Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Sunday - morning update
Packed powder conditions, very good skating, excellent striding.
A very destructive December ice storm (visit our blog for photos etc) initially shut down our skiing. Despite the December ice storm, about half of our East Side trails are open; Excelsior Road is open on the West Side. Click here for helpful maps that show our open trails.
Snowshoers: we prefer you use the Ridges Snowshoe Trail as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side. On January 26, a great new loop was added to the Ridges Trail - the 'Highland Loop' - it climbs to the Ridgeline near intersection #12. The 'Highland Loop' doesn't yet show on our maps, but it's well marked in the field.
Autumn 2022, loggers cut a large timber sale on the East Side in the vicinity of the Otter Slide and Far East trails (those trails are the furthest 'east' trails). In late January, when the ground is well frozen, loggers will haul those logs to market using a route to the east and mostly separate from the ski trails. Click here for a map showing the involved trails.
January 27: 2" fine grained dry snow
grooming & MOWING
Grooming Report / Plans --- note: due to December 15 extensive ice storm damage, grooming is currently limited to about half of the East Side trails and Excelsior Road on the West Side. These are some of our favorite trails. Click here to see where we're grooming.
January 28 evening: touched up the skate deck
January 27 evening: groomed all the open trails - including fresh classic track
cross country ski trails
The past couple weeks, John Kann (our Snowshoe Superman) has been busy laying out a new snowshoe trail, and improving the existing Ridges Snowshoe Trail. Here are the details:
- First he added more ropes to the existing northwest loop of the Ridges Trail – human tow ropes – to help ascend/descend steep hillsides. With the addition of these ropes, he decided to name that trail segment the “Rope-A-Dope Loop". Find it on the map photo(s) below.
- Then John created a great new loop that branches off the existing Ridges Trail – it measures about 2 km in length, heads to the northeast, climbs to the east side ridgeline near intersection #12, then descends back to its origin. John named it the “Highland Loop". Look carefully at the images below.
- The snowshoe trails are marked with a variety of yellow symbols. To find your way, look for yellow snowshoe symbols, yellow signs, plastic yellow tags, or yellow paint on trees.
- Some time soon, our official map designer will add the Highland Loop to our online maps. Until then, go explore the woods and follow the yellow stick road.
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.
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.
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
We started our summer trail mowing on June 22nd. The map (below) shows the trails mowed as of July 8th. Mowing is accomplished in stages during the months of June/July/August. For an updated mowing report and map, visit our website and click on the 'Trail Conditions' link at the top of the page.
- We have 22+ miles of trail that need mowing.
- Our crew of mowing volunteers usually mows a total of about 50 hours each summer.
- Prior to 2003, the Rusk County Forestry Department mowed the entire trail system. They were using a tractor with a deck mower -- and the tractor often created deep ruts that negatively impacted the goal of a smooth trail surface.
- In 2003, we (BHTA) purchased a trail mower to be towed behind an ATV so we could mow the softer trail segments. Even that was less than ideal, still leaving tire ruts that later needed repair.
- In 2014, we switched to mowing using a John Deere Gator on tracks. That's when we organized a trail crew to handle the mowing. Using tracks on the soft trail segments has greatly improved the trail surface when it's time to start wintertime grooming.
- At this time, the Rusk County Forestry Department mows the driest trail segments with their heavier equipment, this amounts to about 1/4 of the trails.
- The Blue Hills Trail Assn mows the remaining 3/4 of the trails using our 2020 Honda Pioneer (with tracks) pulling our AcrEase Trail Mower that cuts a 57" width.
- The 2003 mower was replaced in 2012 with an updated model; and last year we replaced the 2012 engine with an upgraded Briggs & Stratton engine that is working well.
- Mowing typically begins in late June, and the bulk of the mowing is completed by mid August.
Big plans this summer - we're moving ahead with scheduled development of the new trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail. Protection of this new trail from motorized traffic hinges on the new gate we installed Monday (May 16th).
Granted, there was a West Side logging operation last summer/fall that disrupted the beginning of the ski season on the West Side trails. But as a result of that timber sale, we'll be able to convert a logging road into a new route that will connect the west end of Excelsior Road with the inner loops of the West Side Trails. Take a look at the map (below) where the orange colored trail shows the new trail to be bulldozed and seeded later this summer.
This trail measures 1.3 km in length. From its starting point at Letter Y, the new trail meanders through the woods, dips and rolls, and gradually climbs to a high point a few hundred meters south of Letter Z. At that high point, there's a nice vista to the east from where you can appreciate the distant hills of the East Side of the trail system.This trail is going to be a wonderful addition to the West Side trails. We expect to groom it this coming winter. Click here for the countdown to Winter 2022.
Thanks to Rusk County Forestry for supplying the gate. Many thanks to our volunteer members that supplied the knowhow, tools, machinery and muscle power for the gate installation: Sam Behrends, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, and John Waldron.
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.
Blue Hills Trail
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