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World-class Nordic skiing in small-town Brillion

At times, the 200-acre facility has had to make its own snow

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January 26, 2023

BRILLION – Some in Northeast Wisconsin may be enjoying the lack of snow and milder temperatures this winter has brought thus far.

Nordic skiers, snowshoers, tubers and other winter recreationists, however, may not be so happy.

General Manager Sean Becker said Ariens Nordic Center – a year-round trail network for recreation, training and competition for cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowshoeing, roller-skiing, running, hiking and more located at 1111 Round Lake Rd. in Brillion – is doing its best to give winter enthusiasts what they want – consistent snow.

“Mother Nature has been a joker this year,” Becker laughed. “She hasn’t been fun to work with. The biggest problem was we couldn’t start making our snow as early as we normally would have. Normally, we’d make all the snow we needed in about three weeks, lay it down and never have to make more the rest of the season. We had two good days in November and three more in mid-December, but then the snow sat – we couldn’t make more. The conditions weren’t right.”

When the temperature is below 32 degrees, Becker said many people assume snowmaking can take place – “not so fast,” he said. “Humidity also affects snowmaking.”?

“You have to have the correct wet-ball temperature – which is the relationship between temperature and humidity,” he said. “Both have to be low enough for snowmaking. In layman’s terms, colder temperatures and less humidity are better. I’d be a happy guy if you gave me 12 degrees and 30% humidity. A 28-degree wet-ball temperature is the minimum you can have to make snow.”

Becker said the goal is to have two feet of snowpack on the seven-and-a-half-meter-wide trail system, which is about five kilometers long – all of it lit for night skiing as well.

Tara Perre

“Traditionally speaking, two feet of snowpack can weather a lot,” he said. “We don’t want to put our man-made snow on top of the natural snow because it has a heavy water content. If you put that heavy water-content snow on top of the natural snow, it’s going to melt the snow underneath. When we did have natural snow, it didn’t stick around. All areas – downhill ski hills, ice rinks – are dealing with it.”

Because of the recent snowfall and colder conditions, the Ariens Nordic website (ariensnordic.com) states the trails are currently in “excellent condition.” 

Becker, who has been the general manager at Ariens Nordic since May 2022, said it also boils down to being fiscally responsible.

“There is a monetary aspect to it as well,” he said. “If we’re using the same amount of energy to make a little bit of snow (during poor conditions) compared to making a large amount by waiting (for better conditions), we’d rather wait for those longer periods. We just haven’t had those long periods.”

Becker said the winter season has also brought a lot of rain.

“Man-made snow weathers that well until the snow becomes saturated,” he said. “Then it becomes ice and can’t be turned back into snow. We had to remake a lot of snow we already made to open (Jan. 7-8). It’s not fiscally responsible to repeatedly make snow.”

Becker said because the art of snowmaking is so finicky and the facility is so dependent on it, he’s constantly looking at the weather.

“Like every 10 seconds,” he joked.

Becker said besides temperature and humidity, he also monitors the wind.

“A south wind eats about as much snow as solar gain does,” he said. “Throughout the course of a day, you can see the wind ‘eating’ the snow. Within hours, it changes a lot. Depending on the wind, we will make snow on different trails. In the grand scheme of things, the recent lack of sun hasn’t been that much of a factor (in losing snow).”

Sean Becker

Becker said the main goal of the center is to be able to provide access to Nordic skiing trails and biathlon even during poor weather conditions.

“That doesn’t exist in this part of the state (at other places),” he said.
 
The vision
Ariens Nordic Center is located adjacent to Round Lake Farms on 200 acres on the outskirts of Brillion.

“From an AriensCo perspective, this is one more way they are investing in their hometown,” Tara Perre, director of corporate communications and PR with AriensCo, said. “The Ariens family has been in Brillion since the late 1800s.”

The grounds also include a paved roller-ski loop for off-season training, a pond for snowmaking purposes and a 20-point biathlon range.

Perre said construction began in November 2021 with the facility opening to the public in January 2023.

“The property we’re sitting on is from the Ariens family,” she said. “Dan Ariens (chairman and CEO of AriensCo) fell in love with the sport of biathlon – which is a mix of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting – and that led to his vision of turning the property into something more.”

From there, Perre said Dan Ariens went to work.

“There was an old barn on the property, and they were able to preserve some of the foundation and turned it into an event venue,” she said. “They still had all the acreage around it, so Dan said, ‘What if we turn it into a biathlon center – there’s nothing for our athletes here.’ The athletes go east or west to the mountains. We have world-class Olympic venues in Soldier Hollow (Utah) and Lake Placid (New York), but we wanted something here.”

Perre said biathlon experts Max Cobb, president of U.S. Biathlon, and John Morton, owner of Morton Trails, who ultimately designed the course, were skeptical at first of the location.

“Their first thought was, ‘You’re not in the mountains, and you don’t have hills,’” she said. “They checked it out and said, ‘This will work.’ There’s enough climb so it qualifies for certain levels of biathlon competition.”

That being said, Perre said the course is suited for all ability levels.

“We’ve got different loops for everyone,” she said. “The builders of the course thought through the design so it was accessible to many different ages and abilities. We’re planning to host competitions – if not this year, next.”

Perre said the Round Lake Farms building is currently the Nordic center’s home, but that will change shortly.

“We’re building a separate building close by that will become the Nordic center’s home,” she said. “You’ll get your rentals and passes there, check in, grab some snacks, etc. That should be completed by the end of January.”
 
Ariens Nordic programs
As Perre said, Ariens Nordic isn’t only for seasoned skiers but also for those just learning the sport. 

Heather Higgins, program specialist for the Nordic center, said some of the learn-to-ski programs have already begun, but patrons should check the website for updates, because of the unpredictability of the weather.

“The mini-striders program is for youth to learn how to ski,” she said. “We’re also starting Stride ‘n Glide where people can ski, and we’ll ski amongst them. We’d be giving them pointers, and it’s a great way to meet other skiers. We’ll also have lessons and host other ski events as well.”

Sean Becker, general manager of the Ariens Nordic Center in Brillion, said lower temperatures and humidity are optimal for snowmaking. Photo courtesy of Ariens Nordic Center

The website can also be used to purchase passes, sign up for classes and check skiing conditions.

Current hours, depending upon conditions, are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

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