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Mt. Ashwabay's new operations manager Doug Olson fondly reminisces about his first time on the slopes of the Bayfield Peninsula ski hill.
Outside, snowblowers coated the hill with huge mounds of white, but Olson sat snug inside the chalet on Nov. 12 on a well-deserved lunch break. Gesturing toward the door, he talked about standing out in the cold, trying to figure out his ski boot bindings and waiting for his dad to show him the tow rope before skiing for the first time.
Olson became a downhill racer in college and has worked for the past 25 years on the slopes of Colorado's Telluride Ski Resort as race events manager. Now — 50 years after cutting his Alpine skiing teeth on Mt. Ashwabay — he has returned to the Bayfield area ski hill with plans to improve the local recreation destination and keep families enthused about the outdoor skiing life.
Mt. Ashwabay was established in 1948 and has never missed a winter ski season, "which is pretty spectacular," Olson said.
And it certainly doesn't appear to be in danger of missing out again this year. Thanks to cold temperatures, the staff already had set up snowmaking machines to blanket the mountain in mid-November, pumping water from the pond at the base of the 11-run hill.
"This is the earliest ever we've been able to make snow here," Olson said.
With a 317-foot vertical drop, one two-person chairlift and a single towrope, the hill is hardly a destination for skiers from the Twin Cities. But the well-loved recreation area — which also sports 40 kilometers of Nordic tracks, snowshoeing and hiking trails, fat tire biking, and dog walking and skijoring trails — keeps
Chequamegon Bay residents outside year-round.
"Our mission is to get people outdoors," Olson said.
Few changes are slated for the ski hill this year, although the tubing hill will be closed for the duration of the 2019-20 season because Big Top Chautauqua has taken up permanent residence at the run out. However, Olson promised plans were afoot to establish a new tubing area because it is so popular.
The Nordic ski trails will see great improvements thanks to a $20,000 grant from Memorial Medical Center.
The trails will be widened and flattened to better groom the skating and classic cross-country ski lanes, Olson said, and when some of the trails are reworked and new intersections created, skiers will have more loops to choose from.
MAD young skiers
But none of this should interfere with wintertime fun at an affordable price for the family this year.
The nonprofit Ashwabay Outdoor Education Foundation owns Mt. Ashwabay and is dedicated to keeping prices as economical as possible, even if the ski hill runs at a loss and has to rely on Big Top concession sales and donations to make ends meet.
But economical doesn't translate into stingy, and Mt. Ashwabay prides itself on its variety of programs for youth and allowing kids younger than 9 to ski for free.
The Mt. Ashwabay Development youth learn-to-ski and snowboard program, aka MAD ski, teaches youth ages 6 to 14 every Saturday morning over a six-week stretch.
The hill is so kid-friendly that parents can drop their children off Saturday morning for a day of skiing with their friends — surrounded by watchful adult skiers — and pick them back up at the end of the day, Olson said.
Friday youth nights are another kid favorite. Lift tickets are $10 and rentals are free for kids between kindergarten and 12th grade from 4 and 9 p.m.
Area youth organizations also take advantage of Mt. Ashwabay, and Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield schools train their Alpine and Nordic teams on its slopes and trails for competition around the state.
But most of this would never happen without the support of volunteers.
Volunteers from Bayfield Nordic Inc., which is spearheading the trail improvement project, do a great job grooming the cross-country ski trails, Olson said.
And Mt. Ashwabay welcomes anyone who can help out wherever they can, on or off the slopes, said Steve Pierce, director of MAD.
As the head of the Ski Patrol, certified skiers who monitor the hill for safety and provide emergency services, Pierce also called for any skier who wants to learn outdoor emergency care and pass a skiing proficiency test to sign up to join his team of patrollers.
"We can always use more," Pierce said.
The ski hill's tentative opening date is Dec. 15. For more information about youth programs, lift-ticket prices and rentals, visit mtashwabay.org.
Bayfield Carnegie Library Director Blair Nelson recently achieved his goal of raising enough money to restore the library's iconic pillars and make other repairs to the longstanding community edifice.
Bayfield Carnegie Library, built at the beginning of the 20th century with help from a $10,000 grant from steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, is one of the oldest public libraries in the state. Four pillars of Apostle Islands-quarried brownstone dominate its stately facade but after more than a century are showing their age from damaging Chequamegon Bay weather.
An $80,000 Bremer Foundation grant obtained last spring infused money into the two-year effort to raise cash for the Bayfield Carnegie Library Pillar and Restoration Fund, but it also forced the library to ramp up its fundraising efforts, Nelson said.
To ensure that it received
the grant, the library needed to collect enough money on top of it by February to cover the project's estimated $225,000 price tag. After more donations from community residents, the library board, city, Mary Rice Foundation and Bayfield County, the library crossed the finish line with time to spare.
