Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Good fall color. Good hiking and biking throughout the trail system. A small segment of the East Side trails still needs mowing (look at the mowing report below). As of September 1st, THE ENTIRE TRAIL SYSTEM has been cleared of downed trees resulting from the devastating December 2022 ice storm. Click here for maps showing the open trails. Trails involved in logging this past year have a dirt surface rather than grass (see logging notes under 'Important Updates').
Insect activity is low.
1-Logging on the West Side between intersections Y & Z is done for now.
2-Autumn 2022, loggers cut a large timber sale on the East Side. It's probably wise to avoid hiking those trails in all but very dry weather. Click here for a map showing the involved trails.
April 30: damp leaf top dusting
grooming & MOWING
Cross Country Skiing
During the middle of January (2023), we've twice been set to send out a team of chainsaw experts to work on opening more of the Core Loop on the East Side Trails by removing ice storm debris. However, equipment issues negated those plans.
Here's a bit of background: we prefer to groom as a team with our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 UTV accompanied by our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile. Here are the latest equipment challenges our groomers have faced:
- On the evening of January 13th 2023 (Friday the 13th), our Arctic Bearcat workhorse snowmobile overheated shortly after grooming began. The overheating of the snowmobile was an intermittent issue most of last winter as well - and led to several different interventions - each seeming to help temporarily. After overheating on January 13th, the snowmobile was parked at the trailhead, and our head groomer worked alone past midnight using our Honda Pioneer. Great skiing the next day thanks to his dedication.
- On January 15th, we trailered the snowmobile to Bloomer WI Arctic Cat for an in-depth evaluation of potential causes of overheating. Everything checked out OK – no obvious explanation – pretty frustrating that we couldn't identify the cause.
- We decided to discuss the overheating symptoms of the snowmobile with an Arctic Cat expert in New Hampshire who has given us sound advice on several occasions in the past. Right away, he said the symptoms pointed to the likelihood of an airlock in the cooling system. Luckily, while the snowmobile was in the Arctic Cat shop in Bloomer the day before, we had requested replacement of the coolant (anti-freeze), and as part of that replacement, it's routine protocol to perform special maneuvers to purge the cooling system of trapped air. Picture raising the front end of a heavy workhorse snowmobile 3-4 feet and operating til warm then venting the radiator -- and repeating that with the rear end elevated 3-4 feet -- and possibly doing the same with the sled tipped to one side, then the other. Since purging and burping the snowmobile, it's been running fine. Cross your fingers.
- On the evening of Saturday January 21st, our grooming team set out with the goal of using our 'trail renovator implement' to improve the edge of the skate deck. However, about 2 km into the grooming, a big stick worked under the rear comb of the renovator and popped out several rivets – which deformed the comb and created a grooming mess. The groomers returned to the trailhead, parked the 'trail renovator', and groomed using both of our Tidd Tech Generation 2 implements. That created nice skiing conditions for the following day.
- Toward the end of the grooming on that same evening of January 21st, all of a sudden our Honda Pioneer UTV started vibrating when the cooling fan operated. The groomers parked the Honda in its shed, and the next morning we started sharing ideas regarding a potential repair (on site vs at a dealership). Incredibly, while skiing on Sunday the 22nd, my wife (Jan) noticed an oddly shaped WHITE object on the surface of the snow as we skied up the Elevator Trail. Looking closer, we realized it was a plastic object – clearly part of a fan blade! Apparently one of the blades had broken off the cooling fan!!! And there's no reason to explain that – the cooling fan is located behind the radiator inside a protective shroud. But at least we now had an idea regarding what kind of repair was needed.
- Monday morning the 23rd we started contacting nearby Honda dealerships to request help replacing the cooling fan (online videos show a fairly complicated challenge to access the fan). We arranged for overnight shipping of a new fan, and on Tuesday trailered the Honda to AirTec Power Sports in Rice Lake for repairs. The fan replacement – and several additional preventive maintenance items – were completed within 24 hours!
- Regarding our '54-inch Trail Renovator Implement' -- it's been used aggressively this winter in deep snow and icy conditions to remove the ruts from the heavy equipment used to clear ice storm debris. As a result, the comb and side flaps have taken a beating. We have a replacement comb and side flaps on order. (FYI - the rear comb on any grooming implement is what creates the corduroy on the surface of the skate deck).
- Once the equipment issues are under control, we'll again try to coordinate work crews (chainsaw experts) to clear additional ice storm debris and open more of the East Side Core Loop. For now, that's our 'What Next' project.
