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Category Archives: ABR Ski Trails

Apostle Islands Ice Caves:

Normally I’m complaining about the lack of a good winter but this year we have had a fantastic winter. Every winter I look forward to photographing the Apostle Island Ice Caves but this is the first year since 2009 that they have been accessible from the ice on Lake Superior. I was very surprised when I checked  the middle of January and found that the ice caves were already open. Normally they don’t open until January but with the cold weather they were early this year.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1471a

We immediately drove up to Cornucopia to visit the caves. This was followed by two other visits to the caves. We weren’t the only ones visiting the caves. Thanks to social media more than 140 thousand people visited the caves before they closed in mid March.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1672

In-spite of the large number of people visiting the caves I was able to get some great photos and, for the first time, my wife was able to visit the caves. As you can see by the number of blogs I wrote on the subject this was my favorite winter activity.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-3-_0983

Bald Eagle Watching:

The cold weather has been a boon for Bald Eagle watching since it concentrated the eagles in areas where there was open water. This winter we spent time visiting three locations along the Mississippi River to watch Eagles. Our most productive location was Covill Park in Red Wing, Minnesota where we always saw eagles. There were also a large number of ducks that provided entertainment when the eagle watching slowed down. The water is always open below the heating plant above Covill Park so the eagles and ducks hang out in this area.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_1996

The second best location was Reads Landing in Minnesota. On three occasions we saw large numbers of Eagles at this location. We also saw Trumpeter Swans that were hanging out in this section of the river. Viewing at this location slowed down as the winter progressed.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_0599

Alma, Wisconsin was the least productive area we visited. We only saw a significant number of eagles on one visit. On several other visits we didn’t see any eagles or only saw a few. I found this a difficult area to photograph eagles because you are usually looking into the sun.Bald-Eagle-14-1-_2164

I wrote a number of blogs describing our visits to these locations.

Trumpeter Swans Watching:

We made a number of trips to Hudson, Wisconsin to watch the Trumpeter Swans. Several people had mentioned that Trumpeter Swans hung out on the St. Croix river but didn’t know the exact location. We eventually found them in downtown Hudson.Trumpeter-Swan-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1125

Because of the very cold weather they were hanging out it a very small area of open water close to shore during the coldest part of the winter. You could walk down along the shore and photograph them and they didn’t seem to be the least concerned with your presence.Trumpeter-Swans-Hudson-Wisconsin-14-2-_1176

These trips resulted in several blogs reporting on our visits.Trumpeter-Swans-14-2-_0592

Lake Superior Ship Watching:

The very cold weather resulted in a lot of ice on Lake Superior. The early ice made for some great opportunities to photograph ships in the cold weather. One of my favorite year around activities is ship watching in Duluth and Superior Harbors so being able to photograph them working in ice was a great adventure.

Baie Cormeau

Baie Cormeau

We were able to watch ships arrive in the harbor during the very cold winter.

Baie Comeau

Baie Comeau

The Coast Guard Cutters were very active this winter and I was able to see them in action as they were breaking the ice and anchored in the harbor.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Tug Boats were also required to help break the ice when the Coast Guard was not available.

Helen H

Helen H

A large number of ships are in the Duluth/Superior docks either being repaired or for winter layup.

American Spirit

American Spirit

The long winter will continue into spring as the ice breakers are working to free the harbor of ice and the ships in layup are waiting to head out for the 2014 shipping season. The season should start in the next couple of weeks.

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

Coast Guard Cutter Alder

 

Rush River Ice Formations:

I discovered the Rush River Ice Formations this winter. What a wonderful place to visit. A local land owner has run piping around his property tapping into underground springs. At about two dozen locations on the property he has run vertical pipes with holes drilled into them. The result are some spectacular ice formations.Nelson's-On-the-Rush-River-14-1-_1918

Long Ski Season:

For the second year in a row we have been blessed with a lot of snow. The difference this year is that the ski season started at Thanksgiving and has continued into March. With a little luck we should be able squeeze in at least one more ski trip this year.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1375

Our favorite location this year was the ABR Ski Trails because they usually receive early snow and they do the best job of grooming of any ski location. They are usually able to have good skiing even after warm weather because they have equipment to break up the trail in icy conditions and lay a new track.ABR-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1183

We also skied at The After Hours Ski Trails in Brule a number of times this year. This is a great location because of the large number of trails and its close proximity to Duluth.After-Hours-Ski-Trails-13-3-_3674

We discovered the Boulder Lake Ski Trails near Duluth and made sever visits to these trails. There are enough trails to provide a nice day of skiing without skiing the same trail twice.Boulder-Lake-Ski-Trails-14-2-_1378

We only made one visit, to what we consider, the most beautiful ski trails in the Midwest. These are the Swedetown Ski Trails in Calument, Michigan. They get more snow and beautiful light fluffy snow than anyplace else.Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1124

 

The day after Thanksgiving we took our first ski trip of the season. It was almost a month earlier than last season. Of course last season ended with a blizzard the first week of May.

