Livin’ La Vida Loppet
In Conversation with the Loppet Foundation’s Executive Director Claire Wilson
The Loppet Foundation is a queer-led organization driven by year-round adventure with a focus “on underserved youth and families,” as well as intentionally including the LGBTQ+ community in their work. It started when a group of volunteers organized a cross-country ski race to showcase the Twin Cities urban trail systems, as well as the beauty Minnesota winters have to offer. Or, as Loppet’s Executive Director Claire Wilson puts it, “In this particular moment in time, it’s more important than ever that we seek refuge and solace in outdoor spaces.” Hear, hear!
What does The Loppet Foundation do?
The Loppet Foundation is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that fulfills its mission by working to create a shared passion for the outdoors—with a particular focus on underserved youth. We have a unique partnership with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board and have been operating the Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park and winter operations in the park for several years. We take our stewardship of this magnificent park very seriously. All are welcome here to enjoy the outdoors—whether you’re a skier, biker, hiker or general nature enthusiast!
What kind of year-round programs and events do you run?
The Foundation runs fee-based and non-fee-based mountain biking, running and cross-country skiing programs for all ages and abilities. We are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the City of Lakes Loppet—the urban cross-country ski race. We host trail runs, canoe races and adventure camps! Our most popular event is the Luminary Loppet—where we transform Lake of the Isles for one night into the most magical place in the city.
What kind of success have you had in connecting underserved youth and families with outside activities?
We’ve had great success partnering with the Northside elementary and middle schools to offer skiing and mountain biking programs. Our greatest success has been the Junior Loppet program. This program, designed for middle-schoolers, is a year-round free program where youth experience all sorts of outdoor activities while building critical community with coaches and fellow teammates. The intensity and length of the program make it highly impactful in the life of the youth. We are currently strengthening our high school programs offering internships in the area of outdoor adventure to build skills. We’re proud to be supporting a Nordic ski team at North High this year.
What are some of the biggest barriers when connecting with the outdoors?
Minneapolis is an urban area with more than ample green space and opportunity to get outside and enjoy everything this varied environment has to offer. Unfortunately, the curation of those spaces reflects the same racism and segregation that has plagued the city as a whole. Intentionally confronting racism in outdoor spaces and adventure sports, and dismantling the factors that make those spaces less than welcoming or inaccessible is the biggest barrier to increasing the utilization of our parks and assuring that everyone feels welcome participating in mountain biking, skiing and running within those spaces.
What is the Loppet Foundation Membership and why should I join?
The Loppet Foundation Membership is a great way to be a part of this growing community of outdoor enthusiasts! Joining as a member gives you access to special deals with our partner organizations, a really cool and informative newsletter, and a chance to register early for events and programs. You also get discounts on Foundation activities. We host very fun member events throughout the year, but you do not have to be a member to enjoy our activities or events—it’s just another way to be connected.
How can others get involved?
Come volunteer with us! Our biggest need right now is for coaches of all ages and abilities. The pandemic has created a surge in interest in all of our programs and we need volunteers to help meet the demand. We are also always looking for event volunteers, which is an excellent way to experience the events and build your own community. Come take a class, learn a new skill, or just visit us at the Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park. You can get a great meal and cup of coffee at Mill Valley Market, and you can ski, tube, hike or just play year-round in the park!