"First of all, the name," says Yuriy Gusev. The executive director of the Central Cross Country Ski Association and program director for the Russian Style Ski School is answering a question about what's new at this year's Capitol Square Sprints. After three years, the event has grown so far beyond its original focus on cross-country skiing that organizers felt compelled to rechristen it.
Say hello to the Madison Winter Festival, which brings snowshoeing, snowboarding, tubing, snow- and ice-sculpting, a snow-shovel derby and other activities to the Capitol Square this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 2-3.
In conjunction with the festival, Kites on Ice founder Craig Wilson is organizing a last-minute 10th-anniversary reunion on Lake Monona, where he expects between 15 and 20 kite enthusiasts to convene off Monona Terrace. All that on top of competitive and recreational Nordic skiing opportunities familiar from years past, for everyone from elite racers to novices of all ages.
When Gusev launched the Capitol Square Sprints in 2005, he was quick to surround himself with a team of capable people whose commitment sustained the annual event even when the weather proved uncooperative. Among the first on board: Dr. Joseph Cline, UW Hospital emergency room director, and medical engineer Duncan Bathe. As the event's vice president and secretary, they are, Gusev says, "my right and left hands."
The savvy trio recruited dozens of volunteers and sponsors, and it has thrived to such an extent that local philanthropists John and Leslie Taylor issued a $25,000 challenge grant to help push the fourth annual event to this new level.
Among other supporters on board this year: Becker Law, Park Bank, UW Health, Concourse Hotel (which will serve as festival headquarters), Tyrol Basin, Fontana, various Nordic ski and accessory brands, Blackhawk and Madison Nordic ski clubs, the city of Madison and Downtown Madison Inc.
"Once we changed the name," Gusev observes, "it's like somebody kicked open the door."
This year's festival also reaches a new level of symbiosis with the three museums on the Square's State Street corner. The Wisconsin Historical Museum plans to screen three movies in conjunction with the festival - The Birkebeiner Tale, Legends of American Skiing and An Inconvenient Truth - and on Saturday will host a weather-satellite map display and program on snow-crystal formation. The Madison Children's Museum is planning winter science programs and a wintry storytime on Saturday, while the Wisconsin Veterans Museum will offer presentations on "How Soldiers Survived the Cold" and "Cold Weather Combat."
Cold-weather combat of a different sort will take place on this year's 1,000-meter ski course. In an effort to maximize its spectator-friendliness, the snow will be groomed around the southwest half of the Square.
Gusev expects elite Nordic skiers from the Czech Republic, Canada, Switzerland and other powers to compete in the Super Tour races. In addition to open skiing, this year's Nordic action is also scheduled to include races for Special Olympics athletes, Fit City Kids and Seniors participants, high school skiers and citizen men and women.
The Nordic Stadium, Snowshoe Terrain Park and Winter Outdoor Expo will be on Mifflin Street, with the Tubing Hill and Rail Jam Terrain Park on the first block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The tubing hill is new this year, notes Gusev, who expects the snowboard events to be "much more exciting because the ramp will be twice as big as last year - twice as wide, twice as high - and more technical."
Gusev foresees even more. "Our vision," he allows, "is to have this be not just a weekend but nine days." A winter carnival on the scale of the one in St. Paul? Gusev smiles. "It might happen next year," he says. "It might happen in 10 years." Don't bet against it. "We'll start planning for next year on Feb. 4," he says.