Monday, February 19, 2007

Skinny skis and everything

This is Holy Week for cross-country skiers all over the country, but most of all for the nation's urban center of all things XC—that would be the Twin Cities. This side of Oslo, no other American city has so many trails and so many strange people flitting around in one-piece particolored lycra suits.

Why is this week like no other week? It culminates on Saturday with the American Birkebeiner ski marathon. Just about 10,000 skiers will make their way up to Hayward, Wisconsin for their annual pilgrimage.

Last minute shoppers head to their favorite Twin Cities ski shop for power gels, waxing recommendations, spare pole tips, and the general feeling of excitement. So, among about a dozen great XC shops (not to be confused with the vulgar and vaguely red-neck downhill ski shops), which one rises above all the others? Any skier worth his flouro will tell you Finn-Sisu, the bizarre little shop on University Ave. in St. Paul's Midway.

Ahvo Taipale, a first-generation Finn, has run his faceless little shop for thirty years. (That's him in the photo.) From the outside, it looks like an accountant's office. Inside, though, the walls are racked with the sport's latest and great equipment, clothing, accessories, and supplies. More important, Ahvo employs folks who are as obsessed with skiing as your weekend warrior is—maybe more so—and they'll fill his or her ears with more minutiae than they'll ever remember.

Incidentally, Finn-Sisu is the one place in the area where you can buy those Marwe rollerskis you've been seeing all over the bike paths in recent years. Looking for a post-race gift that says, "You'll knock 'em dead next year, killer"? There you go!

Finn Sisu,, 1841 University Ave., St. Paul, 651.645.2443

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