FERTILE, Minn. – The sound of three pairs of cross country skis squeaking over snow-covered hills pierces the silence of the Fertile Sand Hills on a sub-zero February evening.

“Kick, kick, glide,” Merrilee Forgit tells her 6-year-old son Patrick, who is skiing between her and his father, Matt Forgit.

Patrick does as she says and soon is ahead of his parents and rounding a curve that will take him to the Agassiz Environmental Learning Center, where they began their cross country skiing outing.

Patrick, his sister, Olivia, 16, and brother, Peter, 12, are three members of the youth cross country class their parents are teaching on Sundays this winter at the Agassiz Environmental Learning Center just outside of Fertile. Paul and Danell Stromstad also teach the class, and their daughter Reise, 17, and sons Will, 15, and Erik, 11, join them for the weekly sessions.

Matt Forgit and Paul Stromstad grew up skiing the fields of their farms near Fertile.

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“It’s a lifetime sport. It’s arguably the best aerobic activity as far as a full-body workout,” Forgit said.

For Paul Stromstad, cross country skiing is a way to connect with his Norwegian roots. He didn’t grow up skiing with his parents, like Forgit did, but started on his own when he was in high school.

“I think it was the inner Viking in me,” Stromstad said, with a laugh.

After Forgit and Stromstad were married, they encouraged their wives to ski. Merrilee and Danell now enjoy the sport, too.

“I like the aerobic aspect of it – but it doesn’t actually feel like you’re working out,” Merrilee Forgit said.

Besides being a good workout, skiing is a way to embrace winter, Danell Stromstad said.

“I like being outside,” she said.

The Forgits and Stromstads passed on their love of skiing to their children, strapping skis on their feet when they 2, and frequently enjoying the sport as a family. In December 2019, the two sets of parents began passing on their love of the sport to other area youth. The couples teach about 15 children, ages 5 to 17, skiing lessons.

The couples follow the Minnesota Youth Ski League cross country skiing beginners curriculum, which makes learning the sport fun, Matt Forgit said. The young participants play games, such as tag and soccer, during the sessions.

“They don’t realize it, but they’re learning in the process” he said.

The students have improved remarkably in the last few weeks, advancing from falling down the first time they attempted the sport, to racing through the woods on their skis, Paul Stromstad said.

“This has been a great first season. We have learned as instructors, and at this point we we are excited to do this again next year,” Forgit said.

The students ski through the Fertile Sand Hills, which is made up of more than 10 miles of trails. The trails that meander throughout the 640 acres of the hills are designed for a range of skill levels. Besides being a good place for a physical workout, the area is scenic and offers an opportunity to see wildlife.

This year’s youth cross country ski classes will wrap up at the end of the month, but the Forgits and Stromstads hope the kids they teach will keep skiing through the remainder of the winter – and beyond.

“We have encouraged the kids – and parents – to continue to ski as much as they are able to,” Matt Forgit said.