The history of the Loppet Foundation begins in 2002. Inspired by Mayor R.T. Rybak and Park Board Commissioners Jon Olson and John Erwin, a small group of skiers organized a ski race through Wirth Park, finishing on Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes near Uptown. Despite poor snow conditions, in its first year the race attracted some 800 skiers and registration had to be closed because the demand was more than the organization could handle. In the years since then, the race, known as the City of Lakes Loppet, has grown into a weekend long cross country ski festival with thousands of participants.
2002-2003 – The Foundation officially starts operations after the first City of Lakes Loppet. John Munger serves as the first president, with Kate Ellis Vice President and Corey Brinkema Treasurer. The Foundation works with Minneapolis Parks board to plan the Wirth Winter Recreation Area, which includes snowmaking and lights for cross country skiing. Volunteers do extensive work to expand the trail system. Claire Wilson runs Get Outside! – the Foundation’s first youth program. Kids paddle (thanks to Hoigaard’s), trail run, bicycle and more in Theodore Wirth Park. 2003-2004 – The Loppet doubles in size with over 1600 skiers finishing in Uptown on Hennepin avenue. Several kilometers of new trails are added to the course, led by volunteers Piotr Bednarski and Brad Erickson. Kevin Murphy runs the first skijoring loppet – with some 12 teams taking an arctic trot around Lake Calhoun in the dark of night. The first KidSki program begins at Bryn Mawr Elementary School, with Ms. Wilson and Margaret Adelsman leading the way.
2004-2005 – Three days of 50+ degree temperatures just before the Loppet lead to the cancellation of the REI Tour and 33K events. Re-grouping in the spring of 2005, the organization begins working in earnest on snowmaking options. A dedicated new group of volunteers starts raising money to make the plan for snowmaking at Wirth Park a reality. Over the next year the organization raises more than $50,000 to help the Park Board achieve snowmaking capability. John Munger is hired as Executive director. The Foundation operated out of a tiny office in Uptown for the next two years. With a grant from Allina, the Foundation starts a KidSki program at Andersen Open School in south Minneapolis.
2005-2006 – Warm weather once again threatens the Loppet. 300-400 volunteers shovel snow to build a course. By race day the course was skiable, if thin in places. Water under the Lake Street bridge is not frozen and the finish is moved off Hennepin avenue to the Mall. The first Luminary Loppet is held with about 150 people enjoying a candle-lit ski around Lake of the Isles. The Trail Loppet and Tri-loppet start as fundraising events for snow making at Wirth. The Foundation raises enough to purchase a booster pump, add some electrical capacity and water pipes and rudimentary snowmaking begins at Wirth Park. With the help of UCare Minnesota, the Foundation adds a KidSki program at Pillsbury Community School in Northeast Minneapolis.
2006-2007 – More than 2,000 skiers registered for the Loppet but low temperatures reduce race day turn out. In spite of the weather, approximately 350 people participate in the growing Luminary Loppet. That spring the Ski Foundation’s fundraising for snowmaking at Wirth Park went into high gear. Kicking off the campaign, Hoigaard’s donates $20,000. In the end, the Foundation raises over $200,000, which, when combined with Park Board matching funds, allows for real expansion of the snowmaking system at Wirth Park. Foundation receives grant from US Olympic Committee, allowing for new Anwatin Ski Team.
2007-2008 – Perfect temperatures and ample snow help the Loppet hit its stride. The Luminary Loppet features an ice pyramid, fire dancers and the first appearance of the Ice-Cropolis. The Luminary Loppet attracts over 1,300 participants, with total participation in weekend events at 3,500 people. With grant from UCare and help from Normandale Community College, Foundation formalizes innovative nutrition and health curriculum to go along with Foundation youth programming. Over 300 Minneapolis children learn to ski through Foundation programming.
2008-2009 – With near ideal conditions, Loppet events grow in size and number. New events include the Penn Cycle Ice Loppet and a snow sculpture competition on the Mall. The Skijor Loppet sets a record as the largest skijoring race ever held. 3,500 people turn out for the Luminary Loppet. Total weekend participation grows to over 6,500. The Loppet has grown from a race to a weekend long festival of cross country skiing and Minneapolis. For the first time, the Park Board fully utilizes the snowmaking system to blow in a two-kilometer snow loop. Foundation begins to run more year-round programming, experiments with Adventure Camp concept and starts process of bidding for the US Ski Association’s Junior Olympics.
2009-2010 – In order to accommodate Junior Olympics, Foundation raises funds to create a new competition loop – the Hap & Judy Lutter Trails – complete with a new “stadium” area and an expanded, 2.5 kilometer, snowmaking loop. Loppet start successfully moves to the new stadium. For the third year in a row conditions are favorable, with moderate temperatures and plenty of snow. Participation in the festival grows to over 7000, with tens of thousands of spectators. With help of UCare, Medica, and Pohlad Foundation, youth programming further expands. Youth programs now in five Minneapolis elementary schools, with more than 500 children learning the benefits of lifetime sports through the Loppet now. Foundation takes over Twin Cities chapter of Trips for Kids (now Trips for Kids-City of Lakes) mountain bike program and holds first Loppet Adventure Camps. Minneapolis area kids, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn the ABCs of lifetime sports like mountain biking, cross country skiing, orienteering and paddling.
2010-2011 – Foundation raises funds in final push for Junior Olympics. Hap & Judy Trails are expanded and widened to create a five-kilometer competition loop that is certified for national and international events. Foundation adds Loppet Ski Camp to its repertoire. Trail Loppet grows to a 550-person event, with a new Nordic Walking category. Loppet expands with the first Skijoring National Championships. Finally, Foundation is now in six Minneapolis elementary schools, servicing more than 600 children per year, and has an expanded middle school mountain bike and ski program operating out of Farview Park.
2011-2012 – A tough winter . . . Loppet event, planned for grand finish on Hennepin, is relegated to a Wirth Park only event. All events start and finish in the park. Luminary Loppet is transformed into a walking event. But with attendance of nearly 7,000, 2012 event is still the second-largest Loppet ever. Foundation also hosts the International Paralympic Committee Paralympic World Cup, with athletes attending from all over the world. Trail Loppet grows to 700 participants – with Surly coming on as the title sponsor. Nordic Ski Foundation becomes the Loppet Foundation, transforms into a cradle-to-grave club, with Go!Training and Minnesota Valley coming under the Loppet umbrella and Piotr Bednarski coming on as the Foundation’s first Head Coach. Foundation starts running another middle school program: the Nellie Stone Johnson Ski & Bike Team and FAST KIDS, a program specifically designed for youth 9-13 years old.
2012-2013 - The Loppet careens into winter with more programs and members than ever before. Never dreaming there could be two snow-less years in a row, race organizers breathed a huge sigh of relief when 3 inches of snow fell the week before the event setting making it possible to run the full Loppet course from Theodore Wirth park to Uptown. All events finished on Hennepin and Lake Street, with skiers thrilled to ski on the streets. As snow began to fall softly on Saturday night, the Luminary Loppet came to life with over 1,500 candle luminaries on Lake of the Isles. Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) Juniors has a successful season with Jakob Ellingson winning the High School State Meet in addition to strong club performances at Junior Nationals with LNR taking first in men’s team competition. The Loppet stretched its repertoire of programming to include working with partners like Bolder Options and the Courage Center to begin an Adaptive Ski program and the Loppet Mentors Program. Robust winter programs carried over into the summer months with adult mountain bike and canoe programs, an expanded Tri-Loppet Summer Festival, and a LNR Fast Kids Mounatin Bike Race Series.