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classic skiing

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.

skate skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
December 6, 2019 - Excelsior Road on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
grooming the Blue Hills Trail cross country ski trail
Grooming the 'Gravel Road' on December 11, 2019
map highlighting Excelsior Road as part of the Blue Hills Trail
The blue line shows Excelsior Road - grooming and skiing it for the first time during winter 2019-20
hoar frost on the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
December 21, 2019 on the East Side ridge line
beautifully groomed cross country ski trail
December 21, 2019 - Roundabout Trail
cross country skiing January 2020 on the Blue Hills Trail
January 1, 2020 near intersection #5 on the East Side Core Loop
women skate skiing
January 7, 2020 - the 'Gravel Road'
skijoring on the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
January 9, 2020 - dogs are welcome on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
men skate skiing
January 11, 2020 - East Side ridge line on the Grouse Trail
Blue Hills Trail cross country ski trail
January 20, 2020 - late afternoon near the 'Roundabout' intersection on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
snowman viewed through warming house window
January 27, 2020 - view from the warming house
unusual snow conditions created a snow roller
January 29, 2020 - perfect conditions for mother nature to create a snow roller
beautifully groomed trail on the Blue Hills Trail ridge line
February 4, 2020 - near intersection #9 on the Core Loop of the Blue Hills Trail
skate skiing on Excelsior Road as part of the Blue Hills Trail
February 8, 2020 - fast and fun skiing on Excelsior Road
Blue Hills Trail snowshoe trail in northern Wisconsin
February 19, 2020 - snowshoeing the Nordic Pines loop of the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
great cross country ski conditions at the Blue Hills Trail
February 21, 2020 - great conditions on the East Side 'Gravel Road'
great cross country ski conditions at the Blue Hills Trail
February 26, 2020 - approaching the wide open Roundabout intersection
volunteers helped move equipment into storage
March 17, 2020 - volunteers socially distancing as they help move equipment into storage
still skiing on the Blue Hills Trail in late March 2020
March 27, 2020 - winter is hanging on near intersection #25 of the Core Loop
winter is coming to an end as snow disappears March 31
March 31, 2020 - time to say goodbye to a great winter

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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...

  • WE NOW ARE GROOMING EXCELSIOR ROAD up to and well beyond Letter A on the West Side. There's great skiing available out to the end of Excelsior Road, 3 km in one direction if you start at the Firelane Road. Either park along Firelane Road (well to the side of potential logging traffic), or at the warming house. Please do NOT try to drive on Excelsior Road up to Letter A, that's where we plan on grooming. Look at the modified West Side map (below) to better understand this change.
  • If the beginning of Excelsior Road is rutted (hunters may be driving there until the gun deer hunts are completed December 15), you can enjoy the West Side trails by starting at the warming house on the East Side and skiing the trail that crosses from East to West at Letter L. Or you can park at Letter L - just be sure to leave plenty of room for logging trucks.
  • Loggers have been working on the northwest part of the East Side this fall - along Rut Road in the vicinity of intersections 20-21-22 and Hemlock Canyon Trail between 21 & A - avoid this area until they're done. Images below include an East Side map that shows trails that are groomed, and how to avoid the logging activity.

Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.

good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
December 7, 2019 - East Side 'Core Loop' near #5
good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 7, 2019
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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.

early December 2016 grooming challenges at the Blue Hills Trail
Early December 2016 grooming of the Blue Hills Trail
kids skiing at the Blue Hills Trail in Wisconsin
Nice conditions near the warming house in late December 2016
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A cold month of February is forgotten, pushed aside by an early March warm-up. However the great cross country skiing conditions the past couple months are well etched in skiers' memories. The Blue Hills microclimate was fortunate to receive adequate snowfall while nearby areas were snow starved. Temps skyrocketed beginning March 8, we looked at the weather forecast and then groomed one last time on March 11. Grooming equipment went to summer storage on March 13, and our skis did likewise. Here’s a bit of a recap:

