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City's building official makes the most of winter: Tom Bakken aims to ski 58 times this season

Hastings' building official, Tom Bakken, looks forward to winter every year. An avid skier, he spends much of his free time on the slopes when they're open. This year, he set himself a goal: ski 58 times - once for every year he's been alive.

He didn't start the 2012-2013 winter season with a goal in mind. But as he got going, he decided he'd like to make it out at least 50 times this year. Last year he downhill skied 43 days. When he told one of his friends about the idea, it was suggested that he make the goal 60.

Bakken figured 60 times might be a bit tough, but he would be happy if he at least made his age, and the goal was set. Fifty-eight days for 58 years.

Bakken started out in alpine skiing, but stopped because of the expense. In 1974, he started working for a neighbor who passed along a set of Telemark skis to Bakken. Telemark skiing combines the "free-heel" technique of cross-country skiing with steep slopes and downhill speeds. The trademark of the sport is in the turn. Telemark skiers turn by lowering one knee and extending one ski forward.

For Bakken, it's the rush of going down a hill at high speeds that keeps him coming back time and time again. When he's heading down a hill, he's going anywhere from 43 to 50 miles per hour. He also likes the fact that it's non competitive.

"It's a sport where I can push myself," he said.

A love of winter

While most people started grumbling as late-season snow extended winter into spring, Bakken was thrilled.

"I love winter. I can't get enough of it.... This year's perfect," he said.

He used to teach winter survival, taking students into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota for eight days at a time. He still goes on four- to eight-day winter camping trips there himself, he said. If he has time, he goes snowshoeing every night with his two English Setters when there's snow on the ground.

When it comes to skiing, Bakken takes advantage of cross-country and Telemark ski opportunities. He's been skiing Telemark 39 years, and had been cross-country skiing before that. He also used to teach cross-country skiing. At one point, Bakken's wife started counting the number of days in the winter that he skied and found out he was out 45 percent of the winter.

"I'm lucky I have a wife who's OK with it," he said.

One of his favorite trips was back in the late 70s or early 80s. He and a buddy found the old Englewood ski area in Wisconsin, which has been closed now for years. But the hills were still clear, and it was a perfect opportunity to camp and ski wide open slopes to match the more difficult runs at Welch Village.

"We had powder up to our chest one time," Bakken recalled.

He's traveled all over to hit the slopes, places like Washington (state), Utah and Colorado. Naturally, most of his skiing is done closer to home. He's spent 46 days at Welch Village this year, and also visits Lutsen, Trollhaugen in Wisconsin and Afton Alps.

Making his goal

As of last week, Bakken had skied 56 days of his 58-day goal. Since ski areas in this area have already closed for the season, he's hoping to sneak a trip to Colorado in the next few weeks to get the final two days.

"I think it's going to happen," he said.

Looking forward, there are a few things Bakken would still like to do. There's a Telemark festival every year in Loveland Pass, Colo., but he hasn't been able to go yet, since it always falls on the same weekend as the city's spring cleanup day, and as the coordinator for that event, he has to stay here. Another goal is to drop into a ski site from a helicopter for a hiking/skiing trip.

With winter at an end here in Minnesota, Bakken is looking forward to the end of the year. He doesn't let himself slip during the off season, though. He works out year round, so when the ski season starts up again, "I'm ready to rip," he said.