THIS IS THE way it’s supposed to be.

Growing up in the ’50s, winter was supposed to start before the opening day of deer season in November and usually, it did. Lately, we’ve been lucky to see it get going before the first of January.

Take last year for instance. Until well into January, we had a bare minimum of snow on the ground. It was Jan. 16 before I went cross-country skiing for the first time.

During Christmas week, when we are usually swamped with thousands of snowmobilers, skiers, snowshoers and ice fishermen, we had lots of empty motel rooms and resort cabins.

Oh sure, there was snow, at least a good inch or two if you measured generously. Ski and snowmobile trails remained closed. During a normal start to winter, I would have been grooming Razorback Ridges cross-country ski trails by Dec. 10; at least it used to be that way.

In the ’80s, Razorback Ridges annually hosted the first cross-country event of the Northern Highland ski race series the first Saturday of December. Wausau, Stevens Point and other race sites farther south may not have had snow, but we did. It was good snow.

Over the past couple of decades, that has changed. I’d guess, going by a somewhat faulty old geezer memory, that we would have been able to hold the race by that early date maybe once every five years or so.

There have even been some going back 20 or 25 years that we haven’t had solid ice for ice fishing during Christmas week; not often, but it has happened.

The earliest I can ever remember getting on good ice to fish was during the first week of November. I think it was Nov. 7, sometime back in the late ’70s. A weekend afternoon, several of us young dads with children younger than the age of 10 headed out on Little John Lake. As I recall, the ice was about 6 or 7 inches thick.

I couldn’t tell you if we caught much, which probably means we didn’t, but I do remember for sure the children had a riot on that early ice and the dads put a six-pack or two of Milwaukee canned pop to good use while we sat around a campfire on the ice.

All this said, early and heavy snowfall hasn’t been nonexistent in our neck of the woods during the past decade. Just two years ago, I believe it was, I killed a buck opening day. I left my pop-up camouflage blind in the woods on the private land I hunt through the entire deer season, figuring I might mentor a youngster on a late season hunt.

For whatever reason, that hunt didn’t happen, though I believe more than a foot of snow on the ground was the reason it didn’t. A week after deer season, I waded through the woods to retrieve a blind that, by that time, had seen a support rod succumb to the weight of the snow.

Winter weather is always a fickle thing. Could climate change be a part of the reason it is? Maybe, probably, it all depends on what science you subscribe to. But I can tell you that after seven decades of living here in north Wisconsin, I have quite possibly seen every type of winter weather there can be in all aspects of when it arrived, departed, how much snow fell and how many days of it brought sub-zero temperatures.

I remember one winter when my dad and I were still taking the pickup truck in on logging roads to cut more firewood in mid-December. It was cold, but there was little to no snow.

Old-timers around here remember when Mus-Ski Mountain, Sheltered Valley, Camp 10, Squirrel Hill and other small ski hills in our area were filled with skiers, local and from downstate, from early December until March.

The much bigger hills in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, outside of Porcupine Mountains and Indianhead, hadn’t gotten going yet and all our little hills thrived, despite having no snowmaking equipment.

Then, the mid- to late-’60s happened. We had scarce snow and a couple of times, January thaws of 10 to 14 days that hit our ski areas hard. It wasn’t long after and they were all closed.

We don’t have those hills anymore, but from Eagle River to Sayner to Manitowish Waters and Winchester you can find many miles of beautiful cross-country ski trails. Some years, like just last year, we wait and wait for winter to start and snow to fall.

Then, along comes a year like this one and we’ll all be up and running full blast well before Christmas.

After a long and oftentimes overly warm autumn, it looks like winter has arrived and means to stay.

For me, it means a lot more cross-country skiing time to hit the trails in preparation for skiing my seventh Kortelopet at the American Birkebeiner in February. With luck, maybe I’ll get back to having 300 or more kilometers of skiing under my belt before the big race, unlike that measly 100 I had going into the Kortelopet last year.

That, I would say, is the way it’s supposed to be.