This weekend's Madison Winter Festival promises to take the Capitol Square Sprints to a new level of wonderment. Built on the foundations of cross-country ski racing, the fourth annual celebration brings a plethora of complementary activities to the Capitol Square this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 2-3.
Launched in 2005 by Yuriy Gusev, the visionary executive director of the Central Cross Country Ski Association who first made his mark here as program director for the Russian Style Ski School, the Nordic events have since given rise to a broad menu of snowshoeing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoveling, ice and snow sculptures and other wintry pursuits.
Gusev trumpets the weekend as a "unique setup, because we provide the opportunity for the community to have all these activities in one weekend." The schedule includes opportunities for beginners of all ages to try cross-country skiing, as well as racing opportunities for elite, high school, citizen and Special Olympics athletes.
The weekend's schedule promises to be as friendly to families as it is to spectators and winter enthusiasts. Among the late additions to the schedule:
- Kites on Ice founder Craig Wilson is organizing a scaled-down revival of the spectacle on the 10th anniversary of the event's launch, with some 20 kite enthusiasts expected to gather on Lake Monona off Monona Terrace for the first time since the event was discontinued three years ago. This will run from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
- Kids will be invited to carve sculptures out of several blocks of snow, while adult snow-sculpture teams will be working from blocks of snow measuring four feet by four by eight.
- On the first block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a new tubing hill is being introduced and plans call for the snowboarding terrain park to be twice as big as last year's -- and more technical.
Gusev and other festival organizers have collaborated with the three museums at the Capitol's State Street corner to coordinate programs with the festival.
- The Wisconsin Historical Museum's participation in the festival includes plans to show three movies: The Birkebeiner Tale, Legends of American Skiing and An Inconvenient Truth. It will also be serving free hot chocolate, display hand-carved ice-fishing decoys, invite visitors to participate in the Native American "snow-snake" game and on Saturday host a meteorological display of weather-satellite maps and demonstration of snow-crystal formation.
- The Madison Children's Museum has scheduled drop-in winter science programs from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday and a winter story time at 2 p.m. the same day, with free admission and more activities on Sunday. An ice sculpture exhibition will be sited on the plaza outside the children's museum starting at noon on Saturday.
- The Wisconsin Veterans Museum, on the other side of the plaza from the children's museum, will host two programs on Saturday: "How Soldiers Survived the Cold," an interactive family program, at 10:30 a.m.; and "Seven Weeks, Seven Wars, Seven Objects: Cold Weather Combat," a lecture, discussion and display of artifacts by Wisconsin Veterans Museum curator Jeff Kollath, at 1:30 p.m.
A few paces northeast on Mifflin Street, a Winter Outdoor Expo will be open from noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, leading festivalgoers toward the Nordic stadium and Snowshoe Terrain Park at Wisconsin Avenue. This expo features numerous activities:
- The Snowshoe Terrain Park will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. both days, with free admission and free snowshoe rentals available.
- Across the Capitol Square at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the tubing hill will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with free admission.
- Adjacent to the tubing hill, the Tyrol Basin snowboard park will open from noon-4:30 p.m. and 7:15-9:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday, measuring 16 feet high and 32 feet long with a 20-foot rail and other features. Admission: $10 for 45 minutes. The Tyrol Avalanche Rail Jam Contest starts at 5 p.m. Saturday for snowboards and 2 p.m. Sunday for twin-tip entrants, with an entry fee of $30.
- The 1,000-meter cross-country skiing course will be groomed half-way around the Capitol Square, starting and finishing at Wisconsin Avenue with a turn-around at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
- Volunteers and adaptive equipment will be available from 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-1 p.m. Sunday to facilitate the weekend's free Disabled Ski Program.
- Ice sculpture carving is scheduled for noon-4 p.m. Saturday, with the resulting works exhibited from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. The snow sculpting competition and exhibition are scheduled for the same hours.
- Fit City Seniors invite people 55 years and older to bring their classic-style cross-country skis to traverse the course between 6-8:45 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with admission at reduced rates.
- Admission to open cross-country skiing costs $10 per day, with the hours of 6-8:45 a.m. reserved for classic technique both days, and skating technique designated for 10 p.m.-midnight Saturday and starting at 6 p.m. Sunday.
- The classic cross-country ski tracks open to Fit City Kids from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, with kids invited to ski with three-time Russian Olympic gold medalist Nina Gavrilyuk during those hours. Kids are invited to stick around for the opportunity to race Gavrilyuk and some of the fastest skiers in the U.S. once around the classic course starting at 1:30 p.m.
- Park Bank clients and Madison Winter Festival sponsors are scheduled to vie for bragging rights to the Corporate Challenge 3x1-kilometer Snowshoeing Relay between 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.
- The Snowshoeing Terrain Park will be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. both days, with free admission.
A rigorous schedule of Nordic ski racing extends throughout the weekend, with races for elite SuperTour athletes, high-school skiers, Special Olympics participants and citizens in both the classic and skating disciplines, with entry fees varying.
A complete schedule, program, maps and more specifics about this weekend's activities are provided by the Madison Winter Festival.