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cross country skiing northern Wisconsin

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 >

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...


  • 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 >

A gorgeous day in the Hills! What a nice way to cap off our winter. This morning's grooming began at 5:30 with the temps around 15 degrees F. By the time skiers started arriving at 8 a.m. the East Side Core Loop had a nicely scratched up sugar snow surface that gave great edge control on the rocket fast trails. Thrilling!

At 10 a.m. an enthusiastic group of volunteers pitched in to make quick work of tucking the grooming implements into their summer lodging (our 40-foot shipping container). It went like this:

  • We mounted special wheels to our 8-foot Tidd Tech grooming implement, and it was backed into the shipping container with an assist from the Gator.
  • We switched the wheels to our 9-foot Tidd Tech grooming implement and backed it in with the Gator getting credit for another assist. 
  • Our blue trail compactor was moved into the shipping container using human power alone! 
  • We placed our two rollers in the shipping container, and called it a wrap.

Let's not forget how really strange this roller coaster winter was. Here's a quick summary:

  • The first part of the winter - up until February 5th - delivered very little snow, 4 separate meltdown events, 5 separate rain events, with a Polar Vortex thrown in for variety. Despite all that, we found enough snow to groom 13 times and periodically enjoyed some pretty good skiing. Audie Flowage served as a beautiful alternative to trail skiing.
  • Then on February 5th the Snowmaggedon hit! I recorded about 53" of snow between February 5th and March 9th. (Click here to check out our snowfall summary since 1999.) To say the least, our groomers were challenged. They groomed 18 times in February, and 10 more times in March. Often it meant long hours spent grooming, frequently in bitter cold temps. In all the deep snow, I lost track of the number of times the groomers needed to use their front-end winches (and multiple lengths of tow straps) to pull themselves out of trouble.
  • During the peak of the snowfalls, we were forced to deal with a couple of major equipment problems with our Gator. Taking the bull by the horns, we completed the repairs in the field ourselves - minimizing down time and keeping labor costs to a minimum.
  • Last point, something definitely worth noting: as of this morning, the snow to the side of the trails has solidified like a rock. On mornings following an overnight freeze, crust skiing can carry you anywhere you want to go. Let your imagination be your guide.

Maple syrup time, Ski the Hills!

New Years Day 2019 skate skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
January 1, 2019 - near Letter C on the West Side
skate skiing on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
January 11, 2019 - on the western most loop of the West Side
January 2019 classic skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
January 28, 2019 - on the Hunter-Walker Loop of the East Side
happy skate skier at the Blue Hills Trail
February 2, 2019 - great skiing on the East Side 'Gravel Road'
classic skiers enjoying the 'Gravel Road' at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
February 16, 2019 - near intersection #3 on the East Side
Blue Hills Trail February 17, 2019 Grouse Trail (East Side) during the snowmageddon
February 17, 2019 - Grouse Trail (East Side) during the snowmageddon
wonderful skating on the East Side 'Up & Down' trail
February 17, 2019 - wonderful skating on the East Side 'Up & Down' trail
excellent cross country skiing on the 'Roundabout' trail
February 19, 2019 - near intersection #A5 on the 'Roundabout' trail
Blue Hills Trail snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail
February 21, 2019 Blue Hills Trail snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail
snowshoes resting outside the warming house
February 27, 2019 outside the warming house
near the Roundabout intersection on the East Side f the Blue Hills Trail
March 5, 2019 near the Roundabout intersection on the East Side
snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
March 11, 2019
Blue Hills Trail volunteers help move equipment into storage
Volunteers help move equipment into storage March 23, 2019
Read more >

Despite the current dry spell and the lack of groomed ski trails, there's decent lake skiing available. Audie Flowage (2 miles northwest of the warming house) has a 2"-3" snow cover in most places. Skiing there today was very enjoyable despite requiring a bit of work -- the snow surface was a bit crusted, with a tendency to punch through the crust. However, the wilderness experience at Audie is definitely worth the effort (notice the otter slides in the photo?). You can access the Lake by parking either at the campground or the boat landing.

