The gold medal-winning victory of the U.S. Ski Team was a source of national pride in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, but it was doubled for Minnesotans, and maybe even tripled for the citizens of Afton.
This town along the St. Croix River is the hometown of Jessie Diggins, who won the first U.S. gold medal in nordic skiing along with her team partner Kikkan Randall in the team sprint free style in February. To celebrate their hometown hero, the city of Afton will shut down the block to hold a Jessie Diggins Day party from 12-5 p.m. Saturday, May 12.
“I actually kind of think it’s (a source of pride for) the whole valley because she was such a big part of the Stillwater ski team,” said Afton City Councilmember Bill Palmquist, who is one of the organizers behind the Jessie Diggins Day event.
Afton is a city that is especially tied to the skiing community, Palmquist said. Ski teams can often be seen practicing on the sloping hills in the St. Croix Valley on roller skis during the summer; plus nearby Afton Alps draws skiers from across the state all winter.
“We have people training for skiing all summer here. We’re really in tune with this sport,” Palmquist said. “For the nordic skiers, it’s just such a good place to train. When you hit the beginning of that river valley, there’s just miles that are rolling wooded hills.”
Diggins is not the only skier to note to frequent Afton. Palmquist said he’s also seen Olympic skier Caitlin Compton practicing years ago. Compton competed in the 2010 Olympics and is the only five-time winner of the American Birkebeiner ski marathon, with her most recent victory in 2018. Compton originally moved to Minnesota to take care of her mother, but found the state had a very supportive community for nordic skiers.
The festivities on May 12 will begin at 12 p.m. Volunteers will block the road in front of Town Square Park near Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor. From 12 p.m.-1 p.m., children and families will have the opportunity to make signs of support, get their faces painted with glitter (Diggins’ racing signature), and to receive pom poms and cowbells to aid in cheering on Diggins.
Diggins will arrive at 1 p.m., and at 1:20 p.m. there will be a short presentation, but Palmquist said the formalities will be limited.
“She really wants to just meet with people,” he said. “That’s one of the things she’s really doing is trying to get youth involvement.”
Diggins’ high school coach and a few others will have an opportunity to speak. Selma’s Ice Cream will then announce the name of its new ice cream flavor in honor of Diggins. The ice cream shop held a contest to select the name—suggestions were taken via social media or by calling the store before May 10. The winner of the naming contest will win a poster signed by Diggins, as well as ice cream and other items from Selma’s.
Attendees will be able to visit with Diggins, get photos and see the Olympic gold medal up close. A band will play live music, and a giant video screen will show some of Diggins’ racing footage.
“It’s like a block party,” Palmquist said.
Attendees of the Jessie Diggins Day festivities will have the chance to win prizes, such as a free raffle for skis from Solomon Skis. Team Fat Tire Bike from Lakeland will also sell raffle tickets to win an electric fat tire bike. U.S. Ski Team shirts will be available for purchase, which will benefit the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and Jessie Diggins specifically, Palmquist said.
Response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, Palmquist said. Between 30-40 volunteers will assist with the community event. Free shuttle buses will be available to transport guests from Afton-Lakeland Elementary School at 475 St. Croix Trail S., Lakeland, and at the plaza located at St. Croix Trail S. and Fifth Street S.