Empire entrepreneur spreads the joy of Nordic walking with clinics and customized poles

Nordic walking, once the domain of off-season skiers and extreme fitness buffs, has taken Michigan and the rest of the continent by storm, thanks in large part to an Empire entrepreneur who ships custom-fitted trekking poles around the world. 

“I have the world’s best job,” says Pete Edwards, owner and founder of SKIWALKING.COM LLC.  “I work out of my dream house in the beautiful back hills of Empire, Michigan. Dream job, dream house, dream location and dream girl. I am wicked grateful and lucky.”

Pete Edwards shared his Nordic walking expertise with media at a recent event at Forbush Corner outside Grayling.Edwards, who lives in the shadow of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is responsible for introducing Nordic walking to numerous people. Nordic walking is a full-body version of walking in which participants use specially designed walking poles similar to ski poles. Edwards has promoted the activity through Nordic walking clinics, media interviews and events, such as a recent Great Lakes Winter Trails Council gathering. 

His goal is to get people off their couches and out walking or cross-country skiing.

A former marathon runner and outdoor enthusiast, Edwards turned to Nordic walking after an injury ruined his running career. He is an advocate of Nordic walking and the health benefits of using poles, which can help with a variety of health issues.  Selling and shipping ski poles turned into a career while he was coaching cross-country skiing.

Edwards personally tests poles, straps, tips, and straps – in all seasons.  Because his headquarters “is located here in a magical snow belt, we cross country ski every day when we have snow – over 100 days each winter,” he says.

About the company: Pete Edwards founded SKIWALKING.COM LLC and the American Nordic Walking System about 20 years ago, while he was coaching cross-country skiers pre-season, before snowfall. When deprived of snow, cross-country ski racers use durable one-piece poles as they rollerblade, walk and bound up and down hills during training.
Back in those days, outdoor suppliers such as L.L. Bean carried quality one-piece poles in a few sizes, Edwards says, but then it proved easier and more profitable for retailers to switch to adjustable, collapsible poles — a huge inventory relief, but at a cost in quality and dependability. “My company proved to be the last man standing – dedicated to the simple fact that one-piece poles, custom fit to each individual’s height, will prove to be safer, stronger, more durable, and much more user-friendly,” Edwards says.

About Edwards:  Edwards has coached runners and skiers of all ages and fitness levels for more than four decades. He is a former ski school director, ski coach, running coach and has coached state champions and national champions. He is a former member of the North American Snow Sports Journalists Association. 

The company today: To assure users could find the correct length based on their height, the company stocked 16 different lengths – more than twice the number L.L. Bean and others carried —and has recently jumped to offering 32 different lengths. The company’s poles are made by Swix of Norway and EXEL of Finland and are custom fit to each individual’s height. He concedes that it is an inventory nightmare to carry 32 different lengths of walking poles but “it is the right thing to do.”

A sport with therapeutic benefits: Customers come from all backgrounds and interests, Edwards says. Skiers in training and fitness enthusiasts have been joined by hikers, walkers, athletes recovering from injuries and people with stability and balance issues. “When I started the company, I started to help individuals with inner ear and balance issues” from diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, Edwards says.

His American Nordic Walking System is a teaching progression that works for all ages and all fitness levels. “For sport and fitness, the poles are always angled back behind the user. For those with balance issues it is best to keep the poles more vertical,” he says. “Everyone with health issues loves a shopping cart, for the stability pushing a cart provides. When they get poles, they love them even more.”

After enjoying his free classes for various support groups, participants “hate their canes and walkers, but love their new poles,” he says. And in his opinion, two poles are almost always better than one.

“I have a super happy new customer who had health issues and purchased a cool walking stick. He found it helped, but he ended up with hip issues. When he found our company, he found his hip issue went away – two poles are better than one,” Edwards says. “I do have a few customers who only use one pole when in a busy city just to get around for shopping or church, but who use two poles for their regular walking.”
The poles: Using durable carbide metal tips, the one-piece poles work fantastic on snow and ice, trails, sand dunes, the mountains, the beach, Edward says. The poles have removable rubber tips that act as a silencer and shock absorber on pavement, cement, carpet, tile, or indoor/outdoor tracks.

The custom-fit poles are safer in all situations than less expensive collapsible poles, he cautions. “(The collapsible poles) that are marketed as trekking poles or Nordic walking poles are junk,” Edwards says. “They rattle, vibrate, don’t hold their settings, collapse unexpectedly and have a very short life span.”

The poles can be used with any footwear, depending on conditions. He prefers a trail running shoe for off-road ski walking, using the poles’ durable carbide metal tips; regular running or walking shoes for pavement, using the removable rubber tips; for deep snow, a comfortable boot is recommended.
What’s next: “We are cutting back to just the USA and Canada due to scams and other issues,” he says, but currently ships poles to all 50 states and Canada. “I just shipped to Hawaii today,” Edwards says. “I hope to keep helping folks with their health and fitness and I plan to continue to tell the truth about quality one-piece poles vs collapsible poles.”

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword, and other Issue Media Group publications.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.