  • Fundraising in April 2014 allowed the purchase of a John Deere Gator with Camoplast tracks for use pulling our mowing and grooming implements. This past winter, groomers thoroughly enjoyed the Gator's ability to navigate the various challenges offered by the trail terrain and weather. And no one complained about operating in a heated cab.
  • With an early heavy snowstorm followed by a cold month of November, we started grooming earlier than ever on November 11th, & skied in the Hills fairly regularly since then (120 consecutive days with groomed trails available). The summer and autumn of 2014 were very wet, many of the trails couldn't be groomed in November and December due to underlying unfrozen ground and/or eroded sections - but we did have 14 km of nicely groomed trails for mid-winter skiing in mid-November!
  • We groomed a total of 58 times (probably a record for us).
  • We survived a prolonged spell of warm, damp weather in mid December that melted much of the accumulated base. When wintry weather suddenly returned in late December, our groomers eagerly put our new John Deere Gator through its tracks and we were skiing on very good conditions by the New Year Holiday.
  • After January 1, we received only 14 additional inches of snow prior to the season ending warm-up that began March 8. The snowfalls came in small amounts, just often enough to freshen the trails and help level the base. Despite a fairly dry winter, we had just enough base to maintain great conditions while pleasing the many visitors from snow starved areas to the northwest, west and south.
  • The limited snowfall actually worked to the advantage of skate skiers. The skate lane was solid and fast most of the winter.
  • February was persistently cold and both classic and skate skiing were consistently good.
  • This year's "Blue Hills Trail Fun Day" was perfectly timed: a potluck moonlight ski event on Friday March 6 was very well attended. The previous day saw temps of -25 degrees F that morning; the evening of the moonlight ski we enjoyed temps in the 20s, a roaring campfire, great food, camaraderie, and perfect skiing conditions under the stars and a full moon.
  • Despite the frequent grooming, we stayed well within budget, and had fun sharing the Blue Hills Trail with a record number of visitors.  Thanks to everybody that helps spread the word regarding the beauty of this trail system.

A huge 'shout out' to our groomers. Once again, equipment break downs and mechanical problems were handled efficiently and never compromised the grooming.  Thank you to our primary grooming team of Steve Gest, Jesse Wimer, & Adam Brockman for giving us great memories this winter of 2014-15! A sincere thank you to our diverse group of members, volunteers and supporters - your help this past year has been extremely rewarding.

early January 2015 cross country ski trail at Blue Hills Trail
9 January 2015
early March 2015 great cross country skiing at Blue Hills Trail
4 March 2015
skier ran into a tree
6 March 2015
happy young skier at the Blue Hills Trail
7 March 2015
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Unbelievable!  It keeps snowing, & snowing, & snowing!  Accompanied by persistent cold temps (it hasn't been above freezing for 37 days; 28 of the past 31 days have been below zero), every snowfall adds to the last.  Remember those mountainous snowbanks from your childhood winters?  Don't let your kids forget this one. Once again, tip your hat to our groomers when you see them out working their magic. Conditions have been uniformly wonderful, our groomers have met this winter's challenges head on. And if you notice a huge divot next to the trail, that's one of our groomers working hard to push the margins. Even the most experienced groomer gets stuck periodically - then it's time to unhitch the grooming implement, extricate the snowmobile, back up to reconnect to the grooming implement, then off to create more corduroy and set more track. It requires continuous concentration, and lots of muscle - not as easy as it looks. The Birkie is just a few days away, invite your friends to ski the Hills while visiting the area. The beauty is contagious.

fabulous conditions 18 January 2014 on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
18 January 2014 West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
enthusiastic group of skiers at the Blue Hills Trail
East Side of the Blue Hills Trail 16 February 2014
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The winter of 2010-11 was a roller coaster ride from a weather standpoint. Temps fluctuated widely, precipitation was variable, and periodic warmups and meltdowns added to the mix. But along the way, there was abundant snowfall, great grooming, and loads of happy faces from cross country skiers on the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin. To top it off, winter hung on and provided great crust skiing in mid/late March.

This was a great winter for snow enthusiasts, the following pictures tell the story.

good skate skiing early December 2010 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 8, 2010 - Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
good skate skiing early December 2010 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 14, 2010
good skate skiing early December 2010 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 16, 2010
animal tracks January 2011
January 2, 2011
classic skiers early January 2011 at the Blue Hills Trail
January 2, 2011
classic skier early January 2011 at the Blue Hills Trail
January 5, 2011
classic skier January 2011 at the Blue Hills Trail
January 22, 2011
classic skiers January 2011 at the Blue Hills Trail
January 22, 2011
classic skier January 2011 at the Blue Hills Trail
January 22, 2011
fun skate skiing January 2011 Blue Hills Trail
January 29, 2011
grooming the Blue Hills Trail January 2011
January 29, 2011 - our two workhorse snowmobiles pulling Tidd Tech implements
classic skiers enjoying the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
February 3, 2011
skate skier showing off her technique
5 February 2011
two classic skiers at the Blue Hills Trail in February 2011
5 February 2011
classic skier in the tracks
9 February 2011
kids skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
12 February 2011
skiing with dogs is fun on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
12 February 2011 Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin where dogs are welcome on the West Side trails
impressive snow depth in late February 2011 on the Blue Hills Trail
23 February 2011 demonstrating the impressive snow depth toward the end of the winter of 2010-11
ski trail connecting East Side and West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
24 February 2011 This is the trail heading from the East Side to the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
classic skiers in early March at the Blue Hills Trail
5 March 2011 Classic skiers on the east end of the 'Gravel Road'
child in the classic track at the Blue Hills Trail
March 12, 2011 - a future Olympian?
enjoying a snack inside the warming house of the Blue Hills Trail
March 13, 2011 - celebrating a truly amazing winter of cross country skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
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Blue Hills Trail

instagram updates
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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