UW-Madison opens golf course while Lapham peak scales back
by Mike Ivey
Forecasts about a mild “El Nino” winter aside, cross-country skiers are facing a mixed bag when it comes to trail maintenance at two high-profile venues in southern Wisconsin.
On the positive side, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is for the first time planning to groom 17K of trail at its spectacular University Ridge Golf Course. Given the resources of the university and the prospect of daily maintenance, there’s a chance to create a destination ski trail system just west of Madison.
Unfortunately, skiers who frequent the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest near Delafield are facing shortened hours and less staff to handle snowmaking at one of the most visited Nordic ski trails in the state. Budget cuts at the Department of Natural Resources, coupled with the loss of experienced staff, has forced the DNR to make some tough choices going forward.
Good news at University Ridge
At University Ridge, there was talk of maintaining a groomed ski trail when the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course opened in 1991 on 560 acres of glacially-sculpted terrain. But those promises never materialized, although the UW in 2008 did open, adjacent to the golf course, the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course, one of the nation’s premier collegiate running venues.
The new ski trail does follow parts of the Zimmer course – which is smooth as a golf fairway and can be groomed with minimal snow coverage – while skirting the Ice Age Trail segment that bisects the 18 hole golf course.
Plans also include opening the clubhouse to skiers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and serving hot food in the W Bistro over the lunch hour. Daily passes run $9, with discounts for UW students, staff and kids.
The golf course maintenance staff worked with the Madison Nordic Ski Club on the layout of the system, which includes both beginner and advanced trails.
“Our members are extremely grateful to UW-Madison’s athletic department for developing this incredible trail system and making it available to the public,” said Jen Sereno, co-president of the ski club. “They worked with our own volunteers to design skate and classic trails that make the most of the beautiful terrain.”
An elite wave Birkie skier and marathon runner, Sereno says the terrain at University Ridge is challenging but not crazy difficult.
“With those sweeping turns and long, steady climbs, it really offers perfect training conditions,” said Sereno, whose daughter, Gina, runs on the University of Michigan cross country team.
The UW budgeted about $30,000 to get the project off the ground, including the purchase of grooming equipment and rental gear.
University Ridge golf professional Ryan Wieme says Nordic skiing will keep the staff busy during the off-season while hopefully introducing new visitors to the course. The UW is also facing a budget cut at the state level, but Wieme says the idea isn’t to try and make money off the skiing program
“I think we’re looking at this more as a community outreach effort,” said Wieme, a Minnesota native who earned a degree at the UW and has worked at University Ridge for 17 years.
Bad news at Lapham Peak
At Lapham, meanwhile, things are still somewhat up in the air following the retirement of long-time DNR ski advocate Paul Sandgren.
Immediate changes at Lapham include turning off the lights and closing the entrance gates promptly at 9 p.m., an hour earlier than in the past. The lights won’t be turned on at all on Sunday nights.
The DNR is also warning skiers there will be less maintenance at Lapham and other ski trails in the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, including Nordic, Scuppernong and McMiller.
“Grooming at Lapham Peak and the Southern Unit will continue to be a priority and done with the same care and dedication as in the past. However, it may not be done as frequently,” Brett Johanen, property manager at Lapham Peak, said.
The DNR is looking for volunteers from the community to help with snowmaking efforts at Lapham. It is working with the Friends of Lapham Peak and members of the Peak Nordic youth program to pick up the slack.
The DNR has ordered an additional snowgun at Lapham and is hoping to take delivery in the first week of January.
Unfortunately, Johanen said any trail expansion at Lapham will be delayed until next season.
“Future trail expansion details are being discussed to determine sustainability,” he added.
The bottomline is that cross-country skiers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois will have to press on despite the ongoing challenges of fickle weather and scarce resources.
Mike Ivey, recently retired from a 30-year career as a reporter for the Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, is an avid bicyclist, paddler and cross-country skier.