Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Tuesday - morning update
Click here for helpful maps that show our open trails.
Spring is here, there's lots of snow remaining.
Yesterday morning (Monday), the classic track was fairly well defined, with a mild-moderate amount of litter deposited by brisk winds over the weekend. Good classic skiing if you can tolerate the trail litter. As a spur-of-the-moment decision, the skate lane on the modified East Side Core Loop was touched up early Monday morning and provided good skate skiing. The side trails on the East Side (and Excelsior Road on the West Side) also had good skate skiing Monday. Beautiful first day of Spring with temps reaching the upper 30s.
A very destructive mid December ice storm (visit our blog for photos etc) shut down our trails for a short time. Fortunately we've been able to open 60% of our East Side trails, and Excelsior Road is open on the West Side.
Snowshoers: the Ridges Snowshoe Trail is cleared of tree damage, we prefer you use that as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side. Click here for a blog post regarding the new 'Highland Loop'.
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). This winter loggers are hauling 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.
March 17: 1" from blustery snow showers in the evening
March 16: 1/4" rain, then 1" windblown snow
grooming & MOWING
Grooming Report / Plans: Click here to see maps of the open trails
March 20 (Monday morning): touched up the skate lane on the modified East Side Core Loop.
March 17 (Friday evening): groomed the skate deck on all the open trails, and set classic track on the frequently traveled trails.
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.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
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.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
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.
The many acres of trails on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail are often home to beavers. In years past, we've been able to tolerate a few of their permanent dams while trying to maintain the adjacent trails in the summer, and groom next to their dams in the winter.
Sad to say, too often we've resorted to trapping to remove 'nuisance beavers' (we report the problems to the County Forestry Department, and they hire out the work to a professional trapper).
All summer we've observed an active 200-foot long beaver dam that is located next to the ski trail (between intersections I and H), with about 130 feet of the trail wet enough to perhaps make it difficult to groom and ski this winter. Instead of trapping out the beavers at this spot, we decided to try a different approach. We'd like to learn how to coexist.
The first photo (below) shows this location in early September. See the small bridge? Beyond the bridge the trail has water slowly moving over the trail. We've debated various options, and yesterday (November 13th) decided to install a small beaver deceiver (pond leveler) device.
Here's what Sam, Benny, and Tom did...
· Purchased five 10-foot lengths of 4" corrugated HDPE pipe ('drain tile') and one filter
· Breached the beaver dam with the goal of dropping the water level about two feet
· Screwed the pipe sections together, and fastened the filter on the upstream end
· Drilled holes in the first 20 feet of pipe (to allow trapped air to escape)
· Attached a weight five feet from the upstream end (to hold the pipe underwater)
· Waded into the pond with the upstream end of the pipe (and the weight)
· Placed the downstream end of pipe (30 feet in length) through the breach in the beaver dam, and under the bridge on the ski trail
· Dropped the upstream end (and weight) into water that was probably five feet deep
· Placed a vertical wood post in the breach of the dam, and attached the pipe to that post
· Confirmed a nice volume of water flowing through the downstream end of the pipe
The materials cost about $30. We’re hoping the beavers quickly show up and repair the breach in the beaver dam. This hopefully would seal the pipe into the dam at a height that will control the water level – leaving enough water for the beavers to use the pond, but keeping the water level low enough to minimize the tendency for water to leak through the dam and flow over the ski trail.
We learned a lot from this first attempt at installing a pond leveling device. It was a nice muddy day playing in the beaver habitat, here’s hoping we can coexist.
Snowshoe Trails - Here's the scoop
- Back in 2012, John Kann developed the first of our 'Snowshoe Trails'. Soon he was joined by Dan Bjugstad - and they've been primarily responsible for maintaining and expanding the network of trails. From time to time, several of our members/volunteers have helped brush out the trails.
- The snowshoe trails weave up and down through various stands of timber.
- John and Dan quickly realized that good directional signage would be important. Sheets of yellow poly were purchased for the sign material.
- Pretty soon, clever directional signs began appearing. And as the trails expanded, this required a lot of signs.
- Recently, John shared more of the background regarding our highly visible snowshoe trail signs. Ryan Kann (his son) has been doing the screen-printing, and Ryan provided photos and videos as an example. Fascinating!
- Many thanks to Ryan and Ambient Inks (Eau Claire) for donating the time and materials.
Check out the videos and images below - an eye opening introduction to the art of screen-printing. Ryan makes it look pretty easy.
Enjoy stomping our snowshoe trails. The signs are placed at critical locations to keep you on track. If you'd like to be high tech and follow yourself on your smartphone, our georeferenced maps are free and available when you 'Get the Avenza map' from our website. This app communicates with satellites, and works in the absence of cell towers!
Screen-printing photos/videos are courtesy of Ryan Kann. Photos from our 'Ridges' snowshoe trail were taken February 2019.
This step shows the design being printed on to the screen which is coated in a light sensitive emulsion.
Next the screen/design is exposed with a bright light which hardens the emulsion around the design creating a stencil.
This step shows the unhardened emulsion being washed away with a power washer leaving you with a screen stencil to print with.
This step shows printing the signs using the screen previously made. In this case 15 signs were put on one screen to be efficient, and the signs are cut apart later with a bandsaw.
The Blue Hills Trail is a favorite place for many hunters during the fall. Since it is non-motorized, it provides solitude that’s hard to find elsewhere. Bird and deer hunters are especially appreciative.
For many decades, a certain group of hunters from the Chippewa Falls area has camped in the parking lot by the warming house during the Thanksgiving gun deer hunt. Their tradition includes decorating their campsite with Christmas lights and inflatable characters. Quite a site!
The Blue Hills Trail has 20+ miles of trails that grow on you, and many trail users give back in their own way.
The group from Chippewa Falls has ‘given back’ by helping develop the signage for the Blue Hills Trail. At each of 60 intersections you’ll find a metal map holder that protects our laminated maps from the weather and curious critters. Each trail that branches from an intersection has a metal reflective sign providing directions. Thank you to our friends from Chippewa Falls for their part in keeping us oriented and safe on the Blue Hills Trail.
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.
Blue Hills Trail
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