With the clanging sounds coming from a cacophony of cowbells, young ski enthusiasts from the age of three years and up were off on a circuit of fun, fitness, family and athletic skills development around the cross-country ski race loops at Skyway last Saturday.
In this contest, every racer was a winner, earning by their efforts a nice ribboned medallion and a miniature flag of Norway.
The event was the 14th annual Barnelopet. Designed especially for kids ages three to 16 and for their families, the Barnelopet is sponsored jointly by the Grand Mesa Nordic Council and the Sons of Norway Vestafjell Lodge.
There is still plenty of snow for mid-season winter sports enthusiasts. Some fields of the white stuff are still pristine and they were attracting, in addition to the cross-country skiers, a group of snowmobilers and ski sailers taking a wind-powered excursion through the alpine environs.
Good snow is found along the roadways. It doesn't require any backcountry gear or effort for a fine family outing of snowman building.
The trails at Skyway last week were groomed to perfection by the GMNC's volunteers and the council-owned grooming machine.
Weather also cooperated, with mild winter temperatures prevailing, light clouds that kept any snow melt to a minimum, and only occasional bits of wind.
Three courses were set up for the young participants in Barnelopet: short, medium and long for varying ages and skill ability levels. There were also ski games and a fun "obstacle course" to help the youngsters sharpen their skiing skills.
The kids were obviously enjoying themselves. Some displayed great skiing form. Some preferred using no ski poles and made progress by just shuffling along. Others accepted the supporting arms of mom or dad.
The biggest smiles were on the faces of those moms and dads. Some families were having their first cross-country ski experience with toddlers who appeared to be barely out of diapers.
Barnelopet is an activity that takes place with only the minimum amount of structured organization and activity that is needed to keep everyone focused on having fun.
A member of the local Sons of Norway chapter, Ron Thorson, explained that the term "barnelopet" is a Scandinavian word meaning "kids' race." Thorson and his wife, Sallie, have been organizers of the annual Barnelopet since its founding. Thorson said the idea for the annual gathering came about from a chance encounter 15 years ago between himself and GMNC member Tom Ela at a ski swap in Grand Junction.
The idea for the Barnelopet was a natural for the council and the area Vestafjell lodge.
Thorson emphasized that the Barnelopet is "a fun event totally. The purpose is to promote the healthy spirit of cross-country skiing, with a flavor of Scandinavian culture."
Thorson explained the Barnelopet traces its origins back to medieval times and the pre-history of establishment of the country of Norway. At that time, groups of the Scandinavian people had fractured along socio-economic lines in a conflict that was to establish a new king. The conflict was decided by an epic, 55-kilometer (34-mile-long) ski odyssey resulting in a youthful king's rightful ascension to the throne.
In 1922, it was decided to commemorate the historic events with the first Barnelopet, and other Scandinavian countries soon took to the idea of hosting similar events of their own.
Numerous sponsors helped support the event last week including, according to Rogers Mesa resident Richard Evans, including a group that is working with a GOCO grant. The Inspire grant is intended generally to encourage young people to get involved in outdoor activities. A local group associated with The Nature Connection is participating in a planning grant. Members were in attendance at Barnelopet to gather information on additional outdoor programs that might be developed for youth.
Christina Kittelson, GMNC youth program director, said there were about 50 youth who registered for last weekend's Barnelopet.