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Grooming

Our new workhorse has arrived!

After selling our 2014 Gator to a private party, in early April we finalized plans to purchase and modify a 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 Deluxe side-by-side that now makes its home at the Blue Hills Trail.

Beginning in February, recognizing it was time to replace our Gator, here's the process we followed...

  • Researched UTVs that would meet our needs
  • Researched industrial strength tracks that would be superior to the Camoplast tracks we've used since 2014
  • Inspected and test drove several UTVs
  • Visited the nearest Mattracks dealer (Winter, WI) for a first hand look
  • Spoke with groomers at ski trails with experience using the Honda Pioneer, and Mattracks.

By late March, we felt the Honda Pioneer 1000 was a good choice for our new UTV. And Mattracks became our choice for a tougher set of tracks. Recognizing the need to pat attention to our space limitations (the doors opening into our storage shed are 83" wide and 83" tall), we...

  • Downloaded specs for Mattracks and the Pioneer
  • Made multiple careful measurements of the Pioneer
  • Realizing the vertical fit would be close, we decided to purchase the Pioneer (with a backup option of modifying the storage shed doors)

Realizing the current Coronavirus Pandemic has greatly disrupted supply chains and the availability of manufactured items, we felt fortunate to locate a UTV that could fit our needs (a 2020 Pioneer was available at Zacho Sports Center in Chippewa Falls). We made a down payment on the Pioneer. Simultaneously, we ordered the Mattracks from TRACKIT trail grooming located east of Winter, WI (just before a big price increase). Zacho Sports Center did nice work adding a front receiver hitch, interior storage compartments, front and rear LED lights, special dashboard rocker switches to operate our grooming implements, and a second stronger battery to handle the extra electrical load.

Once all the modifications were completed on the Pioneer, we sealed the deal and chose May 12th as the day to transport the Pioneer from Chippewa Falls to Winter (Wisconsin) where the tracks were installed. Then from there to the Blue Hills Trail -- all in the same day. A HUGE THANK YOU to John Waldron for his time and mileage (220 miles that day) as he trailered from Rice Lake to Chippewa Falls to Winter to our trailhead transporting the Pioneer.

Once at the trailhead, we were relieved our new Pioneer fit the vertical opening into the storage shed with about 3 inches to spare! WooHoo!!!

The next major step was to fabricate a special extended rear hitch for towing our grooming implements and trail mower. Bob Wieckowicz (our member with special welding expertise) evaluated the Pioneer, and decided to weld the extended hitch at his shop. The welding and painting was accomplished in a couple days, and the Pioneer returned to the trailhead just before rainy weather moved in. Considering the tight spaces that are present when the cargo bed is tilted, the fabricated hitch and welding support is really quite brilliant! Thanks Bob!

Many thanks to the following members that helped research the new machine and tracks: Sam Behrends, Ron Beebe, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. And thanks to Bob Langer for help with trailering as part of the rear hitch fabrication.

And many thanks to our members and donors. The Pioneer + Mattracks is a big investment, we genuinely appreciate your financial support.

Our Honda Pioneer on the rack while Mattracks are installed
Our Honda Pioneer gets a lift while mounting its new Mattracks
Our Honda Pioneer on the rack while Mattracks are installed
John Waldron inspects the new industrial strength Mattracks
Mattracks installed, ready to trailer to our trailhead.
Mattracks installation is completed. Loaded on JW's trailer for the trip to the trailhead.
Honda Pioneer arrives at our trailhead.
Honda Pioneer arrives at the trailhead
Honda Pioneer checking out the Blue Hills Trail
Honda Pioneer checks its new footing
Closeup image of the industrial strength Mattracks
Closeup photo of the industrial strength Mattracks
modifying the cargo bed
Cargo bed of the Honda Pioneer - with some personalized modifications
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender
Bob W did a great job designing and fabricating our extended hitch
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender - rear view closeup
Closeup view of the hitch support fabricated (welded) by Bob W
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender - side view
Side view of the hitch support fabricated by Bob W
Read more >

In 2014 we purchased and began using a John Deere Gator with Camoplast tracks to handle the bulk of our ski trail grooming. It also pulls our trail mower through 22 miles of rough trails during the summer.

