski trails as much as visitors who have made the area a premier destination to practice and train.

“If you can walk, you can ski,” Piikkila said. “It’s just trying to teach them some of the finer points.”

It’s better to teach cross-country skiing to kids because unlike the adults they don’t have a lot of bad habits to unlearn, he said. The only difference is that young people are still growing and sometimes still developing coordination, he said.

“So I really have to take that into account,” Piikkila said. “If they are really struggling on something well maybe it’s because they just aren’t that coordinated yet because their bodies are still growing.”

Spaete works more closely with the younger children. She also volunteers to teach second grade students of Ironwood at the ABR Trails on Tuesdays.

She has been a regular cross-country skier since moving to the area in 1976, she said.

“It’s just getting kids outside in the fresh air and exercising,” Spaete said. “Because we live here we might as well do something in the winter and I love to ski.”

Rebecca Holm, the UW Extension office manager, skis along with the group on Sundays as a coordinator. She handles the registration and watches for kids with equipment issues and helps the coaches

“It’s nice that some of the parents are helping this year along with the coaches,” Holm said. “It’s also nice to get families out skiing and enjoying the trail.”

Penny Merz, of Ironwood, has two children in the ski club. She decided to join herself to learn skiing.

“This is new to me to,” Merz said.

It’s just nice to get out of the house and do something, she said. When she and her kids have learned the basics they will eventually ski together as a family activity, she said.

“I just like that it’s outside in the cold with everything being so fresh,” Merz said. “I love being out with the trees and it’s just nice.”

Klemme said there are four high school students in the ski club. Three students will ski the 5K in the Turtle River Pursuit next week, and UW Extension is sponsoring another who will compete in the Turtle River Pursuit next year.

“We’re starting to work them into some local races to get their interest piqued with racing and pushing it to the next level,” Klemme said.

The $40 club membership fee includes ski rentals and trail fees, he said. ABR Trails has rentals and a smaller group with their own skis also meet for “Wolverine Wednesdays” at Wolverine Nordic Ski Trail.

The goal is for the club to purchase enough equipment to provide each member with skis so that they could ski more on their own, Klemme said. A grant writing effort is nearing that goal, he said.

The 4-H clubs meet monthly and do a project based activity. Recent activities included learning to make gnocchi and an upcoming one will be a ski waxing workshop.

Trying different things has helped area 4-H clubs to grow from 42 kids to more than 200, Klemme said. The adult leadership has also grown from four to 45 at the same time.

For more information, contact Klemme at 715-561-2695, email, or through

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