Spring arrives as a state of mind in Driftless Wisconsin

February 2, 2017 by Eric Frydenlund

If you’re like me, spring arrives first as a state of mind rather than a season. With two months still to go on the calendar, my mind wandered into the boating season with a trip to Cabela’s in Prairie du Chien to look at depth finders for my boat.  Ice on the Mississippi River presents no obstacle to my imagination. And Cabela’s will most certainly get you thinking about spring.

Along those lines, you can hasten the arrival of spring and summer through film and presentations at our State and National Parks. Just across the Mississippi River at Effigy Mounds National Monument, you can stir your imagination at their 54th annual film festival held each weekend from January through March. My wife and I launched our idea to visit the National Parks out west after watching a film on the National Parks.

Likewise, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge hosts the Ralph Nuzum Lecture Series that bring the natural world into focus. “The Turkey Vulture: Profit of our Time,” will be the topic on February 15.  Mike Mossman, Retired DNR Ecologist; and Lisa Hartman: Wildlife Educator, will talk about “This tough species that enjoys the largest breeding range of any bird in the New World, thanks to fascinating adaptations that allow it to thrive in almost every habitat from forest to coast, farmland, desert and city.”

For the more adventuresome, Driftless Wisconsin offers plenty of activities for both spectators and participants alike without waiting for spring. On February 3 and 4, the Snowflake Ski Club near Westby will hold its annual Ski Jump Tournament featuring international competition. This event, thankfully, is of the spectator variety.  No need for you to jump off the scaffold at speeds exceeding 50 mph to appreciate the courage and grace of some of the world’s best jumpers as they leap into the crisp air of Timber Coulee.

On February 18 and 25, experience the beauty of Driftless Wisconsin winters yourself at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve on an Ice Cave Hike. “Visit several spectacular ice caves and frozen waterfalls. Participants will also have the chance to try traditional and modern snowshoes. There will be lots of outdoor discoveries.”

Whatever state of mind that February finds you in, Driftless Wisconsin will satisfy your curiosity and sense of adventure. Just need to change your state of mind and begin planning your trip. You can start here for lodging, dining, and shopping options.

New Experiences in Driftless Wisconsin

December 31, 2014 by Eric Frydenlund

Our new golden retriever, Fargo, has a tail-wagging enthusiasm for all things new.  Which for a 12-week-old puppy, amounts to just about anything appearing before his nose.   This includes Christmas tree ornaments, house plants, shoe laces – especially those attached to moving feet – fallen leaves, sticks, and stairways.

Going outdoors presents boundless possibilities, requiring Fargo to navigate a flight of stairs down to our front door; which he usually takes two steps at a time, complete with a belly flop at the bottom. Undaunted, he then leaps outside like a jailbird on parole.

We should all have such passion for life.  Given the opportunity to shed our daily routines, we just might find a new experience we can take two steps at a time.  Driftless Wisconsin offers us such opportunities.

Have you ever toured an ice cave?  On alternate Saturdays from January 31 to March 7, experienced guides will take you on such a journey at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge.  On the afternoon hike you will see “rarely visited” ice caves and frozen waterfalls.  Along the way, you might learn about winter wildlife, the ecology of the Kickapoo Valley, or the fascinating history behind the formation of the Reserve.  You can experience the hike on snow shoes, a great way to navigate the Driftless Wisconsin landscape during the winter.

Have you ever watched a ski jump?  I say watch, since you are not required to abandon your good senses and take the leap yourself.  The 92nd Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament will be held outside Westby on January 30 – 31, attracting top talent from around the world.  Growing up in Norwegian household with a father who jumped as a young man, I attended many Snowflake Tournaments as a boy.  I watched in awe as highly trained athletes took their “leap of faith” into the abyss of beautiful Timber Coulee.

Ever go fishing through a hole in the ice?  One of the area’s most popular winter activities might be a new experience for you.  On February 7 – 8, the Annual Fisheree on the backwaters of the Mississippi River north of Prairie du Chien will give you the chance to test your ice-fishing skills or try something new.  Mostly, it’s an excuse to get together with friends and tell fishing jokes that can be seen riding your breath into the crisp February air.

Check our outdoor activities and event calendar, and you will find experiences that will slay the winter doldrums. Whether a new experience or an old habit, Driftless Wisconsin offers you the chance to see it for the first time amid this stunning landscape.  Like Fargo, you’ll find a new enthusiasm for everything in front of your nose.

Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament

January 13, 2012 by Driftless Wisconsin

These are the options for competitors at the 89th Annual Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament to be held near Westby on February 3 – 4.  The tournament will attract some of the best jumpers in the world to this 118-meter hill nestled in Timber Coulee.  And given the option, they don’t imagine jumping.  They jump.  

What possesses a person to leap head first from a 150-foot high scaffold, mortal men can only guess.  Yet that is precisely what energizes the spectacle of ski jumping, watching highly trained athletes discard reason and leap with a grace reserved for our winged friends.  What the ski jumper lacks in common sense, they make up with courage. 

My father knew this.  He took up this risky pastime as a young boy growing up on a farm near Westby, where the winds of winter and the shape of the land drew boys to the fantasy of taking flight.  Apparently the prospect of defying gravity appealed to young teenagers looking for escape from farm chores.   When the tobacco fields surrendered to snow, ski jumping became their passion. 

By the time I was a teenager in the 1960’s, dad had given up jumping for downhill skiing – that pedestrian form of transportation that jumpers rely upon when they return to earth.  He took me to a coulee not far from our house and imparted to me the ski jumper’s version of downhill: point your skis into the fall line and let gravity do the rest.  But ski jumping was still in his blood.  Every year in February, he would take me on the pilgrimage back to his roots, back to Timber Coulee.  

Many spectators sat in their cars down in the valley and honked their horns at the sight of a good jump, filling the valley with the sound of chrome-bumpered geese.  Not content with this secondhand view from the valley floor, dad and I would climb the steep steps along with the jumpers, turning our heads in unison to admire the last jump.  We would then stand near the scaffold takeoff to judge the jump by the shape of skier’s winged body and the utterances both hopeful and frightful that leapt from their mouths.   We could not see the landing from where we stood, but dad seemed to jump with them into the abyss and applaud with a knowing nod.   

This year’s event kicks off with Breakfast on Friday morning at Borgen’s Café, where dad and I once sat as jumpers described their daring feats with gesturing arms and a Norwegian brogue.  Competitors will practice on Thursday and Friday, with opening ceremonies for competition on Friday night at 7 pm and Saturday at noon.  Fireworks will fill the sky on Friday night between jumping rounds, and there will be live music at the Rod and Gun Club following the competition on both days.  And of course plenty of good eats and drinks on the grounds.

As I write this, snow is falling outside my window in a coulee not far from that first exhilarating dash down the hill.  Time to get out the skis.  And time for you to make plans for watching jumpers take flight at the Snowflake Ski Jumping Tournament.