Northwest Wisconsin is a region rich in Nordic skiing tradition and history and blessed with some of the best cross country ski trails in the country.
Not only are there literally hundreds of kilometers of groomed trails, but they represent a wide range of family-oriented to athletically challenging experiences in a setting of incredible natural beauty. With the region’s strong Scandinavian heritage, it was only natural that Nordic skiing took root in northwest Wisconsin. Farmers, loggers and settlers of Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish extraction used cross country skis for work and recreation dating back to the early part of the twentieth century.
Snowshoe and Cross Country Ski trails
Much of the area’s “modern” Nordic skiing heritage can be attributed to the late Tony Wise and the development of Telemark Resort in Cable. Wise was one of those larger than life characters whose accomplishments helped elevate cross country skiing to a much higher level of awareness in the Midwest and perhaps the country. He was the former owner of Telemark Resort which when begun in 1947 was one of the first downhill ski areas in the Midwest. As such, it quickly became a hot spot for winter sports in the area. Wise recognized the potential for cross country skiing at Telemark and a tremendous system of trails was laid out and Telemark began to make its mark in the world of cross country skiing.
To further promote Telemark Resort and its cross country ski trails Wise also went on to create the American Birkebeiner cross country ski marathon. Starting with only 54 skiers in 1973, it has grown to enormous proportions and now attracts nearly 7,000 skiers. The American Birkebeiner Ski Trail, originally created specifically for this event, has become the most significant cross country ski trail in the United States.
Landmark dates in the history of cross country skiing in northwest Wisconsin include 1975 when the United States Cross Country Ski Team including Bill Koch, who would later go on to win a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics, came to Telemark to train, and 1978 when the first World Cup cross country ski races were held on the Telemark Trails and also that year the Worldloppet League, an affiliation of international cross country ski marathons, was formed by Tony Wise at Telemark.
Not long after Wise undertook his efforts to develop the Telemark Trails, cross country ski trails began springing up all across northwest Wisconsin with many developed by the U.S. Forest Service in the surrounding Chequamegon National Forest. After an auspicious beginning, it wasn’t long before the landscape was dotted with numerous trails of all sizes and descriptions, most of which continue to offer pleasant and challenging cross country skiing opportunities today.
Snowshoeing is just about as silent a “silent sport” as you can find. The soft sound of your snowshoes packing the snow and your own heartbeat are about all one can hear as you make your way through the woods in the deep snow of our long northwestern Wisconsin winters. But where does one go to enjoy this increasingly popular winter sport? Unlike cross country skiing, developed snowshoe trail systems are still evolving across the region. We are fortunate, none the less, to have many excellent places to explore here in the wilds of northwestern Wisconsin. Of course, the real die-hard adventurer doesn’t even need a trail and can just head out into any tract of undeveloped land. For you, the vast county forests and national forest lands will provide ample opportunity to explore. Existing hiking and nature trails also offer fantastic snowshoeing options, many through deep woods in remote areas; others close to towns or major highways.
Though the number of mapped and marked snowshoe trails is still growing, those that we do have are outstanding. From the easy and rolling to trails that take you through some of the most rugged terrain in the region, there is a trail for everyone. The quiet, the healthful exercise and fresh air, or the intimacy with wildlife and the forest – all good reasons to try snow shoeing in northwest Wisconsin. It doesn’t take any special skills, but the rewards are many.
We hope you enjoy your snowshoeing experience here in northwest Wisconsin and come back often to explore other parts of the region. And please, tell your friends.
Good snowshoeing to you!