PRECIP:
Hi temp:
0.06
"
snow
37.4
°f
Trail and trees icon
Shopping cart icon

cross country ski trails

Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.
1 December 2020

BIG BIG NEWS
Today we're rolling out...

  • A totally redesigned Blue Hills Trail website and blog
  • New and redesigned Blue Hills Trail maps
  • Our first official Instagram account @bluehillstrailwisconsin

Please check out...

  • The Blue Hills Trail website. At the top of the page, find daily updates by clicking on 'Trail Conditions'. Explore the top menu items to find the links and information imported from the old website. Scroll down the home page to enjoy the many features it offers.
  • The Blue Hills Trail maps. The big change is the all new West Side map. It's formatted to mimic the East Side map, and it includes Excelsior Road (groomed for the first time last winter). The East Side map is now even more accurate than before. Both maps are available for download to your smartphone using the Avenza Maps app.
  • The Blue Hills Trail blog where you can scroll back in time to relive the history of the trail in pictures and text. Be sure to visit the blog to find more information regarding our new website and maps. (Find the 'BHTA Blog' within 'THE TRAIL COMMUNITY' menu at the top of the website page.)
  • Our fairly new Instagram account @bluehillstrailwisconsin. Add hashtag #bluehillstrailwisconsin to photos of your Blue Hills Trail adventures. Feel free to share this account widely.

A big shout out to...

  • Kristine Paulsen. She's a photojournalist living in Missoula MT where she combines tech savvy skills with a flair for the artistic. A huge thank you for donating the many many hours and knowledge required to create the new website, migrate loads of information from the old website, and work out the bugs.
  • Kirk Paulsen. He's a transportation engineer living in Portland OR where he realizes his passion for cycling on an everyday basis. A huge thank you for the many hours and expertise that resulted in maps that are loaded with information and easy to read.


We'd greatly appreciate feedback regarding these changes - thank you!

Sam Behrends (president)
John Waldron (vice president)
Tom Paulsen (secretary / treasurer)

The new home page, a unique gateway to the Blue Hills Trail. Have fun exploring the Hills!

trail maps for Blue Hills Trail
This is what the new 'MAPS' section looks like. Highly accurate and informative maps. Click the 'Get the Avenza map' button to easily download our maps to your smartphone.

Blue Hills Trail trail conditions
Access updated trail conditions easily from the top of the page

Blue Hills Trail home page gif
Check out our new Instagram account!

New West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
new West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
old West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
old West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
Read more >

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


Read more >

Skiers February 12th enjoyed wonderful conditions. Following the arrival of 2" of fresh snow on February 9th, our head groomer worked the evenings of February 9/10/11 and created some of the finest grooming of the winter. Firm trails, wide flat skate lane with corduroy that was often seamless across the skate deck, and a solid classic track with great pole plants. The photos with this message were taken February 12th on the West Side trails.

Next grooming is anticipated either Friday evening (Feb.14) or Saturday morning - probably touching up the most heavily skied trails so Saturday's skiers will be able to enjoy primo conditions.

Freshly groomed cross country ski trail on Blue Hills Trail Core Loop
February 12, 2020: Excelsior Road (West Side)
beautifully groomed cross country ski trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
February 12, 2020: West Side trails near Letter D
Read more >

News Flash!

Knowing he had a lot of work ahead of him, the infamous Blue Hills Bill rolled out of bed early today. Eager to get a start on things, he munched a quick breakfast, and started digging. With loads of snow cover, he dug & dug & dug… and dug & dug & dug… and just in the nick of time, he crawled out of his burrow at 7:26 this morning and delivered his annual prognostication to the awaiting crowd in downtown Bruce, WI. Read on…

     Blue Hills Bill
      Awoke from his slumber;
       Winter started early
        Too many days to number.

     His shadow distinct
      Bill scurried away;
       6 more weeks of winter
        Lots of time to play!

