Hiking: despite three big downpours (July 24th, 27th, & 28th), the trails are mostly dry, hiking conditions are good. We started summer trail mowing in late June, and most of the trails were mowed at least once by July 25th. Grasses are short where mowed, often waist high (or higher) if not mowed.
Biking: the West Side trails offer the best biking, that area tends to be the driest. The East Side trails are surprisingly dry this summer, and more 'bike-able' than usual. On the East Side, after rainy weather avoid the trails far to the east, they usually are damp and soft.
Bugs: insect activity is lower than normal.
April 24, 2021: snow showers
Summertime mowing began in late June on the East Side trails. East Side mowing was completed on July 25th. Most of the West Side was mowed in the last half of July. Click here for a map showing East Side mowing details.
Our new workhorse has arrived!
After selling our 2014 Gator to a private party, in early April we finalized plans to purchase and modify a 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 Deluxe side-by-side that now makes its home at the Blue Hills Trail.
Beginning in February, recognizing it was time to replace our Gator, here's the process we followed...
By late March, we felt the Honda Pioneer 1000 was a good choice for our new UTV. And Mattracks became our choice for a tougher set of tracks. Recognizing the need to pat attention to our space limitations (the doors opening into our storage shed are 83" wide and 83" tall), we...
Realizing the current Coronavirus Pandemic has greatly disrupted supply chains and the availability of manufactured items, we felt fortunate to locate a UTV that could fit our needs (a 2020 Pioneer was available at Zacho Sports Center in Chippewa Falls). We made a down payment on the Pioneer. Simultaneously, we ordered the Mattracks from TRACKIT trail grooming located east of Winter, WI (just before a big price increase). Zacho Sports Center did nice work adding a front receiver hitch, interior storage compartments, front and rear LED lights, special dashboard rocker switches to operate our grooming implements, and a second stronger battery to handle the extra electrical load.
Once all the modifications were completed on the Pioneer, we sealed the deal and chose May 12th as the day to transport the Pioneer from Chippewa Falls to Winter (Wisconsin) where the tracks were installed. Then from there to the Blue Hills Trail -- all in the same day. A HUGE THANK YOU to John Waldron for his time and mileage (220 miles that day) as he trailered from Rice Lake to Chippewa Falls to Winter to our trailhead transporting the Pioneer.
Once at the trailhead, we were relieved our new Pioneer fit the vertical opening into the storage shed with about 3 inches to spare! WooHoo!!!
The next major step was to fabricate a special extended rear hitch for towing our grooming implements and trail mower. Bob Wieckowicz (our member with special welding expertise) evaluated the Pioneer, and decided to weld the extended hitch at his shop. The welding and painting was accomplished in a couple days, and the Pioneer returned to the trailhead just before rainy weather moved in. Considering the tight spaces that are present when the cargo bed is tilted, the fabricated hitch and welding support is really quite brilliant! Thanks Bob!
Many thanks to the following members that helped research the new machine and tracks: Sam Behrends, Ron Beebe, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. And thanks to Bob Langer for help with trailering as part of the rear hitch fabrication.
And many thanks to our members and donors. The Pioneer + Mattracks is a big investment, we genuinely appreciate your financial support.
In 2014 we purchased and began using a John Deere Gator with Camoplast tracks to handle the bulk of our ski trail grooming. It also pulls our trail mower through 22 miles of rough trails during the summer.
As a result of a couple major breakdowns involving the Camoplast tracks, we’ve learned to carefully monitor the tightness of the bolt/washer combination that secures the hub bearings and holds the entire track on the Gator axle. Every 50 hours we perform a safety check on the tightness of the 12 mm diameter hub bearing bolts that hold everything together. If we discover a bolt is starting to loosen up, we replace it. However, on two occasions the bolt itself snapped off - requiring a delicate welding operation to mount a nut on the bolt shaft so the bolt could be removed. This happened most recently just one week ago.
The Camoplast tracks that we use are realistically designed for recreational use. However, we demand a lot more of the tracks when pulling heavy grooming implements up hills, down hills, across hills, over bumps and ridges. Even though we’re using new bolts and washers when they need replacement, they still have difficulty withstanding the abuse.
After one of these bolts broke off a week ago, we called Camoplast in Canada and spoke with a very helpful engineering technician. He knew that ski trail groomers in Europe had greatly diminished their problems with bolt breakage through one specific modification of the setup: they substitute a much thicker washer. This makes a lot of sense. We’ve noticed all along that the original washers tend to deform (cup) within the first 100 hours of use - probably allowing the bolt to loosen, perhaps allowing too much play at a point where the mechanical forces are extreme.
