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Category Archives: Swedetown Ski Trails

Our second stop on our skiing road trip was Calumet, Michigan were we skied the Swedetown Ski Trails. We love Swedetown because of the fantastic snow they receive. As soon as we arrived we headed out onto the Backcountry Trail. This is a trail that winds through the trees. It is packed occasionally but usually not tracked.

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The snow on the trees was something special. It looked like they had wet snow driven into the trees by strong winds creating a winter wonderland of a landscape.

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Along the trail we reached one of my favorite photography locations. This is a stand of pine trees framed in the snow.

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As it turned out we really lucked out because the trails had just been packed for the first time. Warm weather had made it impossible to pack the snow in the swampy areas until earlier in the week.

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Skiing Road Trip

After driving up to Fort Wilkins Historic State Park we decided to drive back to Calumet so we could ski at our favorite ski trails. It was bitterly cold with the temperatures hovering around zero and the wind chill quite a bit colder. Still one of the objectives of the trip was to ski Swedetown. We dressed warm because we knew it would be cold out on the trails. We were a little surprised to find only three cars in the parking lot.Swedetown-Ski-Trails-14-3-_0019

 As I had mentioned in an earlier blog the Calumet area had been hit by a major Blizzard a week earlier with fifty mile per hour winds and a foot and a half of snow. This was reflected in the winter wonderland that we found along the trails.Swedtown-Ski-Trails-14-3-_0039

 We were curious as to how deep the snow was and we found out when we stopped at a shelter at a crossroads in the trail. I took my wife’s photo by the shelter. When she looked into the shelter the dirt floor was about three and a half feet below the top of the snow.Swedtown-Ski-Trails-14-3-_0018

 Swedetown has received almost three hundred inches of snow this winter and many of the trail markers are just about under the snow.Swedtown-Ski-Trails-14-3-_0040

 

More photos from Swedetown can be found on my website.

 

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-09-19--139At the top of my list is the Apostle Islands Ice Caves located near Cornucopia, Wisconsin.  The possibility of photographing the Apostle Islands Ice caves takes on added excitement each winter because they are frequently are not accessible from the lake. The last year that they were accessible from the lake was 2009. Unfortunately global warming has made this unique adventure something that is frequently just beyond reach. The ice caves are one of the wonders of the Upper Midwest and something not to be missed.

Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-09-18--269I usually start thinking about the ice caves in early summer and the excitement builds from there. In order to get close up to photograph the ice caves you need to walk out on the frozen ice of Lake Superior. Because ice conditions are uncertain the National Park Service has an Ice Hotline that you can call to check on accessibility to the ice caves. I usually start calling at the end of January.

Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-11-2-_2783If the ice is not safe there is a trail from Myers Beach that goes out along the cliffs above the ice caves that allows some nice views of the ice. If you are going to take this trail I would suggest wearing ice cleats and using hiking poles because the trail is steep in places and it can be slippery when well traveled. My website contains photos from several visits to the ice caves. One year we combined a trip to see the Apostle Sled Dog Race with a hike along the trail above the caves.

Sled Dog Racing

Off and Racing

Off and Racing

Several years ago my wife and I took in our first sled dog race. We are really cat people so it was a stretch for us to go to an event featuring dogs. We were really surprised that we enjoyed it so much. The excitement generated by the dogs as they prepare for the race is infectious. They are so happy to be heading out on the trail racing that they can’t stop jumping and barking.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-11-2-_2518There are always a variety of interesting people at the sled dog races. If you really like dogs and want to become involved sled dog races are always looking for volunteers. It takes a lot of people to put on a sled dog race.

CopperDog-150-Sled-Dog-Race-12-3-_0226The Upper Midwest features a large number of sled dog races with the first starting in early January. Check out Sled Dog Central for a listing and status updates of races in the Upper Midwest. Given the mild winter it is best to check to make sure the race will be run as scheduled. The current issue of Lake Superior Magazine has an excellent article on the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon with some hints on photographing sled dog races. There are more shots of the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race and the CopperDog 150 Sled Dog Race on my website.

