Early winter storms, and the large amount of snow they left behind, have been a mixed blessing for outdoor enthusiasts in Douglas County. For snowmobilers, it’s a boon. About three-quarters of the county’s trail system is already open.

“From what I’ve heard, this is some of the earliest we’ve opened trails,” said Clint Meyer, parks and recreation supervisor with the Douglas County Forestry Department.

Trails that have been groomed by area clubs are in great shape, he said. Ungroomed trails are still a nice, fun ride, but drivers should expect to stand up more and bounce around a little bit.

Those using the trails should watch for ice through swampy areas and deer congregating on the trails.

Douglas County has over 300 miles of groomed snowmobile and winter ATV trails. As conditions change during the season, updates are posted on the county website and Facebook page as well as by the five area snowmobile clubs: Drift Dodgers, Brule River Riders, Jack Pine, Cozy Corner and Get-Er-Done. In addition, the Douglas County Trail Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 715-378-4528.

Although trail conditions are carefully monitored, ice conditions on area waterways are not. Neither Douglas County nor the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources track ice conditions. The best source of information is word-of-mouth from anglers and others who have been out on the ice. Typically, local bait shops or sporting goods store can relay ice condition information they’ve received from customers.

But a lack of input from anglers has left them without much to share.

“At this point and time, I would say we don’t have much information on that,” said Sheri Wedge, a buyer and clerk at the Solon Springs Mercantile.

That “kind of tells you that conditions aren’t that great,” said Greg Pinther, a manager at Northwest Outlet in Superior.

It is not a normal winter, DNR wardens stressed. There was ice forming prior to the storms, but the rains, saturated ground conditions, snowfalls and fluctuating temperatures in northwest Wisconsin have altered things. Even the recent cold snap can’t be counted on to build up additional ice.

“We had good ice and then we had so much snow that it acts as an insulator, which means it’s not making ice when it’s cold,” Wedge said.

Every waterway is different; ice conditions vary from place to place, even on the same body of water. DNR wardens cautioned that ice tends to look thicker, and safer, than it is, and all ice should be considered unpredictable.

Pinther encouraged people to research ice conditions before trekking out on it. In this case, no news is not good news.

“When in doubt, don’t guess,” Pinther said.