Gliding Through Door County Winters

Being a year round resident in Door County, I’m often asked by visitors how I survive the winter. My answer is the same that a Norwegian or Swedish person may have given over 5,000 years ago: I ski.

In Norway and Sweden cross-country skis were an essential survival tool used for hunting in deep snow. The origin of the word ski comes from the Norse word for stick of wood – skith. The original cross-country skis were made out of boards of wood. One board was long and used for gliding while the other board was short and used for braking and climbing. Both skis had animal fur attached to the bottom so that the ski went forward with and back against the direction of the fur growth for traction.

Cross-country skiing has evolved into a recreational and competitive sport, but for those who love to ski it is still seen as an essential part of surviving winter. The Door prepares for snow as the sun sets earlier, the temperatures and leaves begin to drop, and locals and visitors alike wipe the summer dust from their skis.

Door County has over 80 miles of cross-country ski trails of which about 35 miles are groomed. The trails traverse through some of the most remote, wild, and beautiful areas in the county, many of which are not accessible or bearable due to wet and buggy conditions in the warmer months of the year.

Besides being one of the best low-impact aerobic workouts, cross-country skiing allows you to enjoy the treasures of winter that so many people miss because they feel they are housebound until spring. Some of these treasures include forest scenes where tree trunks and their shadows take on beautiful hues against the white snow, branches encased in ice that click in the wind, frozen trees that pop open, sunny afternoon skies filled with the breeze of sparkling snow dust, and the snow tunnels of mice that end in the swooping wing prints of a successful bird of prey. One of the best of winter’s treasures can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline where slushy waters crash into the land creating amazing ice sculptures and musical sounds.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Door County offers the opportunity to experience incredible wilderness scenes on ski trails that are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. Classic or traditional skiing is defined as a parallel stride within groomed ski tracks. Classic skis are long and light-weight with either scales or kick wax on the underside of the ski that grips the snow for traction. For beginners the basics of classical skiing are best mastered first. For intermediate and advanced skiers who are looking for a faster more aerobic pace, skate skiing is an enjoyable technique.

Skate skiing is done on shorter skis that have no scales or kick wax on the bottom. The poles are longer and the ski track is wider to accommodate the V-shape stride of the skate ski technique. Skate skis and boots are stiffer than classic styles to provide additional support for the skating motion. The basic technique is similar to inline skating. The skating cadence is one of falling and rising towards one ski tip and then the other while using the inner edge of the skate ski for traction.

For intermediate to advanced skiers who have a large dog that loves to run, Skijoring is an excellent sport to beat the winter blues. Similar to dog sledding the skier’s padded waist harness is attached to the dog’s harness with a quick release lead line that works great for dogs who are in training or who cannot resist the instinct to chase a critter off the trail. The pull of the dog gives the skier a little extra glide, but the skier must do their part to keep up with the dog. It is a fast paced team effort, not a free ride. Skijoring can be done on un-groomed ski trails and snowmobile trails that allow skiing, and it should only be done with large breed dogs that are at least two years old. The dog commands are the same used for dog sled teams: “On Trail,” for stay on trail; “Gee,” for turn right; “Ha,” for turn left; “Waow,” for stop; and “Hup” for go. An entire skijoring set up costs about $90. Check out and for more information and to order gear.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

With the assistance of a full moon or a headlamp, cross-country skiing is not limited to the daylight hours. The moonlight reflects so well off the snow that a headlamp is rarely needed on familiar trails and the short daylight hours of winter do not have to limit your time skiing.

Additionally, there are at least four candlelight ski events that occur every winter in Door County state parks. On the trails at night crisp breezes touch your cheeks, bright stars shine in the black sky, wind whistles through the pine boughs as owls call, moon shadows decorate the snow, and campfire aromas warm the air as your skis slide over the icy, golden hue of the candlelit trail. The candlelit trails are set up for beginners, offering a unique and relaxing way to experience the winter wilderness at night. All of the events provide warm refreshments and a campfire after your ski.

