From mid-December through March in Wisconsin it’s all about the snow. The average annual snowfall statewide is 46.3 inches. Snowfall is heaviest in January, averaging 10.6 inches, while December, February and March each average about 9 inches. No wonder the state is a haven for outdoor winter sports enthusiasts as they hit the trails and the ski resorts.
Wisconsin defines snowmobiling. In fact, we invented the winter sport; Carl Eliason of Sayner built the first machine-powered sled in 1924. Today more than 25,000 miles of interconnected snowmobile trails crisscross Wisconsin, including 350 miles of former railroad beds that become virtual snowmobile "highways" in the winter. Corridor trails link every corner of the state and are regularly groomed by local snowmobile clubs. Snow conditions in far northern Wisconsin are especially lucrative for snowmobilers; Hurley in Iron County has an average annual snowfall of more than 200 inches. Little wonder that Northern Wisconsin's snowmobile-friendly towns are a rider's paradise.
With more than 700 trails statewide, Wisconsin is a national leader in the winter sport of cross-country skiing. Nowhere in Wisconsin are you further than thirty miles from a trail groomed for this winter activity. From longer treks on extensive snow trail systems in pristine places like the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to shorter outings in urban parks and golf courses, X-C action in the Badger state can match any activity or ability level. Many state parks and forests offer candlelit skiing on special dates for an enchanting nighttime experience. If you like cross-country ski racing, you’ll find plenty of action on virtually any weekend of the season, including the American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest and most prestigious cross-country ski race.
With over 30 facilities and an average of 45+ inches of snowfall each winter, Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for downhill skiing and snowboarding. By late November, our nighttime temperatures have fallen below freezing and ski facilities begin to make snow using some of the most advanced snow-making equipment in the world. Many downhill areas open as early as December 1st and they’re all open in time for Christmas vacation. Snowboarders in Wisconsin enjoy the most intricate and well-designed terrain parks in the Midwest. So whether you’re looking for a day of winter fun with the family cruising on winding runs or an evening of kicking tricks off jumps and half pipes under the lights, Wisconsin’s slopes are open for business.
Wisconsin has plenty of hills for tubing, sledding and many other outdoor winter activities. The real news for snow tubing aficionados is the construction of modern chutes and runs at Wisconsin’s downhill facilities. These are not your grandpa’s snow tubing hills. These are multi-chute, state-of-the-art facilities with “magic carpet” conveyors that take tubers and their tubes back to the top of the hills in minutes. More than twenty of these tubing meccas are scattered across Wisconsin from Hudson to Kewaunee.
Who needs the Yukon or Alaska to experience dog sledding? Winter activities in Wisconsin offer a variety of mushing adventures, including day trips and overnight excursions. Previous dog-sledding experience isn’t necessary. Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing near Bayfield offers daytrips, weekend packages and winter camping outings with their dogs. Snow-Trek Sled Dog Adventures at Mondovi (near Eau Claire) also offers rides and instruction as does The Siberian Outpost near Fond du Lac.
Wisconsin winter activities include snowshoeing. Long a tool for hunters and outdoorsmen, snowshoes are becoming increasingly popular with casual trekkers, wildlife photographers and weekend naturalists. Snowshoeing lets you veer off the beaten path, wandering just about anywhere. Far from snowmobiles and cross-country skiers, snowshoers can follow the tracks and go where the wild things are. For the less adventurous, many Wisconsin state parks and forests offer designated snowshoe trails. If you’re handy, you can even build your own snowshoes in special weekend classes at many nature centers across the state.
And if you haven’t tried it, candlelit skiing, snowshoeing or hiking are real kicks for winter fun. Wisconsin state parks, forests and recreation areas host a series of candlelight opportunities on virtually every weekend January through mid-March. Trails are lit by luminaries or tiki torches. Usually, separate trails are designated for X-C skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. After all the winter sports activities, enjoy hot cocoa and camaraderie around an outdoor fire. A Wisconsin State Parks Vehicle Admission Sticker is required.