If you look at winter as a season of limitations, head to Cable and Chequamegon National Forest in southern Bayfield County for a profoundly different perspective.
I’m not talking about the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski races in February, held since 1973, although the demonstration of athleticism, endurance and grit is bold.
What the area hosts this month is the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships, Jan. 23 to Feb. 1. Many of the 150 entrants from 20 countries competed at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Profound physical impairments are lifelong challenges for this set of elite athletes. They are missing one or more limbs, use a wheelchair or are visually impaired.
Seven of nine men and women on the U.S. team are disabled because of military service. IPC athletes here and elsewhere stay motivated despite the grim effects of war, accidents, congenital conditions and injuries to the brain or spinal cord.
They will cross-country ski in races of 2.5 to 20 kilometers (1.5 to 12.5 miles). Biathlon competitors ski but stop along the way to shoot a rifle at up to 20 targets, which requires another dimension of skill and accuracy.
Some competitors sit, legless, above skids to ski. Others use one or no poles, or ski behind a guide whose verbal cues assist those who lack eyesight. Acoustic signals help visually impaired biathlon athletes; others use chin and jaw muscles to aim and fire if they have no arms.
This is the third time in 42 years for the United States to host the competition and a first for Wisconsin. Entrants include Roman Petushkov of Russia, a five-time biathlon and cross-country gold medalist.
“Once you meet these athletes and hear their stories, it will change your life,” says James Bolen of the Cable Chamber of Commerce. At least 425 volunteers from 12 countries will assist at the event, which uses trails and facilities at Mount Telemark.
Plans to house athletes at Telemark Lodge, when bidding on the event in 2012, went awry because of another building foreclosure. This happened despite a property makeover for a “Hotel Impossible” television episode two years ago.
So the nostalgic and sturdy Lakewoods Resort becomes the headquarters for athletes, who will be shuttled seven miles to and from competition grounds. The resort, on the shore of Lake Namakagon, is known for its century-old family ownership and walleye-with-eggs breakfasts.
It is a dog-friendly resort that has stayed open all year since the mid 1940s, says owner Phil Rasmussen.
Admission to the IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships is free, and grandstand seating on the grounds of Telemark Resort is first come, first served. Opening ceremonies are Jan. 23, and competition begins Jan. 24. cable2015.com
The annual “Birkie,” Feb. 19-22, is the largest cross-country ski race in North America, attracting as many as 13,000 entrants who ski up to 55 kilometers (34 miles). Others show up to watch, for free.
The event was inspired by the 1206 smuggling of an 18-month-old prince to safety by skiers in birch bark leggings who traversed rugged terrain in Norway, whose first Bikebeiner race was in 1932. Each year in Cable, three skiers are selected to dress as the original Birkebeiner “warriors,” and they use wooden skis on the racing course.
The 66.5-mile Birkie trail system is used all year. Fat Bike Birkie, March 7, is the only winter day when mountain bikes are allowed on the snow-covered trail. birkie.com, 715-634-5025
What else is worth a stop when visiting Cable? Five quick ideas:
Art Market 63, a shop that is part of a nonprofit consortium, selling the diverse works of 16 artists who live in the area. It is open on weekends in winter, longer during summer.
Cable Natural History Museum, home to a vast array of taxidermy, a raptor center and kid-friendly nature exhibits. Local naturalists occasionally lead lectures and outings.
Forest Library Lodge, the cozy public library and a log cabin built in 1925. It makes the National Register of Historic Places and is one of 150 unusual properties in “The Public Library” by Robert Dawson.
The Rivers Eatery, whose stone-oven pizzas come in a dozen combos and are named after nearby rivers. That includes the Spirit Creek, with pulled pork, sauerkraut and barbecue sauce.
Black Bear Inn, 10 miles north, whose back yard on Feb. 14 hosts annual bar stool races as a snowmobile club fundraiser. Up to 64 entrants attach skis to a bar stool and slide. “If you can sit on it and it will go down the hill, you can race it,” rules state online, although it’s more complicated than that.
For more about the area: cable4fun.com, 800-533-7454