"It just demonstrates how many people care about this library," Nelson said.
Now the effort begins to line up restoration work on the pillars, plus other projects such as repairing stonework on three chimneys, painting windows and fixing a crack in a retaining wall.
C&S Design will oversee the project and help with the bidding process, Nelson said, and plans to restore the pillars include replacing some of the brownstone. The library director hopes the brownstone can come from Bayfield-owned stock, but he'll have to consult with Rivard Stone to see if the stone can be shaped to fit.
The project is expected to begin in late spring, and Nelson has no idea how long it will take. But once underway the work should be "something to see," he said.
Director's Movie Series
Although the library will take a victory lap sometime over the winter with a celebration party, it won't be resting on its laurels and will continue to provide its usual programs and services while launching a new educational endeavor — the Director's Movies Series — which introduces a series of films for the enjoyment and education of area residents.
On the first and third Thursday of each month through April, the library will show films by famous directors to cultivate interest in filmmaking and perhaps inspire the audience to read the novels behind some of the movies.
Nelson, who studied film in college, and Joe Adams, a former CBS TV photojournalist in Chicago and instructor of film history at Northwestern University at Evanston, Ill., take turns discussing the films after their 1 p.m. showings to help the audience expand their filmgoing horizons, better understand the movies and see how the directors' craft evolved.
"We very much wanted it to be an educational series," Adams said.
November has been dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock and kicked off with the popular "North by Northwest" on Thursday and will be followed by "Topaz," a later film Hitchcock shot to show he could still make movies and in a different genre, on Nov. 21.
Future months are devoted to famous directors including George Lucas, Clint Eastwood and Christopher Nolan, plus foreign directors Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini.
For more information visit bayfieldlibrary.org or call 715-779-3953.
It boils down to "Just the Facts."
And the facts, according to Memorial Medical Center and the health departments in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties, say vaping is not safer than smoking cigarettes, doesn't help people quit nicotine, affects the brain and most certainly is addictive.
Sara Wartman, health officer for the Bayfield County Health Department, said the Community Health Improvement Plan Steering Committee is trying to raise awareness of vaping's hazards among youth in the Chequamegon Bay area.
Vaping takes its name from vaporizing, which is what the e-cigarettes that have exploded in popularity do. They use a heating element to vaporize liquids or concentrates, most often infused with nicotine and flavorings.
The machines have been implicated in thousands of deaths and illnesses across the country; the most popular manufacturer has stopped selling fruit-and sugary-flavored liquids that most often appeal to teens, but President Donald Trump last week backed off his earlier pledge to ban those kid-friendly flavors.
One of the ways county health departments keep track of the use of e-cigarettes is through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Wartman said.
The state Department of Public Instruction recently released preliminary results from school districts that participated in the 2019 survey. The self-reported stats on vaping are startling and reveal the extent of its popularity among today's high school students.
Nearly half of all students — 46% and 47% in Bayfield and Ashland counties, respectively — reported they had tried vaping.
When they took the survey, 26% of students in Ashland
County said they had used vaping products during the previous 30 days, as did 21% of Bayfield County students.
In comparison, only 17% of Ashland County students and 11% of Bayfield County students had used tobacco products such as cigarettes, chew, cigars or cigarillos within 30 days of the survey.
Although some people argue that e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking and are less harmful, as Sen. Ron Johnson did in his efforts to dissuade Trump from banning flavored vaping products, Wartman asserted that e-cigarettes have not been proven to help people kick the nicotine habit.
As part of the committee's efforts to spread the truth about vaping and educate teens about the dangers of using e-cigarettes, marijuana and tobacco products, MMC has posted a number of "Just the Facts" on its Facebook page.
According to the hospital, there is little evidence that vaping reduces or stops the craving to smoke, and the nicotine in e-cigarettes and other vaping products could actually make it harder to quit. And e-cigarettes do indeed contain nicotine even if they advertise themselves as nicotinefree, Wartman said.
The committee also is looking at how flavored e-cigarettes and colorful packaging seem to target youth, she said.
While officials debate the best tactic to take to reduce youth vaping rates, the stakes are high healthwise. Scientists at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention continue to investigate the consequences of vaping after several states reported lung injuries related to e-cigarette use.
As of Nov. 13, 2,172 cases of vaping product use-associated lung injury have been reported to the CDC from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Forty-two deaths have been confirmed in 24 states and the district.
Vaping isn't the only issue on the CHIP Steering Committee's radar as it also is tackling the problem of the use of marijuana and tobacco, and the "Just the Facts" campaign includes information about the harm their use can wreak on body and brain.
To find help to quit vaping, or using tobacco or marijuana, call 1-800-QUIT NOW or talk with a doctor about finding the best way to quit using proven methods and FDA-approved treatments and counseling.
To learn more:
To read more about vaping and its effects, visit facebook.com/Ashlandmmc