On December 3rd we groomed the 2 km length of the Eastside 'GravelRoad'. It's barely skiable, rock skis only, and watch your balance if you catch an edge. We need a few more inches of snow before we can consider grooming the Trails. Until then, feel free to bushwhack the trails, hike the trails, and hike the snowshoe trails.

The furnace in the warming house is on, stop by and thaw out.

Cross country skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Fun times skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Lake skiing on Audie Flowage in northwest Rusk County
Just enough snow on Audie Flowage for great lake skiing
Otter slides on Audie Flowage
Otters out having fun sliding around on December 10, 2018
Read more >

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
Read more >

Winter 2015-16 arrived late, detained by a strong El Nino event. The Blue Hills Trail had two months of good skiing, shared by many fun visitors to the trails. Unfortunately, mother nature brought the ski season to an abrupt end in early March. Many thanks to all our supporters and volunteers that make this trail system so special.Here’s a bit of a recap:

  • A very wet summer/fall 2015 made for difficult trail mowing; and created significant challenges due to trail erosion. In October this included one heavily damaged bridge that was successfully repaired; and abandoning another damaged bridge by rerouting a trail section (this trail revision necessitated bulldozing and hand labor). Twice we also repaired extensive trail damage from illicit off road truck traffic.
  • After a discouraging warm, rainy December 2015, the trails finally received a couple inches of snow on December 24th. Another 2" of snow on December 28th allowed our groomers to start working.
  • As cold weather arrived in early January, wet spots began freezing. Careful, meticulous grooming then created good skiing throughout January despite minimal snowfall. By the middle of January, conditions were mostly very good to excellent even though the base was thin. A heavy snowfall on February 2nd allowed grooming of the entire trail system and provided excellent conditions until icy trails developed following a record warm day on February 27th.
  • This year's "Blue Hills Trail Fun Day" was loads of fun: a potluck full moon party on Saturday January 23rd that was very well attended. We enjoyed temps in the 20s, a roaring campfire, drum circle rhythm, great food, and good skiing conditions despite the moon hiding behind an overcast sky.
  • On a warm February 19th, it rained more than half an inch; and on the 20th the trails were saturated wet and very soft after two days with temps above freezing. A skier injury on February 20th led to a local fire department rescue that required the use of a tracked ATV. The rescue was successful, but unfortunately the equipment left deep ruts that closed down about 2 miles of the groomed trails. After repairing one limited portion of the damage, we were able to use a detour of the core loop that kept everyone happy.
  • With temps predicted to skyrocket beginning March 5th, we looked at the weather forecast and then groomed one last time on March 1st. Grooming equipment went to summer storage on Friday March 4th, we skied that weekend and then enjoyed one last morning of good classic skiing on March 7th as temperatures pushed 60 degrees later that afternoon.
  • From December 24th through February 23rd, we received only 24 inches of snow; by early March the total for the season was only 30 inches, easily the lowest seasonal snow total since we've kept records beginning in 1999.
  • We groomed a total of 36 times - and felt lucky we had enough cold weather to enjoy ourselves.
  • This winter of 2015-16, we've once again enjoyed sharing the Blue Hills Trail with visitors from near and far. Thanks to everybody that helps spread the word regarding the beauty of this trail system.

A huge 'shout out' to our groomers. Equipment break downs and mechanical problems were handled efficiently & never compromised the grooming. Thank you to our primary grooming team (Steve Gest, Adam Brockman, & Jesse Wimer) - and to our occasional groomers (Mike Cragg, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, and Dave Putnam) - for creating great memories the winter of 2015-16! A sincere thank you to our diverse group of members, volunteers and supporters - you're the best.

