The Whalan Candlelight Cross-Country Ski event is a family affair, with winter enthusiasts of all ages participating.
SUBMITTED PHOTO The Whalan Candlelight Cross-Country Ski event is a family affair, with winter enthusiasts of all ages participating.

“I’m not sure if this is the 24th annual or the 25th annual. I know we’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Craig Blommer of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “I do know we’ve had a great time putting it on every year and those who turn out for it seem to have a wonderful time as well.”

That’s how Blommer replied when asked how long the Whalan Candlelight Cross-Country Ski event has been going on. The inaugural year of the night ski on the Root River Trail at Whalan (either 1991 or 1992) was so well received that it has become a very popular event, growing each year, with the community adding festivities and food to the ski event.

The candlelight ski is always held the first Saturday in February, which is Feb. 4 this year. The event begins at dusk in Whalan, where a large bon fire indicates the beginning of the route. Participants follow the candlelit DNR trail for three-fourths of a mile out of town. A second blazing bon fire will greet the skiers at the end of the candlelit route, providing warmth to keep fingers, noses and toes toasty. Then, it’s three-fourths of a mile ski back to Whalan for the chili, soup and sandwich feed at the community center.

The event is co-sponsored by the DNR and the village of Whalan.

“Other communities located on state trails had been doing night skies for many, many years,” Blommer explained. “But this was the first night ski in southeastern Minnesota. We brought the idea up and it’s been a huge success ever since. It’s been well attended every year, we always joke that we have under 1,000 participants. We just don’t say how far under 1,000 that number is,” Blommer added with a laugh.

Blommer noted that state employees at the Lanesboro DNR office, local volunteers from the Whalan area, the Whalan American Legion/Auxiliary and the Larry and Sheryl Johnson family have all been very instrumental in this annual endeavor.

“We certainly couldn’t put this on without their help,” Blommer noted.

“It’s a great family event,” noted Whalan Mayor Larry Johnson. “It’s an old-fashioned-type of event that Whalan seems to do so well, just like our Stand Still Parade and our Taste of the Trail event. We are a very small community, but we seem to work very well together. Folks turn out to volunteer to make these types of events so successful.”

Johnson estimated there were possibly 30 to 40 participants the first year a quarter century ago. Since then, the popularity of the event has grown. Estimates are between 150 and 250 persons turn out each year, depending on the weather.

“We’ve only had to cancel the event one year,” Johnson recalled. “That was five or six years ago. The air temperature was minus 25. Other than that, we’ve always held the event. There were a couple years when we didn’t have enough snow for folks to ski the trail. They turned out anyway and walked it. It really is something moving along the trail, through the woods at night with all the candles lining the trail.”

The first few years, volunteers put on the chili, soup and sandwich feed. In 1998 the Whalan Auxiliary stepped up to put on the feed and have been doing so ever since.

“We usually serve between 100 and 120 persons,” Donna Novotny noted. “Not everyone participating in the ski stops by to eat. Some ski before we start serving and some stop by for the ski after we are done serving. It does depend on the weather, but most years we serve 100 persons or more.”

“We’re going to need snow for people to ski during this year’s event,” Bloomer said this past weekend. “With all the warm, rainy weather, the snow we had on the trail has disappeared.”

The free event begins at 5 p.m. Skiers will need a DNR ski pass, available from many Lanesboro businesses, the Lanesboro Visitor Center, or online at:

Persons needing to rent skies can do so by contacting the Cedar Valley Resort in Whalan at 507-467-9000.

For more information on the ski event or current trail conditions, contact the Lanesboro Visitor Center at 507-467-2696, 800-944-2670 or