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The joy of a first snowfall


There’s nothing like that first snowfall of the season! For us outdoor winter enthusiasts in the Green Bay area that came Dec. 13 when Mother Nature delivered eight inches of the white stuff.

The winter months in Wisconsin can be long and cold, so those of you that use the snow to your advantage feel the same way I do: take advantage of it while it lasts!

The next day after the “dumping,” I headed to the 920-acre Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve north of Green Bay for a snowshoe. It’s a great place for that and classic (in tracks) skiing. It has two looped snowshoe routes that vary in length from 1.9 to 2.6 miles. On the weekends snowshoes are available for rent on a limited basis.

You can also ski six different marked trails at Barkhausen. The trails are pancake-flat and perfect for beginners, or those that are looking for a quiet place to work on technique. The trails are not groomed for skating, which basically is a technique similar to ice skating, but on skis instead.

I did the longer of the two routes on the snowshoes and saw no other form of human life the entire time I was there. It’s a little piece of heaven in my mind. The only things you will hear are Canadian geese and the occasional Chickadee.

Although it was rather chilly morning (10 degrees), I didn’t wear much and soon I was sweating. If you’ve never tried snowshoeing the day after a significant snowfall, I suggest you do it sometime. It’s not as easy as it looks and is a great workout. You wouldn’t really think it, but I can tell you otherwise. For any outdoor winter activity it’s best not to overdress. As a general rule of thumb you should be a bit chilled when you start – you’ll thank me in the long run! I’ve ski raced in weather below zero with just a racing suit on and have been too hot 10 minutes in. Just make sure you protect the most sensitive areas and you’ll be fine.

I mostly snowshoe the day after a big storm simply because the ski trails are often fairly soft and take a day to set up after the grooming. The snowshoe trails intersect the ski trails in several spots, so I was pleasantly surprised at how firm the classic tracks were. I decided then I’d come back to Barkhausen the next day to ski.

Snowshoeing is free at the preserve and in any Brown County Park. If you want to ski it’s $5 a day or you can pay $40 for a yearly pass. If you have a family of skiers you can all go an unlimited amount of times for $70 a season – a great deal! Skiers under the age of 12 also ski free!

Your fee gives you three different area trails to ski on – Barkhausen, the Reforestation Camp (NEW Zoo) and Neshota County Park. All are unique and offer different options. Grooming is always top-notch, so you get what you pay for. I’ve never been checked for a pass in the 11 years I’ve lived here, but realize your money goes for grooming costs.

Probably the most popular trail system of the three is the 1,500-acre Camp. It offers about 18 miles worth of trails with varying terrain. It’s groomed for both skate and classic skiing, and is very scenic. If you think about it, it’s likely one of the only places in the country where you can ski and hear a lion roar at the same time! I’m not kidding when I say this, because it’s happened many a times to me. On a nice weekend the parking lot is full of cars. They even have a 3-mile section of the trail that is lit for night skiing. If you’ve never done that I would highly recommend it, as you’ll get a sense of floating. The Camp also has a separate trail for snow biking.

Neshota is a hidden gem in my mind. It’s in southeastern Brown County and doesn’t get used a lot from my experience. When I go there I rarely ever see other people. At 257 acres it doesn’t have the extensive trail system like the Camp does, but it has the steepest downhill in the entire county network. A few years ago when I was there I biffed it going down that “Birkie” hill and landed in the snowbank – it was either that or hit a tree! I ended up snapping my pole in half, so be aware if you ski there.

Skiing an hour at Barkhausen the day after I snowshoed was a lot of fun. I had to stop numerous times to catch my breath and give my 45-year-old lower back a little rest. I know that will get better the more times I go. I only saw one other group of skiers.

Driving my 7-year old daughter home from school two days after the snowfall, she asked me if the snow would stick around the whole winter. I replied, “I sure hope so!”

Considering I snowshoed and skied in Green Bay halfway through December, I’m hoping it’s a good sign for the rest of the season.

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