Bigger, says Yuriy Gusev. More of almost everything, plus new stuff. That's the gist of the 2011 Madison Winter Festival, according to the event's director and founder.
Since its establishment as a weekend of competitive and recreational cross-country skiing around the Capitol Square, the old Capitol Square Sprints have grown to encompass snowboarding, ice carving, a 5-kilometer run, cyclo-cross, snow-shoeing and other activities befitting a name change to Madison Winter Festival.
Gusev, executive director for the Central Cross Country Ski Association and a member of the festival's 12-member organizing committee, says new additions to this year's event include a 5-kilometer Frosty Dog Jog, two new sledding hills to complement the popular tubing hill of previous years, even an igloo.
Nordic skiing remains a centerpiece for the festival, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20. For the first time in five years, he notes, cross-country ski tracks will be groomed all the way around the Capitol Square for races as well as recreational Nordic skiing. "We have quite a bit more international skiers coming," he says, including "some of the top Swiss women."
Yet Gusev perceives the weekend's diversification to other events as the greatest factor driving the festival's growth. He expects between 30 and 50 snowboarders at the festival's rail jam this year, for example plus another 10 to 15 professional snowboarders.
The two new sledding hills are driven by the popularity of the festival's tubing hill in recent years. One of the new sled hills, he notes, will be located near the Madison Children's Museum, signaling the festival's accommodation of families as well as competitive ski racers and snowboarders. More professional snow and ice carvers are coming, Gusev adds, including one all the way from Italy.
"Tons of people come and watch the ice carving," he observes, also citing the Frosty Five (a five-kilometer run and walk) and the REI snowshoe terrain park among the stronger magnets attracting festival-goers. The igloo -- "a little eight-footer," according to Rutabaga owner Darren Bush, the structure's architect -- promises to stand as yet another attraction, luring visitors to Rutabaga's Winter Playground near West Main Street's intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The festival's familiar features are back: public cross-country skiing, lessons and seminars; snowshoe demos; sit-ski opportunities for people with disabilities; the snow-carving contest and exhibition; the Findorff Tubing Hill; SuperTour and citizen cross-country ski races; and Wisconsin high-school cross-country ski championships.
Some activities are free. Others -- including most of the Nordic ski races, Saturday morning's Frosty 5K Run & Walk and Dog Jog, and Sunday morning's Cyclo Frost bike racing -- require registration.
Sponsored by Movin' Shoes, the Frosty 5K starts and finishes near the Capitol steps, follows a course down State Street, over to the Kohl Center and back up West Washington, is augmented by a Kids' Frosty Run & Walk, and benefits the Fit City Kids program.
The festival as a whole can continue to grow, Gusev contends. "Saturday is a busy day," he observes, "Sunday is a little slower." Organizers are trying to address this by introducing more activities on the east side of the Capitol Square, he notes, to fill in empty spaces and spread out the crowds.
The return of groomed ski tracks all the way around the Capitol Square should also help in this regard, Gusev notes. "The athletes really enjoy to go around the Square," he says, his native Russian syntax overtaking his command of English for a moment, and for casual skiers, "to ski around the Capitol is a remarkable experience."
Grooming snow all the way around the Capitol, he continues, is "a better way to introduce not just cross-country skiing but the joy of winter and getting outdoors in the wintertime."
Gusev does, however, confess to ulterior motives in trying to attract more and more people to the festival. "Selfishly," he admits, "I hope they will all enjoy cross-country skiing one day."