DURING MY SOMETIMES misspent younger days, I firmly believed that the months of October and November were to be reserved solely for the purpose of hunting.

I hunted nearly every day or at least as often as I could sneak out of the house before my mother (during my teen years ’til the present) or my wife of 48 years could catch me.

Then, in 1981, I discovered something else to occupy some of my time in those two months. Introduced to cross-country skiing in 1980, during a weak moment spent with my friend, Doug Drew, I decided to create my own ski trails across the road from my house.

With ax, chain saw and “nippers” I cleared out about 6 miles of trail on old logging roads I had been walking, bike riding and hunting on since I was a pup in the 1950s. With a couple months of work during the fall of ’81, I completed my trail work. Using a snowmobile and a bunk bed bedspring to groom, I had a set of trails for me, Doug and a few friends to ski.

Word got out a little about the trails, groomed the next year with the same borrowed snowmobile, bed spring and a homemade track setter which Doug built. I found myself often coming home from work in the late afternoon to find three or four cars in my driveway.

The occupants were local friends who, like myself, literally skied from my front door onto the trails. The next year, several of us formed a club, got a land-use agreement with the Department of Natural Resources and voilà, Razorback Ridges was born. The Sayner-Star Lake Lions Club took over the project two years later.

Razorback Ridges is now a system of about 16 miles of trails which are used and maintained not only for skiing, but also for mountain biking, hiking and snowshoeing. In 1998, the Lions Club built a beautiful warming building and equipment garage. 

During the 37 years of officially being Razorback Ridges, Doug, his brother, Bruce, and I have been joined by many volunteers in maintaining the trails for everyone to use free of charge. The building is available 24/7, 365 days and over the years, along with trail users taking advantage of it, numerous reunions, parties and even a few weddings have been held there.

Not to brag on myself, for that is not my intention, I am nevertheless proud to have been involved with Razorback Ridges all these years. I can’t help but feel the trails are my baby. As long as I can still stand on my own two hind legs, you’ll see me out there mowing, brushing and grooming. You also will see me as one of the most frequent skiers and hikers on the trails.

Last weekend, I spent several hours beginning to get the fall mowing done. As I pulled a 44-inch, self-powered mower along at 5 mph, I had time to enjoy the thousands of memories I’ve accumulated since the beginning of my times on the trails.

We no longer groom Suicide Hill, as growing trees at the bottom made it a little too dangerous, but looking up at it as I mowed Long Rider, I couldn’t help but think of some of the memories that lightning-fast downhill run provided.

Tops among them would be the time a certain production manager at the Vilas County News-Review survived the hill’s most famous crash. It was a mid-March sunny afternoon as a large gang of us partied at the crest of the hill. There were hot dogs and baked beans cooked over a large campfire, children sledding, and skiers skiing in shorts, T-shirts and even swimsuits.

Late in the afternoon, the “at the time young” woman, a can of Milwaukee’s finest beverage in one hand, set sail down Suicide Hill. All went well until she was halfway down. What happened then was what has gone down in history as the greatest “five barrel roll” crash of a cross-country skier. As it should, all ended mostly well. The crash resulted in no great injury to the skier, but alas, did result in the tragic loss of a full can of amber liquid.

Not all my memories are of crashes, although one other does come to mind. I discovered the site of the crash shortly after it happened. Skiing on a freshly groomed trail down Hair Raiser Hill, I saw one new set of tracks from a skier who had preceded me. Suddenly, when the trail twisted hard to the left at the bottom, the set of tracks disappeared.

Thirty feet farther, they reappeared, coming out of the woods through a thick patch of brush. Hm, I thought, how did that happen? Well, I got the full story, reluctantly told by Doug Drew himself. Seems he was the skier who made the track disappear, losing control on the curve, flying up the side of the bank, doing a full somersault in the air, before landing upright in the brush. If only I had been there to see it.

The trails also have given me many nonskiing memories. They would include watching a snowy owl, a fairly rare visitor to this neck of the woods, resting among the pines along Lions Pride one winter, for a couple of weeks.

They would include two very close encounters with coyotes using Ridge Trail and Pine Hollow as convenient winter roadways, heart-stopping explosions of ruffed grouse blasting out of snowy roosts mere feet away from me as I passed by on ski outings and a number of night ski outings when a full moon lit up a snow-covered Big Valley like a billion sparkling diamonds.

The memories would include Doug scaring the “beejeebers” out of unsuspecting friends on a night snowshoe outing with a sudden warning that they better make a run for it as he had spotted three wolves trailing behind them on a long, moonlit ridge. From the story I heard, some of the snowshoers easily beat the world record for a 1-mile run.

Then, there would be the memories of our World Championship Cross-Country Ski races, one of which I competed in for the one and only time of my life in a SpongeBob SquarePants swimsuit. I did not win the race.

This winter, I am sure Razorback Ridges will provide me with many more enjoyable outings and memories. And a lot of time in the groomer to boot.