As a result of a couple major breakdowns involving the Camoplast tracks, we’ve learned to carefully monitor the tightness of the bolt/washer combination that secures the hub bearings and holds the entire track on the Gator axle. Every 50 hours we perform a safety check on the tightness of the 12 mm diameter hub bearing bolts that hold everything together. If we discover a bolt is starting to loosen up, we replace it. However, on two occasions the bolt itself snapped off - requiring a delicate welding operation to mount a nut on the bolt shaft so the bolt could be removed. This happened most recently just one week ago.

The Camoplast tracks that we use are realistically designed for recreational use. However, we demand a lot more of the tracks when pulling heavy grooming implements up hills, down hills, across hills, over bumps and ridges. Even though we’re using new bolts and washers when they need replacement, they still have difficulty withstanding the abuse.

After one of these bolts broke off a week ago, we called Camoplast in Canada and spoke with a very helpful engineering technician. He knew that ski trail groomers in Europe had greatly diminished their problems with bolt breakage through one specific modification of the setup: they substitute a much thicker washer. This makes a lot of sense. We’ve noticed all along that the original washers tend to deform (cup) within the first 100 hours of use - probably allowing the bolt to loosen, perhaps allowing too much play at a point where the mechanical forces are extreme.

So this past week, we tried finding a thicker heavy duty washer by calling Fastenal, and by scouring the internet, and by speaking with representatives from several big online companies that specialize in selling fasteners. Nobody could provide what we were looking for!

Then an AHA! moment. How about trying the machine shop located 3 miles from our trailhead?

CPH Enterprises Inc said “Of course! - WE CAN DO.” They took the original washer, recommended an improved fitment for the bolt, and later that day provided a bid for fabricating the washers we needed. We gave the go ahead, and actually had the opportunity to watch the machining in action.

They used a Waterjet Machine to cut the new thick heavy duty washers. After programming the specs, it cut the washers using water pressure of 50,000 PSI. I’ve never seen anything like it, truly amazing!

Think Global, shop Local.  

The following pictures and video tell the story.

Parts diagram of Camoplast track
Parts diagram - Camoplast track
Waterjet machining
Waterjet Machining - setup
Waterjet machining
Waterjet Machining - setup
Waterjet machining
Waterjet Machining - big machine to make our specialty washer
Waterjet machining
One washer completed

original washer compared with new fabricated washer
Original washer (top) - New fabricated washer (bottom)
New washer assembled on hub spindle
New fabricated washer shown mounted on hub spindle
Waterjet machining at CPH Enterprises
A full service machine shop - just down the road


Read more >

First things first: packed powder conditions, skiing is great, especially in the classic track set this past weekend; and on the skate deck where touch up grooming was performed Tuesday evening (January 28th). Don't let the East Side logging operation scare you away. We are currently grooming 17 km of trails on the East Side, 9.6 km on the West Side. As an example, if you ski all the trails on the West Side, it'll add up to 14 km by the time you're done.

Snow Rollers, a pretty amazing natural phenomenon. We noticed one while skiing the Hemlock Canyon trail on Wednesday the 29th.

Here's our latest 'Gator Tale'. A true example of rolling with the punches...

  • A few days ago we performed scheduled maintenance on our Gator. Oil change, check fluids, lube the Camoplast tracks, and check tightness of the hub bolts that secure the bearings and hold the tracks in place.
  • Three of the four hub bearing bolts were a bit loose (that's why we check them). We removed and replaced two bolts.
  • Shockingly, when removing the third bolt it snapped off. Now what??? (photos below show a partially removed bolt and washer on the left; snapped off bolt is shown on the right).
  • We had access to the tools needed to extract the broken bolt. But we decided to enlist the help of a professional machinist from CPH Enterprises on County Hwy O, located just 3 miles away. With a bit of begging, one of their pros came out to the trailhead to help us out.
  • These bolts are held in place using red Loctite. Removal of the broken bolt required drilling a hole in the center of the bolt, inserting an extractor (a special tool), and repeatedly heating the bolt with a torch while trying to extract it. The heat helps loosen the Loctite.
  • After many attempts, the broken bolt seemed to move slightly - but at that point the extractor snapped off. Another 'Now What???' moment. Those might not have been the exact words we used.
  • Next step? We were stuck. Late afternoon on Tuesday. Next step would require the use of a generator to weld a nut on the end of the broken bolt and use that nut to back out the bolt. This was set up for Wednesday morning.
  • When cautiously trying to move the Gator from the shed to the parking lot on Wednesday morning, the bearing mechanism on the right rear track started shifting - which meant the entire hub assembly and track could fall off - with possible serious mechanical damage to various components.
  • The crew of two that was working on the Gator on Wednesday was able to use several ratchet straps to secure the Camoplast track enough that it was moved to the parking lot.
  • A nut was welded onto the end of the broken bolt; then with difficulty, the bolt was removed and replaced with new parts.
  • The last challenge? Prior to the welding operation, the Gator battery needed to be disconnected by removing the positive lead. When doing that, the battery terminal broke off (a bit rusted). This meant a trip to Ladysmith to buy a new battery terminal (connector), then returning to the trailhead to repair the positive battery lead and tuck the Gator in the shed.

