They make snow in the small valley in the woods on the Saint Mary’s University campus. It shoots out of two large snow cannons and is everything like the natural kind — white, packable, and cold. On an early day in December, Bruce Johnson and Mike Cichanowski are outside watching as the man-made fluff falls into place, creating the perfect conditions for the cross-country skiers who use this area for recreation and team practice. They watch as everything comes together: the snow, the skiers and now, the lights.
Photo by Amelia Wedemeyer
One of the approximately 50 lights that illuminate three kilometers of the cross-country ski path behind Saint Mary’s University.
“Last summer we said ‘okay, we’re going to do this light project,’” Johnson explained. “We did some internal fundraising and we put up 24 light poles and approximately 50 lights.”
Together, Johnson and Cichanowski spearheaded a campaign that involved selling light poles at $1,000 a piece to members of the ski community, with the promise of an engraved plaque with the buyer’s name attached to the pole.
“And we’ve also had a lot of great support from the city,” Johnson said. “And Tri-County Electric did the poles for us on a very reasonable basis.”
“HBC has been a huge, huge supporter of this. They’ve been great,” Cichanowski added.
Finally, after months of initial planning stages and groundwork, the lights turned on for the first time on December 9, illuminating three kilometers of the roughly 30 kilometers of trail behind the university.
Many of the poles have two LED lights, while others have one or three, all of which help to illuminate the trails for the high school cross-country ski team, which practices after school.
“It extends their day a lot,” Cichanowski explained.
“How they were able to ski in the dark is beyond me,” Johnson agreed.
It is now part of the daily routine to see the lights flicker on at exactly 4:30 p.m., the time when natural light begins its sudden, quick decline into soft darkness. Many students pull up to the entrance of the trail, skis in hand and bundled beyond recognition. They aren’t so much in awe of the lights anymore, rather, they have quickly grown accustomed to actually seeing the snowy trails of what lies ahead of them.
“It’s another asset for Winona,” Johnson said. “It’s another reason to be outside. It’s a reason to be in Winona.”