Skiing the U.P.

Swedetown-Ski-Trails-08-208--050There is no place in the Midwest that can compete with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in terms of snow. My wife and I love to cross country ski and the 20+ feet of powder that the U.P. normally receives can’t be beat. When we first started skiing in the U.P. we couldn’t believe that warm weather and powder could coexist but the lake effect snow is some of the most beautiful powder to be found. It’s so good that the U.P. is one of the best places in the country to photograph snowflakes. The current issue of Lake Superior Magazine also has an article on “Winter in the Keweenaw” Swedetown-Ski-Area-10-1-_0840showing some of the snow activities and scenery of this beautiful area. Our favorite spot is the Sweedtown Ski Trails in Calumet, Michigan. The skiing is great but more importantly they have the most beautiful snow conditions we have encountered. The trees are literally blanketed with snow,

Bond Falls

Bond-Falls-09-31--092In my opinion Bond Falls in the U.P. is the premier waterfall in the Upper Midwest for winter photography. It is located just below a dam on the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. While most waterfalls freeze solid during the winter Bond Falls is free flowing during the winter. Large ice sculptures combined with free flowing water make for some great photography.

Bond Falls

Bond Falls

Bond Falls is easily accessible although you will probably want to wear ice cleats because you may be walking on ice as the trail is close to the river and portions of it are frequently ice covered. Photos from several winter visits can be found on my website although you will need to page through some great fall pictures to find them.

                                       Photographing birds

American-Goldfinch-12-12-_0228Photographing birds during a snowfall is one of my major winter activities. A nice snowfall brings birds into the feeder in large numbers and they appear to be more tolerant of a person being around. We have already had two heavy snowfalls this year and I’m looking forward to more of them. On a bitter day when it’s difficult to be out and about nothing is more fun than sitting in front of a fire and watching the birds at the feeder. You can see more photographs of birds during snowstorms on my website. You will need to scan through the spring, winter and fall to see all of them.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I love winter. In a normal year I don’t really miss it until the dog days of summer. Unfortunately the dog days of summer came as early as April this year. Within a couple of weeks of the last ski trip I was already missing winter this year. My wife and I are both winter people. We have been surviving so far this summer by watching “Ice Road Truckers” Ice Pilots” “Flying Wild Alaska” and anything else we can find with lots of snow and cold weather. We intermix an occasional trip to the Minnesota North Shore where it is usually, at least, a little cooler. I’ve gathered a few shots to remember the great winters past.

Off and Racing

Devil’s Punchbowl

Red Cedar Trail Bridge

Bond Falls

CopperDog 150 Sled Dog Race

Camera Assistant

Swedetown Backcountry Trail

ABR Ski Trails

Rocks and Ice

Amish Ice Fishing

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

This past weekend we made what will probably be our last ski trip of the season. Even though Northern Wisconsin had received lots of snow earlier in the week we already had planned a trip to the U.P. The snow we received was heavy and wet while the snow the U.P. received was light and fluffy.

CopperDog 150

We arrived in Houghton, Michigan late in the day on Friday and after checking in to the hotel and grabbing something to eat we headed off to Calumet for 7:00 pm start of the CopperDog 150 sled dog race.  I’ll have more on the race in a later blog. We were surprised by the large number of people in town for the race. After finding a place to park we took up a position about 5 blocks from the starting line. We watched the first few team head out. We then worked our way down to the staging area and watched the mushers and the volunteers get the dogs ready for the race. It was quite a sight.

Lake Superior StormThe next morning we were up early so we could make it to Eagle Harbor for the 9:00 a.m. start of the 2nd stage of the CopperDog 150.  As we left Houghton it started to snow and the wind was blowing at 25-30 mph. Our directions suggested turning off of highway 41 on to 26 to reach Eagle Harbor. This turned out to be an adventure. The roads were good until we hit the Lake Superior shoreline. The strong winds and blowing snow were creating large drifts on the road. The waves on the lake were wild and the water had an ominous green color. There weren’t many places to pull off but we found one and I tried to take a few shots but the wind was so strong and with the blowing snow it was difficult to even face the lake.

