BEST PLACE TO CROSS-COUNTRY SKI (RURAL) (1999)
In the heart of the Chequamegon National Forest hides a four-season recreational region known as the Cable Area of Northwest Wisconsin--home of the world-renowned Birkebeiner Trail. This is the only spot in the U.S. designated as an official world-class tour site for cross-country skiing marathon races. The 42-kilometer trek (European standards are used to measure all cross-country ski courses) incorporates both beauty and challenge. The surrounding countryside is hilly and thickly wooded and the trail is always well groomed. And since it's two and a half hours northeast of the Cities, avid skiers say that the snow comes earlier and lasts longer, thus extending the season for another month. Keep in mind that this is not a course for beginners. Seasoned skiers suggest taking on some of the less challenging local trails before tackling this exhilarating course, with its daunting hills and long, steep grades. The best days to visit are Mondays and Tuesdays (weekends are the busiest, naturally). There's plenty of lodging, good eating joints, and antique shops in the area, but not so many that the towns of Cable and nearby Hayward have lost their rough charm. The skiing is free; if you lack the equipment (or the initiative to drag yours along), there are plenty of local rental shops with reasonable rates.