As the saying goes, you don't own equipment, it owns you. This winter in particular, we need to appreciate good skiing when it's available.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
A very destructive 2022 ice storm (December 14/15) initially shut down our skiing & snowshoeing by dropping a shocking amount of trees, limbs and branches on our ski trails (not to mention area power lines and houses). The storm began with rain, then switched to ice, followed by 6 inches of very wet snow. The storm abated for 12 hours, then returned with 10+ inches of VERY dense damp snow. This second snowfall clung to the ice coating the trees, and created a once-in-a-generation swath of tree damage to area trees.
Area residents dealt with power outages lasting up to 5 days or more. It took more than a week before the access road to the ski trail was cleared of trees and plowed and we could reach our trailhead. Then the hard work began.
December 26-28 we rented – and our groomers operated – heavy equipment to remove debris from a select part of the East Side trails – and we began grooming the ski trails. On January 12th the Rusk County Forestry Department cleared trees from Excelsior Road (West Side of the trail system). We then groomed Excelsior Road so it could be enjoyed right away.
Initially, the amount of ice damage gave thought to the idea of closing the ski trails for the winter. But we decided to try to save winter in the Hills. Although the number of open trails is limited, we have very good skiing on 14 km of some of our favorite trails. 46% (11 km) of the East Side trails – plus Excelsior Road (3 km in length on the West Side) – have been cleared of downed trees. Weather permitting, we have plans to open more of the trails. Feel free to bushwhack any of the ungroomed trails.
Snowshoers: the entire Ridges Snowshoe Trail has been cleared of ice damage. We prefer you use that trail as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
The year that was (2021-22):
- December 2021 early snowfalls were encouraging, then we received a near-record 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. We spent about $400 grooming that snowfall, skiers enjoyed it for a few days, then the weather gods were cruel enough to give us rain, tornadic winds, and a major meltdown. The weather shifted in our favor just after Christmas, and by late December we again were busy grooming. January and February were cold, and during those two months we received about 20 inches of snow, with 7 of those inches on Tuesday February 22nd just prior to the Birkie. The overall snowfall for the winter measured 67 inches, but only 26 inches fell when we could use it. Much of the grooming this past winter was done in the evening – producing nice firm trails to start the day – and skiers were uniformly happy throughout the winter. Logging of the West Side ‘Lollipop Timber Sale’ in the late fall necessitated removal of those logs after the ground froze. As a result, the logs were hauled on the ski trails up until mid January. We weren’t really able to ski those involved trails until late January after enough snow accumulated. On the East Side, a small logging operation near the warming house in late February was minimally disruptive thanks to a cooperative effort to minimize equipment crossing the ski trail. The trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie, including ice and rain on March 5th (actually the first rain since late December). The last grooming was March 19, but cold weather allowed skiing until late March. We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. There still was ‘skiable’ snow in early April.
- Our “Blue Hills Trail Fun Day” never materialized this past winter due to cntinuing COVID precautions.
- Each summer, one of Wisconsin's 30 County Forests hosts the annual WCFA Summer Tour. It's a unique opportunity for one county to share the best of its forest lands. This year was Rusk County's turn to host the Summer Tour, and the Rusk County Forestry Department invited the Blue Hills Trail Association (BHTA) to show what we have to offer. In late June, three busloads of foresters pulled into the parking lot by the warming house, 100+ attendees piled out of the buses (this included members of the Rusk County Forestry Committee and the Rusk County Board), then listened to brief presentations from the Forestry Department and from the Blue Hills Trail Association. One point emphasized was the many benefits to the ski trails that result from the good working relationship between BHTA and Rusk County Forestry.
- A round of applause please for everyone that provided volunteer help this past year. Our volunteers, members & donors are very giving – THANK YOU!!!
Here are some specific thank you notes…
- Thanks to last year’s grooming team for creating great skiing conditions. They groomed a lot, we skied a lot – and groomers never complained about the need to use their winches to pull themselves out of deep snow.
- Thanks to John Waldron for serving as emcee at our November 5th banquet!
- Thanks to Jan Paulsen and Vickie Waters for decorating the banquet site.
- Big thank you to John Kann & Dan Bjugstad who continue maintaining our network of dedicated snowshoe trails – they’ve got their work cut out to reestablish the trails through the areas that were logged this past year. Watch for email messages if they request help removing the logging slash.
- The entire trail system was mowed this summer, thanks to our volunteers for removing downed trees & their 50+ hours of mowing.
- Thank you to the volunteers at this year’s fall work day. We brushed out most of the trails, and tidied up the warming house and trailhead.