Whether you have been meaning to strap on some cross-country gear and try out the sport each season or you spend your winter nights applying fresh coats of wax to your well. used skis, Door County has miles of beautiful trails waiting to get you or keep you outdoors this winter.

Skiing in Newport State Park. Photo by Dan Eggert.

Get “Fit” For X-C Skiing

By Brian “Stretch” Merkel, Nor Door Sport & Cyclery

With trails of varying styles and levels of difficulty, and equipment tailored specifically for each, people of all ages and abilities will find that cross – country skiing is a great way to get some exercise and take in the idyllic wintry scenes of Door County. Before heading to the trails, always inspect all of your equipment:

  • Be sure that the skis are not cracked. Watch for split tails, or any structural damage to the skis or the poles.
  • Are the bindings and binding screws tight?
  • Look over your shoes as well – are they fully intact? Older soles may be damaged by dry rot, or laces may need replacing.
  • Try on the shoe and ski – does the binding function properly?

If you’ve never tried cross – country skiing before, visit a professional to help you find the perfect fit. An old rule of thumb advises that skis should span a portion of the wearer’ s height. Today, skis are engineered in several different types for optimal performance and comfort, depending on the trail conditions. Ski length is generally determined by the wearer’s weight, and the style of skiing will dictate pole length. Ill-fitting equipment can result in a decreased level of kick and glide off the ski. (At best, you’ll find that you’re experiencing less control with the equipment … at worst, you’ll be incredibly uncomfortable!).

Whether you are drawn to the gentle gliding motion of classical skiing, the faster pace of skate skiing, or the diverse terrain of backcountry skiing, well-maintained equipment that fits you – and your chosen trail – will greatly enhance your experience on the snow.

(The author is the owner of Nor Door Sport & Cyclery in Fish Creek, which rents a full range of cross-country skis, and offers professional custom equipment fittings, with a wide selection of gloves, gear, and supplies.)

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Door County Ski Rentals, Events, Snow Conditions, & Trails

Ski Rental

Nor Door Sport and Cyclery
(920) 868-2275

Nelson Shopping Center
(920) 854-5752

Bay Shore Outdoor Store
(920) 854-7598

Ecology Sports
(920) 854-5724

Candlelight Ski Events

Whitefish Dunes State Park
January 29, 2005

Peninsula State Park
February 5, 2005

Newport State Park
February 12, 2005

Potawatomi State Park
February 19, 2005

Snow Conditions

Search the Wisconsin Travel website for snow conditions at www. travelwisconsin. com.

Search the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for trail conditions at


Newport State Park, Ellison Bay
(920) 854-2500
12 miles of groomed trails for classic skiing
2 miles of groomed trails for skate skiing
12 miles of un-groomed ski trails
Specialty: Quiet wooded trails and beautiful shoreline skiing

Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek/ Ephraim
(920) 868-3258
10 miles of groomed trails for classic skiing
6 miles of groomed trails for skate skiing
Specialty: The most advanced hill trails in the county – Purple Loop

Whitefish Dunes State Park, just north of Valmy on Lake Michigan
(920) 823-2400
8 miles of groomed trails for classic skiing
5 miles of un-groomed ski trails
Specialty: Vast rolling dunes and shoreline skiing

Potawatomi State Park, Sturgeon Bay
(920) 746-2890
9 miles of groomed trails for classic skiing
Some areas of groomed trails for skate skiing
Specialty: Gently rolling hills and scenic overlooks

Crossroads at Big Creek, Environmental Learning Center, Sturgeon Bay
(920) 746-5895
5 miles of groomed trails for classic and skate skiing and organized full moon skis.
Specialty: Excellent grooming and snow conditions

Ahnapee State Trail, Kewaunee to Door County
(920) 388-7199
30 miles of snowmobile trails that permit skiing
Get a map of the trail by calling the phone number above or from
Specialty: Trail distance and beauty

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