All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!

A reminder....
When you're out enjoying a groomed ski trail, give special thanks to the groomers and volunteers that are so integral to cross country skiing on groomed trails.

photo of snow roller adjacent to the ski trail
Snow roller adjacent to the Hemlock Canyon trail
nice grooming on the Blue Hills Trail
January 29, 2020 - Hemlock Canyon trail near #25
Read more >

Some equipment information we think will interest you... On a warm day while grooming this past March, the Hyfax slides on our new snowmobile overheated and needed replacement. (The slides are a hard plastic material attached to the metal rail - positioned between the moving rubber track and the metal rail, they shield the metal rail from abrasion - however the slides can overheat if operating in 'dry' conditions).

We've never needed snow scratchers before, but realized this is a must adaptation to help kick up snow/ice and cool the slides when grooming on hardpack snow - i.e. 'dry' conditions. We purchased cable (reversible) snow scratchers locally and earlier this week - after a bit of trial and error - installed them on our Bearcat snowmobile (the scratcher tips are carbide & replaceable). Everything lined up nicely. It's easy to hook the scratchers on the rail when you need them out of the way. Preventing equipment problems keeps our ski trail groomers happy and on the go.

With that task completed, we decided to check the state of the snowmobile battery, drive belt, and driven belt sheaves. First we used our lever lift stand to elevate the Bearcat's rear end. After napping for 6 months, the 'Cat fired up on the 2nd turn of the key, purred like a kitten, then roared as the track turned a few revolutions quite nicely. We again disconnected the battery and put her back to sleep -- waiting for snow!

Lastly, a modification that was installed a couple weeks ago... During the grooming season, the Bearcat sleeps in a shipping container where ice tends to build up under its track. To make entry and exit less harrowing for the operator, we placed an eyebolt in the threshold; then created an easily removable setup where we can secure a piece of salvaged snowmobile track to the threshold so the 'Cat can get a good toe hold. The trails are in great shape, go take a hike!

Bearcat snowmobile in storage
Bearcat snowmobile in storage
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp
Read more >