Our first trip was to ABR in Ironwood, Michigan. It was about the only place with snow and it was crowded with anxious skiers. They had almost three feet of snow by the time we arrived. The skiing was good but the snow was still a little soft.ABR-Ski-Trails-13-12-_0704a

Last weekend we drove over to Brule, Wisconsin to ski on the After Hours Ski Trails. Surprisingly it wasn’t crowded. There was a lot of traffic on the roads but most of the people seemed to be heading to Duluth for a little Christmas shopping. The trails were good but it was very cold. The thermometer at the trailhead read 0 degrees.After-Hours-Ski-Trails-13-12-_0978a

In the winter we frequently travel to the U.P. of Michigan to cross country ski. The reason we like to ski the U.P. is the large amount of snow they get each winter. This year things were off to a slow start but recently it has really started coming down. What amazes me is how it poles up on stumps along the ski trails. Photographing stumps covered with large amounts of snow is one of my favorite activities when skiing the U.P.

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Backcountry-Trail-Swedetown-12-3-_0441a

Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1468

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-13-2-_1491

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-13-2-_1498

Swedetown Backcountry Trail

Swedetown Backcountry Trail

It’s been a tough winter for cross country skiing. Things looked promising in December when we received 18 inches of snow. The trails were groomed and it looked like it was going to be a great season. Then the weather turned warm and it rained. If we can’t ski around here we normally go up to the U.P. of Michigan. Things were off to a slow start up there as well. They had some nice snow early in the season but was also followed by warm weather and rain. It wasn’t until mid January that the snow really started falling. We decided that this might be a good time to head to the U.P. for some skiing before it rained again or the winter was over.

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Our first stop was ABR Ski Trails in Ironwood Michigan. ABR has the most extensive trail system in the western U.P. While we were purchasing our tickets I notice all of the grooming equipment parked by the chalet. ABR is known for its grooming and sells and tests equipment as well as offering training for other groomers. They seem to have a little of everything.

PistenBully-ABR-Ski-Trails-13-1-_2297

We had skied ABR a few weeks earlier but really noticed the difference in the amount of snow on the ground. I was a mostly overcast day but the snow was probably the best we have seen it since we skied the area after a three foot snowfall.

ABR-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1183

The next morning was a beautiful day but looked like it was going to be warm. We headed over to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State park to check on conditions. We have skied the Porkies trails several times and usually found them challenging. We typically ski the outer loop and several times have found the trails to be very icy at the lower elevations. Another time there had been strong winds the night before and the trails were littered with debris. As we started out there was a beautiful deep blue ski and not a cloud to be seen.

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1132

A couple of days before the Porkies had received some nice fresh snow and the ranger indicated the groomer was out finishing up grooming the trails. It was starting to get warm and it turned out it reached the mid 30’s by the end of the day.

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1152

The warm weather made for some challenging skiing. Our wax was grabbing even at the start of the day. As we skied the trail we encountered an increasing amount of debris falling from the trees.  Large clumps of heavy wed snow were falling from the trees onto the trail making it difficult to stay in the ski tracks. In addition, large branches were also coming down with the snow. It was a challenge to avoid being hit by falling debris and avoid the large snow clumps on the trail.

Porcupine-Mountains-Wilderness-State-Park-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1142

The next day we skied the Swedetown Ski Trails in Calumet, Michigan. Again it was a little warm and the glide was not a good as we would have liked. It was snowing out a bit so there was several inches of fresh snow on the trail. Swedetown always has some of the best snowfall in the U.P.

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Because the winds were supposed to pick up later in the day we decided to ski the trails that were the most open during the morning. After skiing for several hours we took a hot chocolate break at mid day.

Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1117

In the afternoon we skied the Back Country Trail. This is our favorite trail to ski. It is packed occasionally and our preference it to ski it with 4-5 inches of fresh snow on it to get more of a back country feel. On this particular day it only had a few inches of fresh snow and another skier had skied part of it. We also encountered an unusual amount of brush at the start of the trail and more debris on the trail than we had on earlier trips.

Swedetown-Ski-Trails-13-2-_1124

While we had some challenging skiing on this trip it was finally great to get out and get some skiing in.

I was rummaging through a drawer the other day and ran across a little packet of materials from the United States Ski Association. Back in the 1970’s the USSA and Kodak established a physical fitness program called Medals for Miles. The essence of the program was that you would record your miles skied, during the winter,  in a logbook and then at the end of the ski season submit the logbook to the USSA and receive an award. The award was a piece of paper and a pin or a patch.

