Cross country ski trail emerges on Behrend campus


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this year, so it looks like there are a few more weeks of winter left.

But why waste time complaining about it? Dr. Chris Coulston certainly isn’t.

Coulston, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Penn State Behrend, has always been an avid runner and cyclist but he decided to try his hand at cross country skiing this winter. He had the perfect training grounds: the campus of Penn State Behrend.

Coulston decided to make use of the wooded area and fields that stretch from the Erie parking lot to Logan House. He developed a one-mile, looped ski trail, which he now frequents on snowy afternoons.

I caught up with Coulston to ask him a few questions:

Steve: When did you start skiing?

Chris: The impetus for taking up cross country skiing was being a member of Team Behrend for the Highmark Quad Games.  In mid-December, I realized that I’m going to have to ski the Quad, and the original date was the second week of January. I thought, “I have to pick this up and figure this out.” That was an important consideration for where this loop came from because I needed something flat and easy to practice on. I put the skis on for the first time in the parking lot down by the tennis courts, and I fell over a lot. It was pretty awkward the first couple of times, but you just watch YouTube videos to see what other people are doing.

Steve: How was the Quad Ski?

Chris: It was my first time competing, and I would say that I didn’t embarrass myself. There were some very talented skiers out there who obviously mastered the technique much better than I have, so I still have a long way to go. Aerobically, it was very challenging. There’s a skill level to it that running doesn’t really require.

Steve: Why do you enjoy skiing?

Chris: When I look at training, I see it in two parts: the engine and the drive train. Cross country skiing is very good for my engine training. It’s not going to hurt the drive train portion of my training, but it’s not exercising muscles that I’ll use in running or biking. That’s actually a good thing because I won’t beat them up in the early part of the season. I enjoy skiing as a form of healthy living and as a thing that helps me to embrace the winter months. It’s lemonade out of lemons. It’s nice to take the weather that you have and do something that you can’t do in Texas or Utah.

Steve: How did you come up with this one-mile course?

Chris: I do a lot of training, which I define as exercise with a goal in mind. Right now, I’m training for a 50-mile run in June, so I exercise every day, and I need to make it convenient. I need low overhead, and that means a location that’s easy to get to. For cross country skiing, it’s nice to have wide-open, flat spaces to learn, and our playing field fit the bill perfectly. I have a GPS watch to measure performance, including distance, and I used that to measure the course.


Steve: How many loops do you usually do?

Chris: As an athlete, I typically measure workouts in terms of time and intensity more than distance. It usually takes me fifteen minutes for a loop, and I typically do an hour. That’s at a moderate effort level. Twelve minutes is fast while twenty minutes is pretty casual.

Steve: Has the course caught on at all around campus?

Chris: I met a staff member down there from the School of Science, and we did the loop together. I’ve advertised it on Facebook, and I’ve seen other local athletes going out there and using the trails. The nice thing with cross country skiing is that the course gets better after frequent use. I say the more people that join the party, the better.

Steve: Why would you encourage students and staff to take advantage of this opportunity?

Chris: It’s pretty unique. People typically ski on golf courses or go to Wilderness Lodge. But you have this really nice resource right here, and it’s just cool to get outside because we’re stuck inside all day. It’s an interesting terrain. You get to see the lake at one point, you get to see trees, fields, and it’s quiet. It’s a quick, smallish loop, and I’m pretty pleased with it.

Thinking of cross country skiing? Here are some videos that can help you get started:

Campus running routes, 5Ks, and more


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

With more than 850 acres of property in beautiful Harborcreek Township, Penn State Behrend’s campus is a runner’s paradise.

Offering everything from paved paths to cross-country paths through fields to rugged trails through the Wintergreen Gorge to a brand new 8-lane competition-level track, you’ll never run out of places to…well, run at Behrend.

Another thing you’ll never run out of here? Hills. Just try to find a route around this campus that doesn’t include hills (not counting doing circles around the track!). The good thing, though, is that hills will make you a better, stronger, and faster runner/walker and you’ll learn to love them (or you’ll love to hate them).

In winter, the campus paths are well maintained and lighted, making it a safe alternative in the dark, snowy days of winter. And, yes, you should run outside in winter — it’s spectacular! (But, please be safety minded and run with a friend, or two…or ten).

I have several routes I like to run around campus with friends, including (click on the links for a map on

* A 5-mile Summer Loop.  This route starts on the Bayfront Bikeway trail (back corner of Erie lot) and winds its way down Shannon to Cooper Road and back up to campus via the Wintergreen Gorge trail before heading up to Knowledge Park to loop through the wooded paths and circle back to the parking lot.

* A 5-mile Winter Loop. This is much like my summer loop, but it cuts out the Wintergreen Gorge portion as it’s not safe to run through there in the winter (it’s not plowed or lighted) and we spend a little more time in Knowledge Park, which is both lighted, plowed.

* A 5K (3.1 miles) from Junker Center. This is a challenging course thanks to the giant hill that is old Station Road.

* A 12.5-miler from Knowledge Park. In the mood to go long? This is a fairly simple long run route takes advantage of the peaceful country roads you’ll find south of campus.

* A simple 1.5-mile loop in Knowledge Park. It may sound boring to loop, but Knowledge Park is wooded and beautiful any time of the year and, after 6 p.m., there is virtually no traffic, but plenty of street light.

Want more options?

Just search for “Behrend” on and you’ll find a whole list of running routes that other people planned, including some trail runs mapped by police services officer Dave Lesher and a nice  8-miler (beware of Kane Hill…it is, um, a challenge!) mapped by Chris Coulston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Of course you can also map your own route. If you do, be sure to “unlock” it so the rest of us can try your route, too!

A few words about safety

Again, please run with a friend (or a few) because some of the routes I listed above take you into isolated areas that don’t see much traffic. There is safety in numbers.

And, of course, heed the basic rules of runner safety, including wearing reflective gear (white won’t cut it).

Racing around Behrend

Ready to test your meddle? You’ve got two opportunities to race around campus in October, which is, of course, one of the most gorgeous times to run on campus!

The Harvest Hoof-It is a 5K run or a 2.5-mile fun walk on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 9 a.m. sponsored by WCTL, Erie’s Christian radio station. More info/application here.

The Penn State Behrend cross-country team is hosting a Twilight 5K at Behrend on Friday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. The Twilight event includes a 5K run, a 2-mile fun walk and a kids’ race, too. More info/application will be posted here.

~ Heather

P.S. If you have questions about running at Behrend, or the upcoming races, feel free to email me at hjc13 at