Heat and moist winter climate closes ski trails, limits outside recreation

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With sunny skies and temperatures in the 20’s, Winman Trails was a popular weekend spot.

“We probably had our most successful (weekend), at least from a fundraising and sales perspective,” said Isaac Cowart, operations manager of the Winchester Trail system. “It was a very successful weekend.”

But the weekend came to an abrupt end on Monday as warm temperatures and rain closed the trails. It was a decision necessary to protect skiers and preserve snow cover.

“When the temperature is above 32 degrees and then you overlay the rain that was falling almost like ice, any use on the trails can really hurt them,” Cowart said.

Minocqua Winter Park also closed its hiking trails on Monday. ABR trails in Ironwood reported rain and ice Monday morning.

It’s unusual for this time of year, but Cowart worries that could be about to change.

“In general, we don’t close after the preseason. Historically there was no reason to close the store, but with warmer temperatures we had to do it,” he said. “We know that weather patterns are changing, and we know that the lake effect snowline is moving further north.”

A 2021 report by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts found that to be the case. It found that the past decade has been the wettest on record, with an average temperature 3 degrees warmer since the 1950s.

That could spell trouble for places like the Northwoods, which depend on winter weather to attract tourists for everything from snowmobiling to touring the Eagle River Ice Castle to skiing the Winman Trails.