Comments from the crowd

  • 2/2: Never know when another big storm is gonna head our way. Better ski when the trails are firm! -Eau Claire, WI
  • 2/2: This winter in southern Wisconsin has been crummy, pull the kids out of school, we’re staying in the Blue Hills. –Madison, WI
  • 2/2: Bill says winter’s gonna stick around. I like the cold, it makes for easy waxing, great classic skiing. More time to get our kicks! –Rice Lake, WI
  • 2/2: Thanks for the advice, Bill. So much snow, so little time, never enough winter… –Sumner, WA

Thanks to Kate P for dressing our snowperson (photos below) for February.

Blue Hills Bill sees his shadow
snow lady outside the warming house of the Blue Hills Trail
snow lady as seen from the warming house


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 >

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...

Background

  • Out of control beaver activity on the West Side trails in August was highly discouraging
  • Because of the beavers, we pictured a future time when we might be unable to maintain parts of the West Side - including the East/West crossover trail
  • The idea of closing and grooming Excelsior Road was discussed
  • A proposal to close and groom Excelsior Road during the winter ski season was presented by BHTA to the Forestry Committee at their September meeting; it passed unanimously
  • With the unexpected early arrival of wintry weather in late November, we started grooming Excelsior Road approximately December 5 during the muzzleloader deer hunt season
  • Vehicle traffic continued on Excelsior Road despite signs requesting it be considered non-motorized
  • After discussions with Jeremy K, we decided to hold off on more grooming until the antlerless deer hunt ended December 15
  • The evening of December 15, we again groomed Excelsior Road and also arranged for a large berm to be snowplowed into place - effectively blocking car/truck access where Excelsior Road meets the Firelane
  • Hunters expressed their concerns to the Rusk County Forestry Department

December 18, 2019 meeting of the Forestry Committee

  • One of our officers represented BHTA and sat next to the three hunters in attendance
  • The hunters don't want to lose access to the many acres along Excelsior Road where for years they've hunted with their dogs; hunted coyote & rabbit through the winter; bow hunt deer into early January; trap during the winter
  • There was a reasonable exchange of ideas, BHTA tried to represent our membership
  • Forestry Committee then unanimously passed a resolution to allow limited motorized access during the winter ski season - allowing ATVs and snowmobiles on the south side of the road, with the north side reserved for ski trail grooming
  • BHTA continued the dialogue with the hunters outside the meeting room
  • We're going to try sharing Excelsior Road and plan on continued exchange of ideas

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.

Read more >

We performed some long anticipated trail work today. Read on...

Several years ago, about 1 km of East Side ski trail was heavily damaged when a truck was driven on soft trails. The perp cut through a heavy chain securing a cable barrier, then drove 2/3 the distance from #2 to A1 before turning around at a muddy water crossing. What a mess! (Refer to map image below to get your bearings.)

Since that damage occurred, we've added more signage reminding visitors that the trails are non-motorized. Ever since that trail damage, we've been planning on replacing two cable barriers with more substantial gate barriers. Other trail maintenance issues received higher priority until we found the time today to install these gates.

The Rusk County Forestry department donated the gate materials -- in exchange for our volunteers supplying the concrete and labor.

A group of five of us set aside Sunday (November 17) as our gate work day. The weather forecast called for 1" of fresh snow and temps in the 30s.

We awakened to 2+ inches of wet snow. Not to be discouraged, we met at the warming house at 11 a.m and collectively identified spots for the gates, then went to work. This included:

  • Measuring 16'4" between post centers.
  • SB started melting snow to prepare hot water to mix with the quick set concrete.
  • JW used his tractor and power auger to start the holes.
  • When the auger was stymied by rocks, we took turns using long pry bars and post hole diggers to approach our target depth of 4 feet (that's a pretty deep hole when considering the glacial rocks in the way).
  • SB set up his transom to make sure the depth of the holes would result in a level gate.
  • We placed the gate posts in the holes, made sure they were plumb, added hot water in the bottom of the holes, then added 4 bags of quick set concrete in each hole.
  • After allowing the concrete a few minutes to start setting up, we were able to place the gate on the poles and fine tune the position of the posts.
  • Fitment was very good!
  • After completing the gate at #1, we moved down the 'Gravel Road' and repeated the process at #2.

