Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Lighted cross–country ski trail. © DNR FILE

The Greenbush Area in the Northern Kettle Moraine and Lapham Peak near Delafield offer lighted cross–country ski trails.
© DNR File

December 2013

Wisconsin Traveler

Lighting up the winter night.

Joseph Warren

When winter comes to Wisconsin, so too do the shorter days and even longer nights. Thanks to daylight savings time, the sun — if it's out — can disappear around 5 p.m. in the southern part of the state, and even earlier up north. But winter enthusiasts don't have to head home once darkness sets in.

The Greenbush Area of the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit is referred to as "Nordic Heaven." During winter the Northern Kettle Moraine Nordic Ski Club (NKMNSC) grooms more than 15 miles of trail for both classic and skate skiing. There are also separate trails available for snowshoeing. Skiers do not have to leave at night, though. Thanks to the efforts of the ski club, local sponsors and businesses, 1.2 miles of lighted trail are open every evening from 4:30–9:30 p.m.

There is also a lighted, heated log shelter with a deck and a changing room at the Greenbush trailhead. NKMNSC hosts several events and the annual Greenbush Nordic Challenge ski races for kids and adults. The local youth ski team also holds their training at Greenbush. More information about the trails, snow conditions and events and activities are available on the NKMNSC website: Greenbush USA.

The Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Delafield has over 17 miles of looped skiing trails, as well as trails for snowshoeing and hiking during the day. When there is snow, a 2.5–mile lighted skiing loop is available for classic and skate skiers. The Friends of Lapham Peak were instrumental in raising funds for the lights, as well as for a heated shelter and grooming and snowmaking equipment.

A ski league and races for elementary school, high school and adult participants are offered Wednesdays — under the lights — for six weeks in January and February at Lapham Peak, weather permitting. More information about the lighted trails, snow conditions and events and activities are available on the Friends website: Friends of Lapham Peak.

After the first of the year, several winter candlelight events are held January through March for skiers, snowshoers and hikers at state park properties across Wisconsin. The weekends in mid–January and surrounding Valentine's Day see an especially large number of events. Park Friends groups sponsor most of the events and may offer beverages and refreshments for sale. Candlelight events are fun for all ages and usually have bonfires for warming up and heated shelters available. Stargazing, games and live music may even accompany an event or two.

The candlelight events vary by property, but if there is enough snow, there may be groomed trails for classic– or skate–style skiing, as well as parallel or separate trails for snowshoeing and hiking. The events can be weather–dependent, but if there is a lack of snow, many events are still held as a candlelight hike. All candlelight events in the state parks are posted on the DNR calendar of events webpage.

If going cross–country skiing in the state parks, though, remember that in addition to a vehicle admission sticker, a state trail pass is required for all people age 16 and older on the ski trails at certain properties. The fee is $4 for a daily pass and $20 for an annual one. The annual state trail pass is good the entire calendar year on all skiing, biking, horseback riding, in–line skating and off–highway motorcycle trails in the state park system. For more information and a list of the properties where a state trail pass is needed, please see: DNR State trail pass.

Don't forget about the downhill skiing, snowboarding and tubing hills in Wisconsin. There are more than 30 scattered across the state from Milwaukee to Superior, and most offer lighted facilities and runs. Many hills make their own snow, so even if there isn't snow in your yard, more than likely there will be some waiting for you. For more information about the private downhill facilities, and to find those that have lighted runs, check out Travel Wisconsin and search for "downhill skiing."

While on travelwisconsin.com you may want to check out the Snow Conditions Report, which lists snow conditions by county for downhill skiing, cross–country skiing and snowmobile trails. Night is no obstacle for snowmobilers whose machines are equipped with headlamps, but operators must remember that in Wisconsin, a 55 mph night–time speed limit applies to all areas statewide from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise. For more information, see DNR Snowmobiling in Wisconsin .

Several communities may also have lights for skiing trails in local parks, sledding hills or outdoor skating rinks and ponds for ice skating and pick–up hockey games. So don't just hibernate this winter, grab your jacket, hat, gloves and boots and head out into the outdoors for some exercise…any time of day (or night).

Joseph Warren is the associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.