CopperDog 150

We arrived in Eagle Harbor just prior to the start of the race. There were not as many folks at the start so we had our choice of where we wanted position ourselves to watch the race. I spent my time wandering up and down the race course and watching the teams start from a variety of positions. I also walked over to a local park to watch the mushers and volunteers get the dogs ready for the race.

Copper Harbor

Our plan had been to do some skiing at Eagle Harbor and then drive up to Copper Harbor and watch the end of the 2nd leg of the race. However, it was snowing and blowing so hard we decided to drive on to Copper Harbor. This is the sign in Copper Harbor indicating how far it is to Miami, Florida. Just outside of Copper Harbor is the northern terminus of Highway 41 which runs south to Miami. It was probably a lot warmer in Miami than Copper Harbor. We checked out the ski opportunities at Copper Harbor but the trails were a bit exposed so we decided to drive up to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and see if it was open. We had gotten different stories as to whether or not  the ski trails were open and being groomed. Unfortunately the road to the Lodge was closed and the ski trails were not groomed this year. Too bad because we really enjoyed our experience skiing the trails the past couple of years.

Red Jacket Cyclotron

We decided to head back to Calumet, while the roads were still in good driving condition. When we arrived in Calumet the first annual Red Jacket Cyclotron Snow Bike Race was underway. We watched the bikers racing on the sled dog trails before heading out to Swedetown Ski Trails for some skiing.

Me on the Backcountry Trail

Swedetown does a good job of grooming and the trails are more sheltered from the wind than the trails at Copper Harbor. It was snowing hard so we decided to start on the Backcountry Trail since it had not been groomed recently. With the fresh snow the skiing was outstanding. By the time we finished the Backcountry trail most of the other trails were also covered with a thick coating of fresh powder. Later in the day we encountered some strange tracks on the trails. At first we thought someone was skiing with old fashioned skis because the tracks were so wide. We finally figured out that several people had been out on the trails with fat tire bikes. I can see this is going to be a problem for ski areas because they really tear up the ski trails and make it dangerous for skiers. It is easy to get a ski caught in one of the ruts and take a bad spill. Flat Tire biking is a new sport and will likely create new demands for trail access.

Michigan Tech Ski Trails

On Sunday morning we decided to ski the Michigan Tech trails. It was about 9 degrees and just right for a beautiful morning of skiing. As it turned out it was spring break at Michigan Tech so we had the trails all to ourselves for a good part of the morning. All of the trails had been freshly groomed and they provided some great skiing. While the trails are great they just don’t seem to have the same ambiance as Swedetown where the trees are usually covered with lots of snow.

CopperDog 150

After lunch we headed back to Calumet for the finish of the CopperDog 150. Again there were lots of people in town but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was for the start of the race on Friday night. We were able to check the status of the race on our cell phone so we knew about when the first of the mushers would be reaching town. We took photos of the teams arriving and then walked through town to the staging area to get some crowd shots and watch the dogs resting up and getting a well deserved meal.

Bond Falls

Monday morning we were up early again for the trip home. It was 0 degrees outside. We decided to make a stop at Bond Falls since it is one of my favorite winter waterfall locations. We weren’t disappointed. There was lots of fresh snow and with the cold weather the trees along the river were covered in frost. After walking along the river and enjoying the beautiful falls we headed for home.

It was a great trip and made for a fitting end to the ski season.


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.

Last weekend my wife and I headed up to the U.P. of Michigan for another extended weekend of skiing. Our main destination was the Swedetown Ski Trails in Calumet, Michigan. Normally it is a six hour trip but on Friday it was even longer. Northern Wisconsin and the UP were just digging out from a snowstorm and the temperature hovered around one degree so the roads for the last four hours of the trip were snow packed and slippery.