- Thanks to the Rusk County Forestry Department and the Wisconsin DNR for bulldozing, culverting, and grass seeding the new West Side trail (between Letters Y and Z). This trail will be loads of fun to ski (it climbs, rolls and dips) as it provides a new loop for your enjoyment.
- Thanks to Bob Wieckowicz for his clever welding jobs on our Honda Pioneer (he added solid support for the extended hitch, and creatively modified the aftermarket bed rails to fit).
- Thanks to a dry summer, erosion problems have been limited this year.
- The distant loop on the West Side (C-D-F-G-H-I) remains beaver territory. For now, we’d like to coexist and avoid removing the beavers. In fact, their two active dams undoubtedly help control runoff during heavy rain events – thus minimizing erosion of the ski trail.
- There are two timber sales on the East Side that have been logged this fall. Details are on maps below.
- Remember, the entire trail system is non-motorized. If you find motorized vehicles on the trails, educate their operators to the contrary. And consider reporting this to the Rusk County Sheriff’s department.
Equipment and Monies:
Our equipment is valued at close to $90,000 – 2020 Honda Pioneer with Mattracks tracks, 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile, 2 rollers, 3 Tidd Tech implements, an ABR trail compactor, & various state of the art attachments. Thanks for your financial support that helps keep the equipment running well.
- Our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 with Mattracks & enclosed cab (cost of $41,000 when purchased April 2021) is a great asset – thanks again for everyone’s financial support in helping us afford the Pioneer. This summer, the Pioneer transmission acted up and required two trips to the dealership in Chippewa Falls before repairs were completed to our satisfaction. Thankfully we had purchased an extended warranty that covered the repairs.
- Our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers’ Special snowmobile is a big workhorse, powerful and maneuverable. It nicely complements the Honda Pioneer. Unfortunately, it overheated on multiple occasions this past winter, presenting a diagnostic challenge that took two months to figure out. We’re pretty sure it’s good to go.
- Our AcrEase trail mower gets plenty of use each summer. It was purchased 2012, and the engine was replaced spring of 2021. This summer we replaced all the wheel bearings (8 wheels, 16 bearings total). It does a great job handling the tall grasses.
- For working the snow surface, our Tidd Tech implements (called “G2s”) do most of the work. They measure 6, 8 & 9 feet wide with the outside flaps extended, & each works well in different snow conditions.
- The donation pole in the parking lot last winter added $3900 in revenue – thanks for spreading the word about the Blue Hills Trail – please remind visitors to plug that donation pole!
- This fall’s membership & fundraising drive has already generated more than $19,000 ($5200 from business donors, $5000 from individual donors, $6700 in membership fees, $1300 from raffle tickets) – that’s about 75% of our budget – and your generosity with this year’s auction will hopefully raise another $2000+ – thank you!!! Whenever you can, please thank the many businesses and individuals that support the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.
This map shows the new West Side trail that was bulldozed and seeded in August 2022. It runs from Y to Z.
Status of active timber sales as of late October 2022:
Refer to the first map below...
1. North of warming house – this was a select cut of red pine. The cutting is done, almost all the logs have been hauled out, and bulldozer repair of the ski trails is happening now. Our volunteers are in the process of reestablishing the ‘Nordic Pines’ snowshoe trail. One big plus: the ski trail that provides access to our trailhead storage has been greatly improved (ditched & culverted) to now allow heavy traffic to reach our storage sheds.
2. To the Far East – this very large sale (174 acres of a hardwood select cut) was cut in ‘record’ time this fall. Currently, the involved trails are rutted and muddy – and have an amazing amount of wood piled up waiting to be hauled to market. If the weather cooperates for the loggers (frozen ground before snow accumulates), the logs will be hauled to the west (down Rut Road to the Firelane Road), then the trails will be dozed in time for skiing. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and that plan doesn’t materialize, then the affected trails on the Core Loop will be repaired in time for ski season – and the logs will be hauled to the east using a route that doesn’t involve the Core Loop (refer to the second map below). We probably should anticipate a good portion of the Far East trails will be unavailable this winter. But they should be repaired and ready for skiing next winter. PLUS – we have a great new trail planned for the Far East that will be our payback for disruption of those trails.
Pink Line = East Side Core Loop
Aqua = water flow
Winter 2021-22 was a roller coaster weather ride. The thrills really took off with the 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. On December 11th our groomers worked 20 hours and skiers enjoyed really nice conditions -- for a couple days. But a few days later record warm temps were accompanied by rain and tornadic winds, and almost all that snow disappeared by December 15th. How cruel!!!