Fun day sharing the work, we finished in about 3 hours. Glad we didn't let the weather get in the way. Relieved to find the grassy surface had prevented deep frost. Pleased to see the concrete set up so quickly - it should be solid before it has a chance to freeze.

We realize that barriers tend to keep out only the honest folks. The chosen gate locations will hopefully discourage trail damage, these new gates are more obvious and much safer than cables, and the gates visually are a nice addition.

Many thanks to our work crew of 5: Sam Behrends, Lori Larsen, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. Special thanks to Sam for rounding up the concrete and many of the tools; and to John for braving slippery roads to trailer his tractor and power auger to/from the trailhead.

Picture(s) with this message were taken November 17, 2019.

volunteers digging post holes while installing gates
Taking turns digging a post hole
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #1
the volunteer crew that installed two gates in November 2019
Gate crew at intersection #2
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #2
Read more >

After the September 28th annual trail work day, we realized the West Side of the trail system needed plenty of additional work. Here's the story...

On the September 28th work day, John Ziemer and Tom Ralston rode an ATV and brushed and cleared many of the trails on the West Side. In addition, they identified a localized blowdown of large oaks on the Lollipop Trail (D-E-D); and an unexpected deep wet spot between Letters J-K.

At that point, we asked for help from two of our most trusty volunteers: woodsmen and chainsaw experts Steve Porn and Jerry Schneider. 

This past week we had a limited weather 'window' of several days of dry weather. So Jerry and Steve spent October 9th navigating and repairing damaged West Side trails. They spent 1.5 hours removing a big oak blowdown on the Lollipop Loop (very challenging chainsaw work). Then they removed a number of smaller downed popple trees from the West Side trails. Then they repaired a washed out trench west of Letter I by dragging logs out of the creek that were placed as log corduroy in that trench in October 2018 (washed downstream with the abundant meltwater Spring 2019). Below are 5 photos taken October 9th.

Then Steve & Jerry explored a newly flooded trail segment located at the deep dip between Letters J-K - where they were surprised to find a massive (125 yards in length) beaver dam that was built since mid August; plus another large dam terraced to a different water level. Not to be discouraged, they scouted access to this flooded area of willows and Steve returned October 11th with chest waders, hand saws and a dam busting tool.

The 7th image (below) shows the currently flooded trail between J-K; the next four photos show the large flooded area located south of trail segment J-K on the West Side. (As of October 11th, it was flooding the trail with water 2 feet deep.) In those photos, the red arrow points to a very large beaver lodge. As you can see, with a bit of handiwork, the dam in that area was breached October 11th. The next dam, located a bit further east, was also breached October 11th.

But when inspecting those dams October 12th, they had been rebuilt overnight!

So there's more work to be done in that area.

The last 3 photos show another flooded trail segment, 100 feet in length - before and after repair work.  In July, we discovered this 100 foot section deeply flooded by a beaver dam situated on top of the trail. We encouraged the beavers to move out; the next to last photo shows the trail in September after the water receded. The last photo shows the trail after it was bulldozed October 9th to make it passable again. Many thanks to Gary Sarauer (DNR forester & dozer operator) for his fine work.

Picture(s) with this message were taken early/mid October.

downed trees blocking one of the ski trails on the Blue Hills Trail
West Side blow down near Letter E - challenging chainsaw work
chainsaw work in the process of clearing the ski trail
A can do attitude helps a lot!
trail reopened and ready for skiing the Blue Hills Trail
Trail re-opened -- ready for skiing this winter

Read more >

Post Categories

Blue Hills Trail

instagram updates
@bluehillstrailwisconsin
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
Text Link
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
Text Link
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
Text Link
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
Text Link
Tight corner. Placed orange driveway markers at the edge. Gotta keep our groomers on track. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
Text Link
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
Text Link
Bridge building in October successfully spanned a small creek that was always a challenge to summertime mowing & wintertime grooming of our ski trails. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
Text Link

Subscribe for Newsletter Updates

Stay in-the-know about grooming updates, special events, news, announcements, volunteer days, and more. Rest-assured, we never sell or share your information.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again, or email for assistance.