So this past week, we tried finding a thicker heavy duty washer by calling Fastenal, and by scouring the internet, and by speaking with representatives from several big online companies that specialize in selling fasteners. Nobody could provide what we were looking for!
Then an AHA! moment. How about trying the machine shop located 3 miles from our trailhead?
CPH Enterprises Inc said “Of course! - WE CAN DO.” They took the original washer, recommended an improved fitment for the bolt, and later that day provided a bid for fabricating the washers we needed. We gave the go ahead, and actually had the opportunity to watch the machining in action.
They used a Waterjet Machine to cut the new thick heavy duty washers. After programming the specs, it cut the washers using water pressure of 50,000 PSI. I’ve never seen anything like it, truly amazing!
Think Global, shop Local.
The following pictures and video tell the story.
Most of December 2020 was dry and warm. Instead of skiing the Blue Hills Trail, we’ve been hiking its ski and snowshoe trails. A recent return to colder weather allowed nearby lakes to freeze solid, and during the middle of the month we enjoyed skiing a 1-inch coating of snow on always beautiful Audie Lake (located 2 miles northwest of our trailhead).
Then the weather forecast got us all excited, calling for snow a couple days prior to Christmas. We started closing off traffic on the ski trails, hoping to retain the little snow already on the ground. However, December 23rd was warm with too much rain; toward evening the winds began howling, temps plummeted, and wind whipped snow blew on by. The following day temps were in the single digits and when we inspected the trails, we were pleasantly surprised to find about 2.5”-3” of new snow stuck to the ski trails. Just enough to start some early season grooming.
After several days of grooming, today (December 27th) we're enjoying very good skating and good striding on 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side of the trail system). The rest of the trails have a thin base with an irregular surface, grassy patches and dirt spots - skiable but not nearly as much fun as the two 'roads'. Take a look at the maps (images below) for a quick summary of the open trails.
Here's what groomers have accomplished since the rain/wind/snow event of December 23rd:
Here's an inside view of our grooming logic:
Our head groomer put in an 8-hour day yesterday, and was willing to return late evening to touch up some trails. We told him to rest up, enjoy family, and wait for some fresh snow. No grooming today.
Ski the Hills!
Winter 2019-20 started early.
10+ inches of heavy snow November 27, 7+ inches of heavy snow November 30, 4+ inches of dense snow December 9, 2.5 inches of light snow December 12. Groomers had their hands full throughout December. This made for very good skiing over the Christmas and New Year Holidays. January added 14" of snow in generally light snow falls. February was dry, only 5" of snow. We had only one major rain event (1.5" of rain December 28), and the rain was absorbed into the abundant base. Trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Then warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie. The last grooming was March 13, but we were able to enjoy decent skiing into the beginning of April. All thanks to the big snows in late November.
We groomed a total of 57 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: once in November, 18 times in December, 19 times in January, 16 times in February, and 3 times in March.
Our head groomer and his crew were very willing to use our rollers - both of our rollers were used more this past winter than at any time in the past. As a result, this past winter the trails were groomed wider, and the edges were more firm. Groomers were very willing to try different techniques, and performed far more evening grooming than at any time in the past. This allowed the grooming to set up by the time skiers arrived in the morning. The classic track was in generally good shape most of the winter - the groomers were responsive to input from some of our most enthusiastic classic skiers. Thank you groomers!
The ABR compaction drag (we call it the 'Blue Thing') also was used more frequently this past winter. It was especially helpful removing high spots in the center of the trail, and when the trails needed a quick light touch-up of the skate lane.
Logging along Rut Road kept us from grooming that part of the East Side Core Loop the entire winter. Toward the end of that logging operation, it also disrupted our access to the West Side using the usual East-West crossover trail. However, one of the real pluses this past winter was the newly permitted use of Excelsior Road on the West Side for grooming and skiing. In the middle of December, after the gun deer hunts were done, a berm was plowed to block off traffic at the east end of Excelsior Road. We then groomed the entire 3 km length of Excelsior Road, and skiers were uniformly thrilled with the results.
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
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.
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...
All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!
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.
Big snowfalls (10+ inches on November 27, 7+ inches on December 1, 4+ inches December 9) have kept our groomers busy. Early December hasn't provided this type of wintry weather in recent memory. Groomers worked 66 man-hours wrestling the heavy snow into shape for the weekend of December 7/8 when conditions ranged from fair-good-excellent.
A couple news worthy items...
Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.
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:
Let's not forget how really strange this roller coaster winter was. Here's a quick summary:
Maple syrup time, Ski the Hills!
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