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Blue Hills Trail

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Nice day for a walk in the woods. Pause to appreciate the hidden gems. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #naturegems #springawakening #ruskcountywi
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Crazy is as Crazy does. Had to cross multiple stretches of bare ground to find skiable snow on the East Side Ridgeline yesterday. A laughing fun adventure - shared with the snow fleas. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #snowfleas #snowinthewoods #skiingondirtisbetterthannoskiing #skiingondirt
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Sap’s running. So are my skis. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #springskiing
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What a fantastic week of skiing it was! Celebrate our week long ‘Virtual Birkie Races’ by visiting our blog. Link in bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkiefever #winterwisconsin #wisconsinwinter
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Fresh snow Wednesday morning, fresh grooming Wednesday evening, then Thursday sunshine and temps in the mid thirties. A perfect Bluebird day in the Blue Hills - another memorable day for Virtual Birkie skiers. Congrats to all! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluebirdday
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2” fresh snow Sunday evening, then groomed about 3/4 of the trail system Sunday night. Found untouched fresh corduroy this morning. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #freshcorduroy #skitrails #skitrailgrooming #winterwisconsin
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Mighty fine skiing today. Look at all these smiley faces! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #nordicskiing #kidsonskis #winterfun #ruskcountywi #birkiefever2021 #birkiefever
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Classic classic track. Shady Way trail on the East Side. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkebeiner #waxmyskis #snowisfun
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Monday sunrise -25 F was coldest day of this otherwise mild winter. Reached zero by mid afternoon when classic skiing was a kick! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #colderthanapolarbearstoenails #winterfun #belowzero
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Cold, sunny days. A good time to explore our snowshoe trails. Human rope tows are a FUNctional assist on the steeper hills. Swipe to see a video example. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinsnowshoeing #northwoodswisconsin #ruskcounty #subzerofun
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Come ski the Hills! Virtually! The Blue Hills Trail is excited to be a BIRKIE VIRTUAL VENUE PARTNER. We've outlined three separate race routes for our trail system. A snapshot of one of those routes is shown with this post. VISIT OUR BLOG to see the rest of the routes and get the details. Link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkiefever #americanbirkebeiner
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Single digits Fahrenheit. Toko mint grip wax. A classic day on Excelsior Road. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skiclassic #tokowax #kickwax #wisconsinwinter
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This is the steep straight down/up portion of our trail that connects our East and West Side trails (located between J and K on the West Side). Swipe to see what’s hiding under the snow. Last fall Scott Gudis Sand & Gravel (Bruce, WI) did a great job of replacing a damaged culvert. Thanks to Scott, we can safely ski this hill. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #culvertreplacement #heavyequipmentoperators #brucewisconsin #skiingisfun
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Excelsior Road and West Side trails: THE place to ski yesterday. Fantastic conditions! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #groundhogsday #classicskiing #skateski
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Another day full of smiles at the Blue Hills Trail. Ain’t winter great! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #aintwintergrand #wisconsinwinter #xcskiinglife
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The equipment that grooms our ski trails takes a beating. We recently were again amazed by the capabilities of a nearby machine shop that fabricated a special washer for improving the durability of our Camoplast tracks. Visit our latest blog post to be amazed: link in bio⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #cphenterprises #waterjetcutting #ruskcountywi
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Gator rescue! Our John Deere Gator suddenly stalled out on a steep hillside a couple days ago. Yesterday we got it running, and were able to move it back to our trailhead before it quit again. Swipe to see the 5 videos showing the rescue. Now it’s time for Dr. Gator. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #gatorrescue #winterchallenges #skitrailgrooming
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Dynamite grooming. Dynamite skiing. Come Ski the Hills! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #covidescape #skiforfun #ruskcountywi
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Video shows our groomer looking ahead while setting classic track behind. Swipe for photo of finished results on ‘Excelsior Road’ trail. Nice to see the sun again. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skitrailgrooming #powdersnow❄️ #foresttherapy #freshcorduroy #fluffypowder
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Rollercoaster Trail at Blue Hills Trail. Built a dozen years ago, anyone can ski it in the uphill direction. Downhill, it’s a bit of a thrill. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #rollercoasters #rollercoasterride #skicrosscountry #funonsnow
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At the Blue Hills Trail, “what goes down, must come up”. Plenty of hills to satisfy your training needs. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #getoutside #cardioworkout #crosscountryskiing #skateskiing
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January 20, 2021. A very good day. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #otterslide #fastskis #skinnyskis #ruskcountywi
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Busy Sunday in the Blue Hills. Skate skiing on the ‘Gravel Road’. Classic skiing on the East Side Ridgeline. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #snowislife #skiforfun #wisconsinlife
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Photo shows our trails midday today. Surprisingly firm and skiable despite warm temps and some rain. We’re gonna try grooming this evening. Please be patient, it might take a few days to get yesterday’s new snow up to snuff. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #skitrailgrooming #aintwintergrand #heavywetsnow #wegotsnow #winterwisconsin
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A quick lesson in ski trail grooming: With snow headed our way, this was a good day to use our trail compactor to level the high spots and washboard on a few select trails. Should result in a smoother skate deck. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skitrailgrooming #snowgrooming #skateskiing #skateski #ruskcountywi #bluehillstrail
