Winter Trails and Sled Dog Racing

Episode 29: Winter Trails and Sled Dog Racing

If you love snow, this is a great time to be in Bayfield County! With more than 30-inches of the white stuff falling overnight in December followed by numerous other storms, the Nordic ski trail systems are packed and groomed for outstanding skiing and snowshoeing.  We chat with the new operations manager at Mt. Ashwabay about their plans for an entire season of family fun. Plus, we’ve got mushers from two popular sled dog races in Bayfield County telling us about how they enjoy the Dog Days of winter (and how you can join them).

Wisconsin’s Hub for Nordic TrailsNordic trail at Ashwabay - December 2019

Two things make Bayfield County an amazing place for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing – its abundance of forested public land along with dedicated volunteers. The terrain is varied, gorgeous and well-maintained by different volunteer groups who work in partnership with public and private landowners to maintain the nine Nordic ski trail systems.

One such trail system is at Mt. Ashwabay in Bayfield. Doug Olson learned how to ski here 50 years ago when he was just 5-years-old and he’s now the new Director of Operations. He says that like many others, he picked up great skiing and people skills at this family-friendly, youth-centered recreation area. After working more than 20 years in the ski industry in Colorado, he is happy to be back in Wisconsin’s Northwoods on the shore of Lake Superior.

Mt. Ashwabay is maintained by the Ashwabay Outdoor Education Foundation which is made up of a combination of volunteers and paid staff. According to Doug, Mt. Ashwabay has 40 kilometers of Nordic Trails and a snow base of around 1.5- to 3-ft. of packed snow. The conditions are excellent for Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and skijoring. For those who may not know, skijoring is skiing with your best, furry friend. You can ski, snowshoe or walk with your dog on a dedicated dog-friendly trail. With snow in the forest as deep as your waist in some spots, having a trail that is groomed and snow-packed is a great way to get Fido some exercise this winter.

One of Doug’s responsibilities as the new operations manager will be bringing in new events while also growing popular, current events like the Summit Ski Race (often referred to as the “Pie Race” because the prizes are all pies and other baked goods), the King of the Mountain Race that crowns the fastest male and female and the Chairman of the Board for snowboarders. Doug says Mt. Ashwabay has lots of youth-focused programs like free lift tickets for kids 9 and under, affordable ski lessons and $5 equipment rentals for kids ages 4-10. The setup allows parents to drop off their kids in the morning and pick them up later that day. On Friday evenings, kids can take a bus to the hill and ski until 9 p.m. with music on outdoor speakers. To learn more about these and other events and activities, you can visit the Mt. Ashwabay’s website,, or its Facebook page, Mt. Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area.


Mush! We’re Off to the Sled Dog Races

There are two popular sled dog races taking place in Bayfield County in February. Jen Dale joins us talk about the area’s original race in Bayfield called the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race and Rob Lombard fills us in one of the area’s newest races - the Northern Pines Sled Dog Race.

Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race with 2020 datesThe Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race takes place Jan. 31 through Feb. 2. Now in its 25th year, 45 to 65 teams compete along this scenic route near Lake Superior. The biggest teams go first in this event, starting with the 10-Dog Class, and followed by the 8- and 6-Dog Races and ending with the Family Fun Recreational Races. What‘s great about the Apostle Islands Course is you can catch all the energy and excitement of the dogs at the start of the race and then go over to the spectator checkpoint to watch the 10-Dog and 8-Dog Races go through twice and still have plenty of time to return to the start to watch the teams come back in. 

There are bonfires at the start of the race and the spectator checkpoint to keep you toasty, as well as food from a variety of vendors. The three-day event includes the Musher’s Meeting and spaghetti feed (open to the public) on Friday, the first day of racing and a guest speaker on Saturday and additional racing and a quick awards ceremony on Sunday. If you’d like to help out as a volunteer, you can download the volunteer package at

The Northern Pines Sled Dog Race is on Feb. 15 at the Northern Pines Golf Course & Event Center in Iron River. This is a one-day eRob Lombard - Northern Pines Sled Dog Racevent where you can watch a large portion of the races just steps away from the comfort of the indoors with food and drinks available. Northern Pines has a sprint-race format, which averages about one mile for every dog. The dog teams average about 20 miles per hour for the sprints. There are four classes of races, each with a different number of dogs. If you want to venture out beyond the event center, you can pick up a map there and drive to one of three road-crossing locations to view the races from other vantage points.

The Iron River National Fish Hatchery will also be bringing snowshoes that anyone can use for free on the prepared, packed snow trail and Angie’s Bakery is providing free face-painting.

                                                                                                                                                 Photo of Rob Lombard - Courtesy of Studio One Photography.

For more information about volunteering, sponsorships and registration, visit (“sdr”=sled dog race). You will also want to check out the amazing aerial photos from last year’s race. You’ll find that on the website, too.


January Activities

Jan. 4:                 North End Snowshoe Classic in Cable, WI

Jan. 1 – Jan. 12:  Oulu Glass Blowing Classes in Brule, WI

Jan. 11:              Freeze Your Buns Ice Fishing Contest at Birchgrove Campground in Iron River, WI

Jan. 14:              Sleigh & Cutter Rally, Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in the Town of Eileen (just west of Ashland, WI)

                           Lost Nation String Band Live at the Harborview Event Center in Washburn, WI 

                           Zoomobile (Animals Underground) at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in the Town of Eileen (just west of                                            Ashland, WI)

Jan. 16:               “Just the Bear Facts” with Scott Walter, at Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in the Town of Eileen (just west of                                        Ashland, WI)

Jan. 17 - 19:       Snowfest Pond Hockey Tournament at Lakewoods Resort in
                           Cable, WI  

Jan. 18:               Ice Fishing Tournament at Staudemeyer’s Four Seasons Resort in Cable, WI 

Jan. 19:               Birkie Tour at the Birkie Trailhead in Cable, WI

Jan. 25 – 26:       Red Cliff 4th Annual Pow Wow at Legendary Waters Resort & Casino in Red Cliff (just north of Bayfield, WI)

Jan. 31 – Feb. 2: Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race in Bayfield, WI


View the full schedule of events on our website and Facebook page.

February Preview

Layer up for a full episode about everything ice, including the Ice Caves and Ice Fishing.

Affiliate Notes

Bodin’s Resort

Bodin’s Resort is located on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Superior, on Chequamegon Bay near the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Featuring newly constructed cabins that are open year-round, Bodin’s Resort has been in the business of welcoming guests to enjoy the best that Bayfield County has to offer for over 80 years. Whether you want to ice fish in front of your cabin, snowshoe under towering pine trees, snowmobile or cross-country ski, Bodin’s Resort is the perfect place for your next winter vacation.

Black Bear Inn & Restaurant

Home of the annual Bar Stool Races in February, the Black Bear Inn & Restaurant in Drummond has been a gathering place for locals and tourists since 1948. Experience inventive cuisine, attentive service, and a friendly atmosphere. The extensive menu includes burgers, sandwiches, Italian dinners, steaks, fish and chicken. There’s a different dinner special every night of the week and all-you-can-eat spaghetti every day! Come and see what makes this one of the most popular restaurants in the Northwoods. There are also three rooms available for rent at the Inn that are very affordable with 2 double beds in each room.