Union Bay

We made a stop at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to purchase a 2012 park pass. While in the area I took a photo of Union Bay with a lake effect snow clouds out over the lake.

We had a free night at a Houghton hotel so we stayed in Houghton on Friday night. We arrived late in the day a made a quick stop to check in before heading over to the Michigan Tech ski trails for some late afternoon and evening skiing. The sunset was spectacular but unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. Skiing under the lights is great fun but it was cold, about five degrees, and there were not many folks out skiing.

Swedetown Ski Trails

The next morning we debated whether to ski the Maasto Hiihto trails or to go over to Swedetown. Since we couldn’t find out any reviews of Maasto Hiihto we decided to go over to Swedetown. Later in the day we encountered another skier who lives about five blocks from Maasto Hiihto and he indicated that it is a rough course with some rock issues so they need lots of snow before it is in good condition. So it was good that we saved it for a later ski trip.

Swedetown Ski Trails

Just as we arrived the groomer was finishing up grooming the trails after Thursdays storm. The trails were all in excellent shape. They do an outstanding job of grooming at Swedetown. We headed out on the Valley Trail and planned to hook up with the Back Country. We found where the Back Country trail head used to be but it had not been groomed and the sign was gone so we continued on and skied several other trails. Later we found a single track trail Back Country Trailthrough the woods and headed off on it. After a short distance we found a sign indicating it was the Back Country Trail. We continued on an skied it for a over an hour before entering a portion of it that we had not skied before. When we reached the trailhead we found ourselves back in the parking lot. It seems that they changed the trailhead for the Back Country trail. It is now located at the main trailhead by the parking lot just to the right of the large map showing the Swedetown Trails.

Swedetown Ski Trails

After a morning of skiing we drove into town and stopped at the local ski shop. I noticed a snow bike in the window. Earlier in the season there was some chatter on the Keweenaw ski trails list about snow bikes but I didn’t have any idea what they were. We went into the store and I was looking at the bike when someone came to take it out of the window. It turns out that he was the groomer for the Swedetown Trails. I asked him about the ski bike. Apparently he was taking it out because a TV station was going to do a piece on snow biking. It’s a new and fast growing sport. This model was a fat tire model with two large tires. Others have a ski in front rather than a tire. They can go on ski trails, snowshoe trails and snowmobile trails just about any place where the snow has been packed down. This year they will have a snow bike race the day after the Great Bear Chase cross country ski race. Swedetown is thinking of adding some multiuse trails in the next couple of years to provide an opportunity for snow bikers and Skijorers to enjoy Swedetown.

Little Tigers

We went back out to Swedetown and skied the rest of the afternoon. We encountered a couple of people with stuffed tigers attached to their back and were a bit puzzled. Later we discovered that it was Copper Country Ski Tigers. It’s a chance for young skiers to get some instruction and have a day of fun with the family.

Swedetown Ski Trails

On Sunday we were thinking about heading up to Copper Harbor to ski the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge but no one was sure if they were being groomed this year. The weather report was for rain later in the day so we decided to spend a second day at Swedetown. We headed out to the Back Country Trail again, did I mention we love to ski it, and skied it for the second day in a row. This time we actually found the trail head. Apparently Swedetown is thinking of doubling the length of the Back Country Trail in the next couple of years. That would be great because it does give one the feel of skiing the back country. The trail is occasionally groomed with a snowmobile and a single center track laid. We like to ski it after a big snowfall because the trees are covered with snow and it really gives the feel of being in the back country.

Swedetown Ski Trails

On Sunday it was free skiing and snowshoeing at Swedetown. We actually saw quite a few a few folks out snowshoeing and decided to bring our snowshoes along the next time.

Swedetown Ski Trails

Fortunately the freezing rain never materialized and on Monday we were faced with heavy snow for the trip back home. We thought of staying another day but decided not to. Wouldn’t you know they had 18 inches of new snow. Bummer for us great for Swedetown.

More photos from Swedetown can be found on my website.