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Hoar frost / Rime frost topping on the trails today January 12th. Wonderful skiing - do yourself a favor and SKI THE HILLS January 13th - you’ll be happy you did. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #foresttherapy #ruskcountywi #getyourvitamind #iloveskiing #escapetothehills #winterinwisconsin
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As Good As It Gets! Two January 10 videos show great skiing on Excelsior Road - Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #xcclassicski #skiclassic #skateski #asgoodasitgets #januaryinwisconsin #wisconsinwinter
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Another fun day getting my kicks in the Hills. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #xcclassic #xcskier #chasingyourdream
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Not much snow, but our groomers have made the most of it. Two videos showing good skiing on the East Side trails - January 6, 2021. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #januaryinwisconsin #wisconsinlife #wisconsinoutdoors #wisconsinwinter #skateski #ruskcounty
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A ‘Rime Frost’ blue skies sunny day - fun day for skiing the Blue Hills Trail. Pictures are from the West Side of the trail system. Swipe for video taken on the ‘Lollipop’. Trail conditions updated daily at website, link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #fundayonskis #wisconsinwinter #sunnyski #mansbestfriend🐶 #justenoughsnowforme #justenoughsnowtoski
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Sun burnt off the fog, visitors enjoyed a hoarfrost snowfall on the trails. Great place to socially distance with family & friends! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #sociallydistanceoutdoors #hoarfrost #wevegotsnow #fasterskier #skiwithfriends
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Packed powder skiing on New Year’s Day. Loads of visitors welcomed 2021! Video shows the East/West crossover trail. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #packedpowder #skateski #classicski #welcome2021
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Good skiing through the hoarfrost on New Years Eve day. Get the daily scoop by visiting ‘Trail Conditions’ on our website - link in bio⬆️. Wishing you a happy healthy 2021! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skinnyski #skinnyskis #crosscountryskiwithkids #xcski
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Excelsior Road (West Side) and The Gravel Road (East Side) were groomed last evening. Skiing this afternoon I was treated to 1” of feathers on top of the fresh grooming! Gonna groom these same trail segments again this evening. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #silentsports #silenceofnature🌳⛅️🗻 #skiingonfeathers #beautyofwinter
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Many of our 20+ miles of ski trails have received initial grooming in the past several days. The best skiing is shown as green highlights on the attached maps. And did you know our West Side trails are dog friendly? Be sure to visit our website where you’ll find ‘TRAIL CONDITIONS’ updated daily: link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skijoring #foresttherapy #classicskiing #dogsonsnow
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Christmas in the Blue Hills. Very good skating on Excelsior Road this afternoon; pretty good striding as well. Groomers will be out working again tomorrow. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #christmasski #ruskcounty #skateskiing #skiwithdogs
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After yesterday’s rain, Santa brought snow - enough to start grooming the ski trails! This afternoon we rolled the ‘Gravel Road’ on the East Side trails, and ‘Excelsior Road’ on the West Side. Thanks Santa. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #earlywinterskiing #xcs #xcskiing #skinnyski
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A little more snow and we may be able to do some grooming. Today we moved our workhorse snowmobile to its winter home. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinoutdoors #ruskcountywi #weneedsnow #crosscountryskiing
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Lunch time. Even busy beavers need a break now & then. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #busybeaver #busyasabeaver #timber
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Not enough snow to ski the trails. BUT very good skiing on Audie Lake - 2.5 miles northwest of the warming house. Audie is always an enjoyable getaway. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinwinter #xcskiingonlakes #xcski #frozenlakes #silenceofnature
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Pictures from our ‘Rabbit Trail’ where bunnies made a fresh appearance on the Blue Hills Trail today. It felt like October today - 48 degrees F - way too warm for December! It’s time to cool down, then Santa needs to bring us some snow. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #whereiswinter #xcskiingwithoutsnow
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Every other year our volunteers replace all the intersection maps. That’s 60 maps, but who’s counting? Combined with excellent signage, it makes it easy to get your bearings on the Blue Hills Trail. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #trailvolunteers #xcskitrails #foresttherapy #findyourselfoutside
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Good hiking in early December. Frost is entering the ground, the ski trails are ready for snow. Photos show the biggest oak tree in the County Forest; hiking on the ‘Far East’ trail; and our Gator doing some trail work on the West Side trails. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #trailwork #hikingwisconsin #weneedsnow
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Big News! Wisconsin's Blue Hills Trail has revised its website, its maps, its blog - and added an Instagram account. Spread the word. VISIT THE BLOG for details – link in bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #crosscountryskiing #skinnyski #ruskcountywi #ricelakewi #travelwisconsin #tomterrifik
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1.5” big fluffy parachute snowflakes today. Might actually be able to ski on some of our trails — even though the underlying ground isn’t yet frozen. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #winterinwisconsin #crosscountryskiing #xcskiing
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Tight corner. Placed orange driveway markers at the edge. Gotta keep our groomers on track. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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After unseasonably warm weather in the first week of November, more wintry weather will start to freeze the trails. Hopefully x-country skiing is just around the corner. This photo was taken on the East Side trails - it shows one of our most important bridges. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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Bridge building in October successfully spanned a small creek that was always a challenge to summertime mowing & wintertime grooming of our ski trails. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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