Just after Christmas, wintry weather returned, and we had decent skiing conditions by New Years. The rest of the winter, temps fluctuated between subzero cold and temps in the teens and twenties. Precipitation often was in the form of dry snow. Following that nasty rain event in mid December, it didn't rain again until March 5th. As a result, we experienced good skiing without icy conditions for most of the winter - pretty unusual.
We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. Our groomers worked approximately 350 hours during that time. Much of the grooming was in the dark of night, during cold temps, and challenging weather. Hats off to our groomers!
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. Good skiing lasted until mid March. The last grooming of the season on March 19th created rocket fast conditions on the East Side Core Loop, a great way to say goodbye to winter. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
Weather forecasters predicted a narrow band of heavy snow for northwest Wisconsin. For our area, we were hoping for a nice 4" snowfall to add to our early season thin base. As the storm moved in, late the evening of Friday (December 10th) we measured 7", and awoke Saturday to snow accumulations guesstimated at 14"-18" in the vicinity of the Blue Hills Trail. WooHoo! Biggest snowfall in YEARS! First double digit snowfall since a 10-inch snowfall November 10, 2014.
At that point, the grooming challenge begins for two tough guys: fight your way to the trailhead while the snowplows are out working the main highways; use our Honda Pioneer UTV and Arctic Cat Bearcat to bust through the deep snow as you start to open some select trails; return home for a change of dry clothes; come to the rescue of the local plow operator when his big snowplow truck got stuck in the ditch near the trailhead; grab some hot food from town (10 miles away) because the grooming wouldn't end anytime soon; deal with dry slick snow that made it difficult for the grooming machines to climb the hills without the tracks slipping (note: there are lots of hills in the Blue Hills); burn up gas like it's going out of style; stop and remove snow sticking to the rollers; after sunset enjoy the clear skies and a winter wonderland. And hope skiers the following day would appreciate your efforts.
Just a couple weeks ago we were out hiking bare ground. Skiers on Sunday (December 12th) enjoyed a wintry wonderland. The select trails that were groomed on the 11th weren't in top shape, but they provided loads of fun. The 14" snowfall (dry snow!) compressed into a 2" base that was thick enough to allow the use of good skis. Sure, skiing wasn't perfect today, but who's complaining? Take a look at the following photos of happy skiers as we begin winter 2021-2022.
The COVID pandemic has pushed many more people into the out of doors this past year. This has clearly added to the enjoyment of the beauty of the Blue Hills Trail, we've been experiencing a big increase in the numbers of first time visitors this past year.
Thanks to COVID, for the first time, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation partnered with multiple 'Virtual National Venues' for the 2021 Birkebeiner (Birkie) Ski Race. Here at the Blue Hills Trail we outlined three courses that satisfied the distance requirements for either the Prince Haakon, Kortelopet, or American Birkebeiner races. Give credit to our vice president (John Waldron) for pushing the Blue Hills Trail Association to link with the American Birkebeiner for this year's event - the 47th annual American Birkebeiner Ski Race. And credit our president (Sam Behrends) for providing hydration and energy snacks at key locations.
We were pleased to see so many skiers join in the fun by completing their races at the Blue Hills Trail during the Virtual Week of Feb. 20 to 28. Racers were free to ski any of our trails that they wanted, many skied their own routes, quite a few followed our suggested routes. The Blue Hills Trail was a Tier 3 Virtual Partner, and we groomed the heck out of our trails during Birkie week. We could brag about the dynamite conditions, but it's better to let the following pictures convince you. Thanks to Jan Paulsen, Steve P, and Dave Putnam for the majority of these photos.
The Blue Hills Trail is excited to partner with the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation for the 2021 Birkebeiner (Birkie) Ski Race. SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE THREE COURSES we've outlined that will satisfy distance requirements for either the Prince Haakon, Kortelopet, or American Birkebeiner races. Our trail system is very well marked - but you will need to carry your own race directions.
Join in the fun by completing the race from Feb. 20 to 28. You are free to ski any of our trails that you please, they'll be open to racers and non-racers alike. The Blue Hills Trail is a Tier 3 Virtual Partner, and we are committed to grooming frequently during Birkie week. Track will be set prior to the week of the Virtual Birkie, and as needed thereafter. See the Virtual Race page on the American Birkebeiner website for additional information on choosing the virtual option.
To help plan your outing... At the top center of our website, 'Trail Conditions' are updated twice daily (this includes grooming reports).
To help you find your way around...
- Click this link to use ‘Avenza Maps App’ and download our WEST SIDE MAP to your phone
- Click this link to use ‘Avenza Maps App’ and download our EAST SIDE MAP to your phone
To print the following maps, right click any of the images to 1) open in a new tab and print from there; or 2) save to your computer and print from your computer.