January 2, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
January 2, 2016 on the ridge line of the Blue Hills Trail
January 2, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail

January 2, 2016 cross country skiing on the 'Gravel Road' at the Blue Hills Trail

happy skier January 13, 2016
Frosty day January 13, 2016
excellent cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail January 19, 2016
January 19, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
excellent cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail January 29, 2016
January 29, 2016
classic skiing on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
January 30, 2016 classic skiers enjoy a fresh snowfall
grooming cross country ski trails at the Blue Hills Trail
ski trail grooming at the Blue Hills Trail February 3, 2016
February 3, 2016 night time grooming of the ski trail
nighttime grooming of cross country ski trails at the Blue Hills Trail
February 5, 2016 grooming at sunset
skate skiing on freshly groomed trails at the Blue Hills Trail
February 6, 2016 enjoying the fresh grooming
February 9, 2016 picture perfect grooming of the Blue Hills Trail
picture perfect grooming February 9, 2016
gorgeous surroundings while cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
February 9, 2016 was a gorgeous day for cross country skiing
an enthusiastic group of skiers from Andorra posed for a photo at the warming house
February 18, 2016 a group of cross country skiers from Andorra (Europe) visited the Blue Hills Trail
visitors from Europe enjoying the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
Europeans enjoying the Blue Hills Trail
welcome to the Blue Hills Trail
welcome to the Blue Hills Trail
late winter cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
February 22, 2016 on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
great conditions for cross country skiing February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 great conditions on the West Side 'Lollipop'
photo collage shows work that fixed broken axle on the Gator
February 26, 2018 photo collage (above) shows work that fixed broken axle on the Gator

Late February 2016 cross country skiing on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
late February 2016 on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
2015-16 winter was worth crowing about
2015-16 winter was short but worth crowing about
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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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We were able to enjoy a few more hours of  fun skiing in the Blue Hills this morning. The weather forecast suggests we are done grooming for the winter of 2011-12.Here's a bit of a recap:

  1. We started grooming on December 4th, & have skied in the Hills regularly since then (a total of 98 days on groomed snow).
  2. We groomed a total of 39 times.
  3. December was dry, allowing only 5 opportunities to groom - but we kept skiing on our rock skis.
  4. January snowfall picked up, groomers worked on 17 days that month.
  5. February was drier again, requiring 11 days of grooming.
  6. March produced our only decent snowstorm - & another 6 days of grooming.

We owe a big thank you to our groomers. Equipment break downs and mechanical problems were handled efficiently & never compromised the grooming. Thank you to Dan Bartels, Steve Gest, & Jesse Wimer for capturing every available snowflake & saving the winter of 2011-12! It certainly was an unusual winter (warm & dry). Fortunately, we were lucky to receive just enough snow to enjoy fun conditions for most of 3 months. Welcoming the many happy skiers that traveled to find snow in the Blue Hills was very rewarding.

Recent comments from the logbook in the warming house

  • 3/8: Great ski today all alone!  Thanks to the groomers for all the great work this winter.  Hate to see it end. --Ladysmith, WI
  • 3/9: Awesome! --author's location unknown
  • 3/10: Got going 7:30 a.m. when "the window" was still closed & locked.  Thanks to yesterday's grooming (by Dan the man) we threw the window open 'til it started to get slow ~9:30.  What fun! --Ladysmith, WI
  • 3/10: Another fabulous year in the Hills.  Thank you to the crew! --Barron, WI
  • 3/10: Great spring skiing.  Thanks. --Minneapolis, MN
  • 3/11: Great hike thru woods.  Stayed off trails.  This is what makes real outdoors men & women. --author's location unknown
  • 3/13: Just checkin' out old playground. --author's location unknown
  • 3/13: I was able to ski out the 'gravel road' about 2.5 km, crossing two short bare sections. to a wide melted out area then returned. --Ladysmith, WI
  • 3/23: Snow completely gone - can you believe it! --Rice Lake, WI
Snowshoe trails were developed this past winter
cross country ski trail at Blue Hills Trail
Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin - East Side trails February 27, 2012
skiers enjoying the classic track February 2012 at the Blue Hills Trail
East Side trails February 25, 2012
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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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