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skate 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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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 >

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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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
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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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@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
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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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