At five, I cross-country skied for snowflakes, the little stamps next to our names we got for every kilometer we skied at Minnesota Youth Ski League. I skied for the snowflakes and the little cups of popcorn and hot chocolate we got to enjoy afterward. I knew every ski loop at Hyland Park in Bloomington and how many snowflakes we could get for each. The Star Loop was only .6k but we were allowed to count it as one, and the Lake Trail was 3.

First they taught me how to put on my boots, fastening the claw over its duck-footed end. The clamps often moved grumpily and I would have to get someone to help me. Then they taught us how to fall, something my little body didn’t mind in the least. At first I would struggle to get up, leaning too hard on a poll, losing my balance, and plopping into the snow again. But pretty soon I could pop up hardly using my polls at all.

The taught me how to duck-walk up hills and make pizzas down them.

It wasn’t long before I could side-step through obstacles.

We played flag football and soccer, one foot open and one foot in a ski.

At the end of the day, we’d always ask them, “How many k?” And we’d tell them, estimating a bit for all the games.

They said that if we skied 25 kilometers by the end of the season, we’d get a bronze medal, 50 a silver, or 100 a gold. Maybe my first year I got a bronze or silver, I don’t recall, but after that I always went for gold.