Hiking conditions are good. The 4-inch November 14th snowfall (first snowfall of the season) has disappeared.
Due to recent logging, on the East Side, if the trails are damp avoid Rut Road between intersections 20-21-22 (probably muddy). Click here for details
Due to active logging, on the West Side, avoid the loop between intersections D-E-D, and watch for logging traffic from A-B-C-D. All those trails are now bare ground and will be muddy during wet weather.
November 21: snow showers
November 18: snow showers
November 17: dusting
November 13-14: 4" fairly moist snow
Once the gun deer hunts are pretty well over, we usually begin grooming sometime in early-mid December when the weather cooperates.
The many acres of trails on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail are often home to beavers. In years past, we've been able to tolerate a few of their permanent dams while trying to maintain the adjacent trails in the summer, and groom next to their dams in the winter.
Sad to say, too often we've resorted to trapping to remove 'nuisance beavers' (we report the problems to the County Forestry Department, and they hire out the work to a professional trapper).
All summer we've observed an active 200-foot long beaver dam that is located next to the ski trail (between intersections I and H), with about 130 feet of the trail wet enough to perhaps make it difficult to groom and ski this winter. Instead of trapping out the beavers at this spot, we decided to try a different approach. We'd like to learn how to coexist.
The first photo (below) shows this location in early September. See the small bridge? Beyond the bridge the trail has water slowly moving over the trail. We've debated various options, and yesterday (November 13th) decided to install a small beaver deceiver (pond leveler) device.
Here's what Sam, Benny, and Tom did...
· Purchased five 10-foot lengths of 4" corrugated HDPE pipe ('drain tile') and one filter
· Breached the beaver dam with the goal of dropping the water level about two feet
· Screwed the pipe sections together, and fastened the filter on the upstream end
· Drilled holes in the first 20 feet of pipe (to allow trapped air to escape)
· Attached a weight five feet from the upstream end (to hold the pipe underwater)
· Waded into the pond with the upstream end of the pipe (and the weight)
· Placed the downstream end of pipe (30 feet in length) through the breach in the beaver dam, and under the bridge on the ski trail
· Dropped the upstream end (and weight) into water that was probably five feet deep
· Placed a vertical wood post in the breach of the dam, and attached the pipe to that post
· Confirmed a nice volume of water flowing through the downstream end of the pipe
The materials cost about $30. We’re hoping the beavers quickly show up and repair the breach in the beaver dam. This hopefully would seal the pipe into the dam at a height that will control the water level – leaving enough water for the beavers to use the pond, but keeping the water level low enough to minimize the tendency for water to leak through the dam and flow over the ski trail.
We learned a lot from this first attempt at installing a pond leveling device. It was a nice muddy day playing in the beaver habitat, here’s hoping we can coexist.
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...
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.
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
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
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:
Here's an inside view of our grooming logic:
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!
Winter 2019-20 started early.
10+ inches of heavy snow November 27, 7+ inches of heavy snow November 30, 4+ inches of dense snow December 9, 2.5 inches of light snow December 12. Groomers had their hands full throughout December. This made for very good skiing over the Christmas and New Year Holidays. January added 14" of snow in generally light snow falls. February was dry, only 5" of snow. We had only one major rain event (1.5" of rain December 28), and the rain was absorbed into the abundant base. Trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Then warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie. The last grooming was March 13, but we were able to enjoy decent skiing into the beginning of April. All thanks to the big snows in late November.
We groomed a total of 57 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: once in November, 18 times in December, 19 times in January, 16 times in February, and 3 times in March.
Our head groomer and his crew were very willing to use our rollers - both of our rollers were used more this past winter than at any time in the past. As a result, this past winter the trails were groomed wider, and the edges were more firm. Groomers were very willing to try different techniques, and performed far more evening grooming than at any time in the past. This allowed the grooming to set up by the time skiers arrived in the morning. The classic track was in generally good shape most of the winter - the groomers were responsive to input from some of our most enthusiastic classic skiers. Thank you groomers!
The ABR compaction drag (we call it the 'Blue Thing') also was used more frequently this past winter. It was especially helpful removing high spots in the center of the trail, and when the trails needed a quick light touch-up of the skate lane.
Logging along Rut Road kept us from grooming that part of the East Side Core Loop the entire winter. Toward the end of that logging operation, it also disrupted our access to the West Side using the usual East-West crossover trail. However, one of the real pluses this past winter was the newly permitted use of Excelsior Road on the West Side for grooming and skiing. In the middle of December, after the gun deer hunts were done, a berm was plowed to block off traffic at the east end of Excelsior Road. We then groomed the entire 3 km length of Excelsior Road, and skiers were uniformly thrilled with the results.
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
We have a great new section of trail for skiing. On the West Side of our trail system, beginning this winter, we have permission to close off and groom Excelsior Road for skiing. Look at the map (in the images below) to get an idea where it's located.
Excelsior Road has great potential for skiing, but closing it for skiing upset the hunters/trappers that have used that road for decades. To paraphrase Jeremy Koslowski (Rusk County Forest Administrator), we all want to play in the same sandbox, we just need to figure out how to get along.
At the December 2019 monthly meeting of the Rusk County Forestry Committee, the wintertime use of Excelsior Road was on the agenda. After much discussion, a new compromise for shared use was passed by the committee. Please read on...
December 18, 2019 meeting of the Forestry Committee
We're going to give this a try (the newly passed resolution), and review the results at the January 2020 Forestry Committee meeting. Our officers are hoping to dialogue with the hunters and discuss various options prior to the January meeting. We respect their right to use the County Forest, and recognize their time in the out of doors is an example of a healthy activity - not unlike the hunting and trapping that many of our members enjoy.
