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Cold weather returns for WinterFest 2017

Stillwater-based Drio Outdoors showcased some of the winter gear the family-run company rents out for outdoor enthusiasts, including this heated tent. The group also offered snowshoe and fat tire bike test runs for those attending the 2017 Winter Festival in Lake Elmo. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)1 / 6
A group of colleagues from Raising Stars Childcare in White Bear Lake -- as well as a few sleepy toddlers -- gather for a photo after hiking the Lake Elmo Reserve at Saturday's WinterFest. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)2 / 6
Mark Stewart of Woodbury shows off his cross country skiing skills at the Lake Elmo Reserve Saturday. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)3 / 6
Kieth Graupmann of Woodbury tests out fat tire bike during the 2017 WinterFest at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve Saturday. "That was a lot of fun," Graupmann said after riding through the park's trails. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)4 / 6
Julie Ashton of Bayport also test rode a fat tire bike for the first time during the 2017 WinterFest in Lake Elmo. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)5 / 6
Mike VanHavermaet and daughter Francis, 3, of Oakdale warm up by the fire outside the Nordic Center at Lake Elmo Park Reserve Saturday, Jan . 28. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)6 / 6

Freezing temperatures returned just in time for winter enthusiasts to attend Saturday's WinterFest.

The 14th annual event, held at the Lake Elmo Reserve, included bird-watching hikes, cross-country ski lessons, fat tire bicycle and snowshoe demonstrations, a food truck and an outdoor fire for visitors to warm up around.

Organizers postponed WinterFest the week prior due to unseasonably warm weather.

For cross-country skiers like Mark Stewart of Woodbury, lack of snow this year and in previous years has been a concern.

He said it's made skiing cross-country, an activity he's regularly pursued for more than 30 years, difficult at times, especially when large stretches of ice form on the trails.

It's also caused him and others to seek out other ski resorts outside of the east metro.

But next year, Washington County may have a solution.

Laura Timberlake, a parks coordinator with the county, said the county is thinking about using an artificial snow machine if the weather doesn't cooperate.

The county could draw water from a nearby pond to coat the trails in artificial powder — a thought Timberlake said may give the reserve a boost in the number of winter visitors it sees.

"I think they'd get a lot more people next year if they did that," Stewart said.

Across the road from the Nordic Ski Center, Darren Dobier, who runs DIRO Outdoors with his wife Oie, gave fat tire bicycle and snowshoe demonstrations for WinterFest goers.

The thick-tired bicycles have grown in popularity in cold-weather states and allow riders to cruise through snowy trails that wouldn't ordinarily be accessible on most mountain bikes.

"They have so much weight in the tire that they're tough to get going, but once you do you can bounce over anything," Darren Dobier said.

Julie Ashton, an avid cyclist from Bayport, said she'd always been curious and decided to give it a try.

While she agrees the adjustment to the larger tires took some getting used to as she circled the parking lot, the tires' traction, she said, fair far better on snow and ice than on other bikes she's ridden.