Swedetown Ski Trails

Swedetown Ski Trails

 If you listen to the news these days it seems the only motivating factor in life is greed. I happened to be one of those folks that was always motivated by the challenge whether it be at work or sports. The thought of getting a pin or patch for skiing 150 -1000 miles really excited me.

Miljes Ski Trails

Miljes Ski Trails

 According to Kodak there were about a million cross country skiers in the 1970’s. Unfortunately there were not a lot of established ski trails, at least in our area. I happened to live on a farm so I created my own trail that ran for .7 of a mile out through the fields. Just about every night when I came home I would strap on the skis and ski around my little trail. It was usually dark by the time I made it home from work so I had to use a head lamp. In those days it was connected to a heavy 6 volt battery. I would try and ski about 10 miles every evening. The neighbors probably thought I was nuts.

Swedetown Ski Trails

Swedetown Ski Trails

 On weekends I would ski across fields, on golf courses, snowmobile trails and a few formal trails such as Telemark near Cable, Wisconsin. On each trip I tried to keep track of the miles I skied. It looks like I participated in this activity for about six years. I have several pins for 150 miles, one for 300 and another for 500 miles. There is also a patch for 750 miles and one for 1,000 miles.

Swedetown Ski Trails

Swedetown Ski Trails

 The number of miles skied was dependent upon the winter and the amount of snow we received. About the only year that I remember was the year I skied a 1,000 miles. We had an early snowfall and it stayed most of the winter. That was the year that my girlfriend (later my wife) and I went on an all day ski trip when it was 20 degrees below zero. All I could think of during the day was getting back to Hayward, Wisconsin and having a milk shake. My girlfriend later admitted that she couldn’t feel her feet half way through the day. By mid-march I was near the 1,000 mile mark but most of the snow was gone on the farm. I still had about 20 miles to go. My girlfriend and I drove up to Telemark for one last attempt to complete the 1000 miles. It was really a miserable day. It was warm and I was down to using Klister in order to ski. By the end of the day I was exhausted but had the necessary miles.

Frost - Red Cedar State Trail

Frost – Red Cedar State Trail

 When I mentioned, to my wife, that I had found the metals she reminded me that I had convinced her to participate in the program as well.

ABR Ski Trails

ABR Ski Trails

Warm up Shack

I returned home, from the North Shore, for one day before heading out again. This time my wife and I took a long weekend ski trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We don’t have any snow for cross country skiing in our areas and the closest good snow is in Ironwood so that was our first stop. We arrived around noon and after a quick lunch headed out to ABR for an afternoon of skiing.

ABR Ski Trails

It was cold with the air temperatures in the teens, strong winds and a wind chill -20. It was overcast with flat light. One of the things I like about skiing in the U.P. is that the trees are usually covered with a lot of snow. Not much of that with the wind blowing 20 mph. The shot on the right was taken on an earlier trip to ABR. The trails were in good shape considering there was about 4 inches of fresh snow and the wind was really blowing. In spite of the conditions there were a fair number of skiers out. It was cold but we had a great time.

ABR Ski Trails

On Saturday we planned to ski the entire day at ABR. We knew it was going to be really cold again. It was 5 degrees when we reached the ski trails with strong winds again. ABR does and excelled job of grooming and all of the trails had been freshly groomed and tracked and with the cold weather they were hard. Fortunately the sun was out so it made it a little bit warmer. In fact we both were a little warm by midday and had to adjust out layers. There were quite a few skiers out training for the American Birkebeiner ski race with comes up in a few weeks. We skied a number of trails that we hadn’t been on before and had a great day of skiing.

Michigan Tech Ice SculptureOn Sunday we drove up to Houghton, Michigan. I was the Winter Carnival weekend at Michigan Tech. When our son was attending Michigan Tech we never made it up to see the ice sculptures so we took this opportunity to stop and seen them. There was some great sculptures. This photo was part of a larger sculpture depicting the logging industry.  The temperature was in the 20’s but a strong wind made it a little cool. Wind gusts were as high as 40 mph.

Swedetown Groomer

After walking around campus we headed off to Swedetown for some more cross country skiing. We arrived around noon. The sun was out which is a rare thing to happen when we visit Swedetown. The wind was also blowing very hard. In the open areas the tracks were filled in with snow but overall conditions were good. We skied some of the trails that we skied during our last visit but with the clear blue skies were didn’t recognize the trails. Usually when we are skiing it is overcast and snowing. Unfortunately the strong winds had blown the snow off of the trees which, for us, is a prime reason for skiing Swedetown.

Ice Bond Falls

On Monday we headed for home with only one stop on the schedule. That was Bond Falls. Bond Falls is one of the best known and most frequently photographed waterfalls in the U.P. During fall color season it is overloaded with photographers. In the winter there are still visitors but not nearly as many. In my opinion winter is the best time to visit the falls because there are so many ice patterns and ice sculptures to photograph. I’ll have more about winter photography at Bond Falls in my next blog.

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