To cash in on some skiing and snow-tubing while they still could, the author and his family took to the slopes at Powers Bluff Park in Wood County. (Steve Hill photo)
To cash in on some skiing and snow-tubing while they still could, the author and his family took to the slopes at Powers Bluff Park in Wood County. (Steve Hill photo)

Choosing between the year’s best football game and one of the best winter afternoons to get kids outside is always a tough call.

But who cares about kids anyway?

OK – most of us. At least most of us who don’t drive around with Washington, D.C., vanity plates that say “LEGI$L8R” on them.

As an aside: is “D.C. vanity” redundant?

But back to the point. It was a couple of weeks ago, when the Dallas-Green Bay kickoff loomed, and I was lining up the salmon dip and beer.

A quick look at the week’s weather report promised rain, freezing rain and several days of temps nearing the 40s. A longer gaze out the kitchen window – at brilliant sunshine and our deep blanket of perfect sporting snow – made it obvious that a critical juncture had been reached.

Go out and play in what could very well be the last great day of winter, or stay in to assure complete viewing of a bunch of skilled brutes in a classic athletic matchup?

Even having attended morning Mass did not moderate the guilt that was already bearing down on me, roaring in like a city plow that’s spotted a huge pile of dirty snow just a few tempting feet away from my freshly shoveled sidewalk.

In other words, I knew I’d be buried in cold, nasty darkness if I didn’t pick “outside.” I gathered up my daughter and our next-door neighbor Connor and headed to Powers Bluff County Park, between Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids, for an afternoon of tubing.

Hit the slopes while you can

It wasn’t actually a tough call. Although I’d already been out once that week, enjoying my first cross-country skiing session of the winter after missing some previous good snow cover while traveling during Christmas week, I knew both I and the kids needed more outside time.

After our exceedingly long, lovely autumn, I remain worried that we’ll have very little sports-worthy winter this year. It certainly has been boom or bust so far, with a couple of really fine snowstorms, but also bouts of warming that caused severe damage to our base of snow.

I figured there might not be a better time to take the kids tubing because great snow, beautiful weather and the Packers’ 3:40 p.m. kickoff, which I knew would assure a smaller crowd.

In retrospect, it will be hard to find a day superior to this one. We arrived for the third of the park’s two-hour tubing sessions (set for 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.) and were literally the only tubers on the four runs for the first 10 minutes or so of the session.

More folks trickled in, but it was a rare turn when we had to wait more than a minute at the top of any of the runs, which were fast, smooth and thrilling. The crowd did fill out to several dozen people at its peak, but never approached the 225-pass maximum.

Anyone who has tubed on thin, mushy snow when the weather is above freezing would appreciate the quality of the runs from the bluff. The scenery is not bad, either, with views that stretch out past the end of the forested slopes to the wide expanse of farmland north of the park, over the flat plain that stretches to the George Mead Wildlife Area some 15 miles off, and farther beyond that.

On a day with clear blue skies, it felt like we could see all the way to Lake Superior, and the delighted laughter of the kids confirmed that our visit was the right decision.

There’s not much we need to say about tubing. It’s simple: grab a tube and shove off.

It was supremely fast that day, so every trip brought a choice. It was slide down to the ghost ships of the Great Lakes or spray yourself with a fine shower of tiny ice bits while braking to avoid the 200-mile hike back to the tow lines on your way to doing it again.

There also are three ski runs, with the longest being 1,500 feet and with an estimated drop of 250 vertical feet. Downhill equipment can be rented at the concession area.

As the kickoff approached, we’d had our fill of tubing. Most of the crowd had already trickled off to watch the game; soon, we also were back in the Subaru and listening to the contest on the radio.

A fine drive back home on county back roads left me with no regrets over our choice to head out and play.

If you go

As it turns out, the last weekend of January may be redeemed by another good midweek snow, so unhappy local Packer fans might find some consolation at Powers Bluff. Even it doesn’t snow, it’s never a bad thing to take the opportunities when they come.

The beauty and history of the park make it worth a visit whenever it’s open, which isn’t year-round; during a decent portion of the fall and spring it’s closed. We’ll return for hiking later in 2017, because the steep slopes, maple woods, spectacular quartzite boulders older than the Himalayas, native American mounds and other attractions mean this county park is a real gem.

It’s about a 40-minute drive from the middle of Stevens Point to the slopes at Powers Bluff, with the fastest way from Point generally being to go west on U.S. 10. The cheesiest, however, is to take Portage County C through Rudolph and then head on through Arpin, which only takes a few minutes more.

Rudolph’s Dairy State Cheese Co. is only open Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon, of course, but a Saturday or weekday trip – the slopes are open during the Christmas holidays – would allow a fun pit stop.

Regardless, Powers Bluff has an old stone lodge where the concessionaire will sell you slope passes, hot chocolate, and various snacks for hungry skiers (downhill and cross-country), tubers, or snowboarders. Fireplaces on both ends of the upper floor, along with picnic tables, are a great place to warm up and consume refreshments, whether you bring your own (electric outlets available) or support the concessionaire.

Slopes are open winter weekends and during the Christmas school holiday. The shelter is available for weekday group rentals, meaning Powers Bluff would be a great midwinter birthday site that probably wouldn’t break the bank any worse than many kid parties

More information is readily available on Wood County’s parks website.