Updated at 8:29 p.m. Feb. 14, 2022

Jonathan Brenner was busy on Sunday.

Brenner, the director of the Eastern Massachusetts Cross Country Ski Club’s youth program, had his hands full overseeing wave after wave of young skiers at the starting line at EMXC’s Youth Sprints, the group’s annual race at the Weston Ski Track. All while decked out in a Captain America costume.

The idea of the Sprints is to get young kids excited about cross-country ski racing, so the whole thing is less of a race and more like one big party, complete with adults in wild outfits, music blaring over a loudspeaker and teenagers handing out lollipops at the finish line. This year’s event had been particularly busy with over 200 skiers, the biggest field ever.

There’s one big reason for that.

“I hate to use the words ‘beneficial’ and ‘pandemic’ in the same sentence, but yes, people are looking for some way to engage outside where it’s safe,” Brenner said. “And we were one of the few youth sports that were active without interruption throughout the entire pandemic. And I think some of that interest has continued, obviously, into this winter, which has been great.”

What makes everything even more bizarre is that all of this is happening at the Leo J. Martin Golf Course, which converts its driving range to a wintery landscape every year, with some help from Mother Nature — and artificial snow-makers.

It’s one of very few facilities offering access to primarily cross-country skiing to the Greater Boston area. And this year, the track and EMXC are particularly excited as they can proudly say they’re home to an Olympian, Julia Kern, the Waltham native who finished 18th in the women’s individual sprint in Beijing.

Kern is the first and only racer who learned to ski at the Weston Ski Track to make it to the Olympics. And at Sunday’s Sprints, she had been elevated to hero status among the ranks of the teenage hopefuls of EMXC.

On a snowy day, photograph of a banner that says GO JULIA!, with the Olympic rings and BEIJING 2022 between two photos of Kern skiing
Signs cheering on Julia Kern hang at the EMXC Youth Sprints.
Esteban Bustillos GBH News

“It’s really amazing to see,” said Nathan Doughty, 16, one of the junior skiers helping out at the event. “Especially with, whenever we go and race somewhere else, you see these people who have all these hills and stuff to train on. But it really shows that all you need is an amazing community and snow to ski on. And you can take that far enough.”

Sofia Scirica, 17, points out that they’re in an urban environment without the same hills found on other cross country skiing sites, which can make acclimating to the sport a little difficult.

“But I also think that we’re really, really good at getting everything out of this amazing resource that we have,” she said. “And Weston Ski Track is incredible in that they blow the snow, and they groom — and they’re super supportive of helping us figure out how to train all through the winter, even when almost nowhere else in the Boston area has snow.”

For Jim Stock, who has been the head coach of the youth program for EMXC for almost 20 years and coached Kern from about the ages of 9 to 13, there’s strengths to skiing in an area that isn’t too well suited for cross country.

“We are really persistent,” he said. “We’ll train in the rain, we train in artificial snow, we train in really icy conditions and our skiers are able to handle much more adverse conditions than some of these skiers that come from much more skiing oriented, nice environments.”

“So when it gets to these spring races where the conditions are tough,” he went on, “we can actually do really well.”

Those conditions have helped breed success. Stock said EMXC has had many skiers go on to ski at elite levels nationally and in college.

And while everyone was rightfully amped up about Kern’s success, Stock points out that EMXC’s goal isn’t to produce Olympians.

“It’s really exciting to produce elite skiers, it’s really exciting to produce Olympic racers, but it’s just as exciting to produce hundreds and hundreds of skiers that just think it’s a great sport and it’s a way to get exercise in the winter and to have fun with their families,” he said.

As the Sprints wound down Sunday, a calmness came over the course. The constant ringing of cowbells from spectators had died down and the sea of young skiers were packing up into minivans and SUVs to warmer locations.

It was a perfect day for the races, with the Super Bowl Sunday snow helping make the track as powdery as any mountainside ski resort.

And for now, the future of cross-country skiing around Boston centers on the one converted golf course.

Brenner said that the Weston Ski Track is the only venue within an hour or two of Boston where people can reliably Nordic ski from December through March. But its future and growth largely hinges on one simple factor.

“Without snow, you can’t ski,” he said. “And that’s what we need and we’re, as I said, continuing to build capacity here so that we can ski through the whole winter.”

But even with that challenge, Brenner is excited about what happens next.

“Our sport is having a moment with Julia Kern in the Olympics, the first skier to come out of our program,” he said. “With Jesse Diggins having won the first individual Olympic medal for U.S. women at the Olympics this year in Beijing. This sport is having a moment, our snowmaking is increasing, we have the largest enrollment in our club in history. So I’m excited about the future of cross-country skiing in Eastern Mass.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Weston was the only cross-country ski facility within an hour of Boston.