An opportunity to greatly improve the quality of Nordic skiing in our community is here. Let’s work to raise the bar, and do more — together. Here’s why the need is there, and the time is now.

Crucial & Timely Equipment Upgrades

The County’s current equipment — three small and aging machines that are underpowered for many circumstances — are used to try and cover 22 miles of trails in four different skiable county parks.

Two of these machines are roughly ten years old, and another is more than 30 years old. None of them have the power to pull a common “tiller” — the one piece of equipment that always provides safe, quality trails after heavy snows or when trails become icy (a major concern for both beginner and experienced skiers).

Current 30-year-old groomer

Current groomer stuck on a bunny hill in the skills park at Tower Ridge.

All three current machines have had numerous and costly equipment breakdowns causing lengthy grooming delays after major snowfalls, which can create compounding challenges and keep people from using the trails at peak times.

Further, the County’s current equipment is very labor intensive, requiring multiple passes on the snow’s surface for what the proposed equipment can do with one pass, saving both time and money.

To recap, the current equipment is:

  • Unable to handle ice or large snows
  • Underpowered
  • Rapidly aging
  • Frequently breaking down
  • Seeing high cost of repairs
  • Time consuming and budget straining

Eau Claire County is prepared to invest in equipment to help remedy this, but their highly constrained budget isn’t enough to cover what’s really needed. And that’s where this fundraising initiative and partnership comes in.

Handle More Kinds of Winter Weather

As we’ve seen, conditions and types of precipitation events can vary wildly. New equipment, like the Snow Rabbit 3, will have the power, attachments, and tiller needed to handle the largest and wettest snowfalls, as well as icy conditions that need the ice tilled up and laid back down.

Wait time for the “right conditions” will go down as our community is more able to handle what Old Man Winter throws our way.

Benefitting the Community in Multiple Ways

Safety, recreation, health, tourism, events, cost-savings, and more — the benefits are many. Between 3,000 and 4,000 local and visiting skiers utilize our county parks. With this equipment, they’ll be able to depend on quality ski trails of modern standards that are smooth and free of ice.

This will increase skiing opportunities and recreational ski hours for all levels of skiers from beginners to advanced, children to adults.

Tourism dollars will be spent as Tower’s reputation returns across Wisconsin, and our community will be able to put its best foot forward at events held at our facilities.

Plus, county operational expenses will decrease as this equipment can do the work more quickly and efficiently, requiring fewer passes to develop a useable surface.

Keeping Kids Off Screens in Winter

Roughly 250 kids per year, aged 4- to 18-years-old, participate in the Kickin’ Kids Youth Ski League and the Chippewa Valley Nordic Ski Team, all of whom come from more than 50 different elementary, middle, and high schools across the Chippewa Valley.

Kickin’ Kids Youth Ski League

Chippewa Valley Nordic Ski Team

It’s a dramatically growing program that will benefit from investment in quality trail conditions, and have fewer cancellations due to poor conditions.

Additionally, between 30-40 members of the UW-Eau Claire Nordic Ski Club also utilize Tower Ridge for training, and host a popular citizen’s race event each year as well.

Alternate Options Considered

Multiple considerations and alternates were factored into the decision to pursue a quality grooming machine like the Snow Rabbit 3. Among those alternate options were:

  • A PistenBully. While these are amazing machines with brand-name recognition, they cost twice as much and would be somewhat overkill for our trails. They also weigh twice as much and would be much more difficult to transport between county park locations. They also wouldn’t fit in the current storage facility at Tower Ridge, meaning an additional building would need to be built to house such a machine.
  • A Ginzugroomer. Ginzus are common implements for dealing with icy trails. However, they do not help with deep or wet snows whatsoever, and they don’t work very well on steep hills. Pulling a ginzu requires serious power (which our fleet doesn’t have) to drag the scrapers up a hill while trying to break up the ice. Because of this, teeth must be set very shallow forcing many, many passes to get a usable surface. With manpower and work-hour issues, this will not help our trails.
  • Used Equipment. Finding good used equipment can be difficult, as there’s often a reason it’s for sale — they have become a costly maintenance issues. Oftentimes what can be found are much larger, heavier pieces of equipment than what would be best for our county trails. Plus old, used equipment is what we currently have — and with that we can certainly confirm there are a lot of maintenance issues, causing significant grooming delays and increased costs.

These and other possible solutions have been talked about at multiple meetings of the county, Ski Striders, and other concerned parties. The course chosen for this campaign has been largely agreed upon as the best course of action.