Prince Haakon 14K virtual race 2021
The following map shows our suggested Prince Haakon Route (13.99 Km)
Firelane Road ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
Kortelopet 26K virtual race 2021
The following two maps show our suggested Kortelopet route (26.26 Km)
Kortelopet LAP 1:
Firelane Road ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A
Kortelopet LAP 2:
A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ J ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
American Birkebeiner 43K virtual race 2021
The following two maps show our suggested Birkebeiner route (43 Km)
This route combines loops that add up to 43K. Starting at the warming house, you’ll ski 19K on the East Side trails, then cross to the West Side trails for another 24 K. Scroll down to look at BOTH maps that guide you through the East Side to the West Side trails.
Virtual Birkie East (19K):
1 ⇢ 26 ⇢ A1 ⇢ 2 ⇢ 3 ⇢ 4 ⇢ 5 ⇢ B1 ⇢ B2 ⇢ B3 ⇢ 9 ⇢ 8 ⇢ 7 ⇢ 6 ⇢ C1 ⇢ C7 ⇢ C6 ⇢ C2 ⇢ C1 ⇢ C7 ⇢ C6 ⇢ C5 ⇢ C4 ⇢ C3 ⇢ 17 ⇢ 16 ⇢ 8 ⇢ 9 ⇢ B3 ⇢ B2 ⇢ B4 ⇢ B3 ⇢ 9 ⇢ 10 ⇢ 13 ⇢ 12 ⇢ 11 ⇢ 10 ⇢ 13 ⇢ 14 ⇢ A5 ⇢ A2 ⇢ 25 ⇢ 24 ⇢ 22 ⇢ 23 ⇢ 24 ⇢ 22 ⇢ 23 ⇢ L
Virtual Birkie West (24K):
L ⇢ K ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ C ⇢ I ⇢ H ⇢ G ⇢ F ⇢ D ⇢ C ⇢ I ⇢ J ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
Most of December 2020 was dry and warm. Instead of skiing the Blue Hills Trail, we’ve been hiking its ski and snowshoe trails. A recent return to colder weather allowed nearby lakes to freeze solid, and during the middle of the month we enjoyed skiing a 1-inch coating of snow on always beautiful Audie Lake (located 2 miles northwest of our trailhead).
Then the weather forecast got us all excited, calling for snow a couple days prior to Christmas. We started closing off traffic on the ski trails, hoping to retain the little snow already on the ground. However, December 23rd was warm with too much rain; toward evening the winds began howling, temps plummeted, and wind whipped snow blew on by. The following day temps were in the single digits and when we inspected the trails, we were pleasantly surprised to find about 2.5”-3” of new snow stuck to the ski trails. Just enough to start some early season grooming.
After several days of grooming, today (December 27th) we're enjoying very good skating and good striding on 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side of the trail system). The rest of the trails have a thin base with an irregular surface, grassy patches and dirt spots - skiable but not nearly as much fun as the two 'roads'. Take a look at the maps (images below) for a quick summary of the open trails.
Here's what groomers have accomplished since the rain/wind/snow event of December 23rd:
- Packed (rolled) 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side) on December 24th
- Packed (rolled) many of the East and West trails December 25th
- Packed (rolled) more of the East Side trails the morning of December 26th
- Brought out our big G2 implements (finishing tools) and groomed 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side) the afternoon of December 26th. This included setting a shallow classic track.
Here's an inside view of our grooming logic:
- At the beginning of the ski season, the initial grooming is targeted at knocking the air out of snow next to the ground so the interface can freeze into a protective layer and allow frost to penetrate. If it’s cold enough and dry enough we use rollers for this first step. During that first step, we often discover damp areas that need to be compressed so they freeze up.
- As soon as the base is thick enough, out come the finishing implements (we use Tidd Tech Generation 2 groomers) to start sculpting the surface. We start setting classic track only after the base has set up AND when the base is thick enough to minimize exposing grass, dirt and rocks.
- On our trail system, we have a couple of gravel road surfaces that tend to freeze up and hold snow earlier than the rest of the trails. That's where you'll find the best skiing right now (look at the maps below).
- So much of the good skiing in the days ahead is dependent on the summer/fall trail maintenance. This includes mowing, bulldozing to deal with erosion, repair of bridges & culverts, chainsaw work to clear downed trees, and brushing the trail margins. Please join us when we put out the word seeking volunteers (we have an annual work day late September).
Our head groomer put in an 8-hour day yesterday, and was willing to return late evening to touch up some trails. We told him to rest up, enjoy family, and wait for some fresh snow. No grooming today.
Ski the Hills!
Blue Hills Trail
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