Mid December conditions on the West Side are excellent. Don't let the idea of sharing Excelsior Road with ATVs & snowmobiles scare you away, we expect that traffic to be light. Ski Excelsior Road when you can, any feedback is welcome.
Big snowfalls (10+ inches on November 27, 7+ inches on December 1, 4+ inches December 9) have kept our groomers busy. Early December hasn't provided this type of wintry weather in recent memory. Groomers worked 66 man-hours wrestling the heavy snow into shape for the weekend of December 7/8 when conditions ranged from fair-good-excellent.
A couple news worthy items...
Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.
Plenty of trail news from this past week. Find a comfortable spot, grab your favorite beverage, and read on...
Fall colors are very good right now. Ignore the damp weather and go hike the Hills. The trails are firm, well mowed, and a great place to unwind. Be sure to wear a bit of blaze orange: it's archery season for deer, there's a youth deer gun hunt this weekend, bear season is winding down, and various bird hunts are taking flight.
Our Annual Trail Work Day (Saturday morning, Sept 28) was attended by 15 volunteers, and their 40+ hours of work accomplished a lot - THANKS! Kneeling in the group photo below are Tom Paulsen, Sam Behrends, Ben Behrends, Jenna Behrends; standing are Tom Ralston, Lori Larsen, John Ziemer, Paul Johnston, John Olson, Irene Olson, Mike Cragg, and John Hinde; photo take by Jan Paulsen; missing from the photo are Frank Lowry and Kate Plachetka. Their accomplishments:
The evening of Sunday, September 29th we posted an ad to sell our old set of Camoplast tracks that were installed on the Gator in 2014. The listing appeared on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Already Monday morning there was a big response, and the tracks sold the next day (the 30th) to the first person to inspect them. We're now running the Gator with a new and improved set of Camoplast (Camso) tracks. Your financial support keeps things running smoothly!
In mid August, when performing touch-up mowing on the West Side, we were stunned by the amount of recurrent and new beaver activity that was flooding the trails. As of this past week, with a little help from our friends, the beavers have vacated the premises, water levels have dropped, and trails appear usable. Over the past several years, West Side beaver flooded trails have been a persistent and worsening problem. To address this, we met with the Rusk County Forestry department; and at their September departmental meeting, we were granted permission to close off and groom Excelsior Road during the winter months. In the future, if we need to abandon certain West Side trails, we can instead use Excelsior Road (this is the road we all use to access the West Side trailhead) as an option for skiing routes that wouldn't be impacted by beaver activity. In fact, there's a pending West Side timber sale that will eventually create a hauling road that could connect the Lollipop Loop (near Letter E) with Excelsior Road. Check out the West Side map, and use your imagination - this could develop into a very good ski trail, similar to our favorite 'Gravel Road' on the East Side. We'll see how this develops as the winter progresses.
Take a look at the map (below) that shows a Timber Sale that impacts the East Side of the trail system. On our East Side map, the active logging is south of Rut Road between 20-21-22, and on either side of Hemlock Canyon from 21-A4. We were expecting this timber sale to be logged during the winter, thus disrupting our East Side core loop - but good news! I hiked in that area a few days ago, and quite a bit of that sale has been logged. Most of the logging is a 'select cut' which leaves a beautiful hardwood forest standing. Kudos to the County Foresters for preserving a buffer for the ski trail, and for preserving the beauty of the forest. A few pictures (below) were taken on the lower portion of Rut Road to show you why you should avoid this fairly muddy area when hiking this fall. And prepare for a different vista - as you ski toward the warming house down the long gradual downhill that is Rut Road, at the spot where you bank off Rut Road, there now is a clearcut in the distance - as shown in the photo. And compare the 2013 photo of the skier with the last photo that shows essentially the same corner as you bank off Rut Road. We'll try to put up some signage in that area to make sure folks stay oriented. (Note: Loggers are expected to ditch and smooth the trails once they're done.)
Our guest speaker at this year's fundraising banquet is Birkie Founder and Legend... Ernie St. Germaine! If you've already registered, help spread the word. You can find a banquet link on our home page on your computer or smartphone.
Picture(s) with this message were taken late September.
This is it! This is what we work for during summer trail maintenance, and wait for as we watch the weather forecasts in November and December. The weather changed in late November, colder temps finally arrived and the very wet trails began freezing as we began grooming in early December. We started skiing December 10th after grooming some of the trails closest to the warming house. By mid December, cold weather allowed more grooming and we've enjoyed surprisingly good skiing for this early in the season.The weekend of December 23-26 (and the following week) became a groomer's challenge. We were all set to groom late the evening of December 23rd. That evening the Hills received 2" of very sticky snow, and the forecast called for lots of rain on December 25th. By group consensus, we decided to avoid grooming the December 23rd snowfall, let it sit and hope it would absorb the forecast rain. Mild temps all that weekend culminated in 0.7" rain the evening of Christmas Day, followed by falling temps and A MAJOR WINDSTORM on December 26th. We're glad we allowed the December 23rd snowfall to rest without grooming. It magically absorbed the December 25th rainfall. After the December 26th windstorm, temps fell the week of December 26th, and our groomers spent loads of hours clearing tree-falls and branches. And skiers helped by flicking and flicking and flicking the sticks. As the New Years weekend approached the trails were in good shape, and skiers from near and far marveled at the quality of the skiing in the Hills.
Stay in-the-know about grooming updates, special events, news, announcements, volunteer days, and more. Rest-assured, we never sell or share your information.