Skiing the Bubolz Nature Preserve

One of the pluses of living in Wisconsin is experiencing four distinguishable seasons. A constant upcoming natural event or sporting endeavor makes fluctuations in temps and precipitation a remedy for boredom. Winter, for myself, is a fun time of year, because it provides activities that simply can’t be performed at any other time.

Some of you are scoffing. Many don’t like the frigid temps, or the whiteout inducing snowfalls, that mar this time of year. For some, bundling up and streaming Netflix, after shoveling the drive, are activities a plenty. That’s fine. Although after living in Alaska for three years, I’ve learned to embrace winter and the coinciding exercises in arctic fun.

One of those exercises is Nordic Skiing and, truly, it is exercise. If you like hiking, I’m sure you’d enjoy skiing. The subtle bite of arctic air, the rustic scenery of a local park or preserve and the constant physical demands all contribute to a positive activity.

One of the problems with cross country skiing, for many, is that one might need a test run. After all, a quality pair of skis aren’t cheap. After a ski through the woods, you might not share my outlook and think its a giant waste of time. Not to mention, if you have dreams of making it a family activity, or something to do with a significant other, it becomes expensive very quickly.

Plus, As I just bragged Wisconsin up for being endowed with four full seasons, the problem with northeast Wisconsin is that snowfall is inconsistent. I can literally spend a month and a half in anticipation of significant snowfall. So, if you’re a passive enthusiast, there could be years when you don’t ski at all. Hence, there sits that substantial investment gathering dust in your attic or garage.

If you do feel that a test run is in order, or looking to rent skis because you’re not about to buy a pair, you can do so near Appleton. This, believe it or not, is fairly rare, as I’ve struggled to find a rental place in the area. One place that does accommodate those I have mentioned is Bubolz Nature Preserve. The ski rentals are not the only benefit in this wooded haven, as there is outdoor winter landscape and a new facility to enjoy.

I drive into a large parking lot. At one end sits a large Girl Scouts building. At the other, I find a year old structure resembling a stone lodge. I’m intrigued immediately. Surely, there are some fresh new events and activities housed in such a rustically modern facility.

As I turn off the car, pop the trunk, and climb out, the frigid air greets me. I’m reminded that it is only one degree Fahrenheit, at least that’s what the digital thermometer in my car read. So, I grab my snow pants and ski boots. I also hand Heidi a pair of snow pants.

Heidi is our reason for the visit. For years, I’ve been telling Heidi how great cross country skiing is. I tell her that ‘its like an adventure’...‘nothing beats exercise in the freshness of crisp clean air’‘a ski trail after a new snowfall is one of the most beautiful places one can find’.  I don’t know if she’s buying what I’m selling, or if she feels its her duty as my girlfriend to try this new undertaking. She claims she’s excited.

The lodge opens at noon on Sundays. It’s eleven fifty-three in the morning. We don’t wait long until a young lady (a volunteer) enthusiastically unlocks the door and allows us to enter. The interior causes a gasp of approval, ‘This is what a lodge, welcoming those who have just participated in outdoor winter sports, should look like’. 

A large stone fireplace is centered on a surface of wood laminate flooring. Two large open rooms allow for gatherings, as this space can be rented out for events. Picture windows overlook an elevated patio, which in turn overlooks the forested expanse beyond the lodge.  To top it off, a moose head is centered on the wall of the stairwell.

We descend the staircase and find the ski rental room. We’re not members of the Bubolz preserve. If we were, rentals would have been ten dollars per person and the trail fee would have been waived. Instead, after Heidi is fitted for shoes, skis and poles, we pay fifteen for rentals and a five dollar trail fee.

We make our way to the trailhead, snap our boots to their bindings and ski amongst the wilderness. It’s slow going. Heidi’s struggling a bit but getting the hang of it. She’s enjoying the first of two, relatively flat, half mile loops. There is also a one and a half mile trail, two and a half mile trail and, for those experts, a four and a half mile trail.

The trails are groomed for traditional skiing and their is only a single set of tracks in the snow. I can foresee this being a slight bit of a problem, being that one of these trails has a single entrance and exit stretch. One would have to move aside for an oncoming skier.

Today, being as cold as it is, is not a busy day. We have free reign, which is probably a relief for my novice companion. Heidi’s concentrating on the task at hand and I’m enjoying the scenery.

We traverse wooded area’s, which are shelter from the slight, yet, biting wind. There are also open expanses, accented by tall and dormant grasses. There’s even a frozen pond, adding to the natural Midwestern charm.

After the first half mile, a determined Heidi tells me she’s ready for the second. A mile long ski isn’t bad for a beginner. Heidi is tripped up by a small hill that intimidated her. Yet, after emphatically landing on her backside, she’s back at it and making strides.

We finish Poplar trail and glide towards the trailhead. As we pop the skis off, I’m already dreaming of the warm and cozy lodge. We return Heidi’s skis and use the restroom facilities to change into some regular clothes.

Heidi, after our experience, told me that she definitely would try again. I felt she struggled but am encouraged by her desire to return. It’s great, because there is a moonlight ski event slated for February 15. The trail will be lit by candles and moonlight. It’s one of two candlelight events in February, the other being on the first of the month. Hopefully, with all this new snow, both events will happen.

The Bubolz preserve also offers snowshoeing complete with rentals. Snowshoe rentals are $7 for nonmembers and $5 for members. The hours for both ski and snow shoe rentals are Tuesday-Saturday 9am.-3pm and Sundays noon to 3pm. Make sure you call ahead on weekdays to make sure rentals are available.

Give cross country skiing a try!

Safe Travels!

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