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Embracing winter: Cold can't keep area women from outdoors

Annette and Annise Montplaisir cross-country ski with friends Shania and Greta Meyers during the Luminary Night Ski at Buffalo River State Park. The mother and daughter see winter as a great time to get outdoors. Photo by David Samson, The Forum

FARGO - Annette and Annise Montplaisir let the stars guide their path on brisk winter nights.

The mother-daughter duo cross-country ski and ride their horses while most of the Midwest is cozying up inside.

"It's so pretty - the moon is out, and it's really calm," Annise, 17, says.

Night and early morning are Annette and Annise's favorite times to be outside together.

"It's really peaceful and the air is crisp," Annise says.

They're outside as often as they can be on the family's hobby farm north of Fargo, between Kragnes, Minn., and Georgetown, Minn.

They use the time to take a break from their daily schedules and catch up and talk.

"It's kind of our 'thing,' " Annette says. "It's our time together."

Kelly Sassi, of Fargo, uses outdoor winter sports to connect with her family, too, but in a different way.

Sassi's Norwegian father taught her to ski, and her mother was Finnish. Now that they've passed away, she says cross-country skiing is a way to honor her heritage.

"It's a spiritual-cultural thing for me," she says. "I feel that by being outside skiing, I'm connecting with my family. I think it's in my blood."

Sassi lived in Alaska for 20 years but moved back to the area in 2008. She says since moving back, the local cross-country trails have grown.

"It's getting better all the time. I see more and more people out skiing. It's neat," she says. "It's a really great sport for health and happiness."

Annette and Annise recently went to the candlelight ski at Buffalo River State Park in Glyndon, Minn., which they've been attending for the past six years. The Montplaisir family also cross-country skis every Christmas.

"It's a tradition, and we all get claustrophobic - we need to be outside!" Annette says.

Staying inside is not an option, even when the temperatures dip below zero.

"It's just too boring," Annise says.

Annise's love of the outdoors started when she was 8 years old and received her pony, Ginger, for Christmas. She rode Ginger that day, despite how cold it was outside.

"I was so excited; it was the best Christmas ever," Annise says. "I've been going outside as much as I can ever since. I'll be out with the horses when it's well below zero."

The cold doesn't deter her, and she says anyone who complains about it probably isn't dressed properly.

"It's all about the hat. You've got to have a good hat," she says.

Besides a warm hat, Annise and Annette recommend layering clothing and wearing gloves and lined wind pants.

Lined wind pants, Annette says, work better than bulky snow pants when you're moving and exercising.

Winter is Sassi's favorite season to be active outdoors, although she runs, hikes and bicycles in the spring and summer.

"Cross-country skiing is such a gentle sport, and it uses all your muscles," she says.

Even though an early spring might be on the way, according to groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, Kelly always hopes for long winters.

"Winter is really beautiful, and once you're skiing, you're as warm as you'd be running in the summer," she says. "It's all about the beauty of the trees, the subtle colors and the animals," she says.