First, there was snow. The first of this winter worth skiing on or shoveling. A modest two or three inches courtesy of Friday's storm, followed by enough sustained chill to keep it on the ground and lure sledders to local hills throughout the weekend.
Then, at the UW Memorial Union, an even bigger sign that winter is upon us: the Hoofer Ski & Snowboard Club's 43rd annual resale.
One measure of the resale's significance: When the doors opened at 9 a.m. Saturday, an estimated 300 people were waiting in line. There was still a line three hours later. By mid-afternoon the line was gone, but scores of shoppers were still perusing the snowboard, Alpine and Nordic ski selections for bargains.
"We're on pace to match last year's sales," observed assistant resale director Mo Martin outside the snowboard room, where new and used Burton, Rossignol, Morrow and other boards were priced from as low as $25 up into the mid-three figures. A percentage of sales go to the Hoofer Ski and Snowboard Club, helping to support its Alpine and Nordic ski teams and other programs.
In addition to 179 individuals who brought in snowboards, skis, boots, bindings and apparel to re-sell, a dozen retailers were on hand with new and used gear from their stores around the state.
In the Alpine ski room, where you could find a pair of $900 planks for one-third that price, John Timm from Extreme Ski & Bike in Thiensville was keeping an eye on his sales. "Pretty much everything has been going good," he reported, noting strong sales for the Dalbello downhill ski boots he'd brought to the bonanza.
"A lot of this stuff is brought in specifically for the resale," Timm noted, explaining the deep discounts he was offering on both downhill and cross-country skis. "It might be closeouts from last year, or overstocks that we want to clear out of our store," he added, as well as last year's rental skis.
David Gryboski of Lakewood Ski & Sport drove down from northern Wisconsin with a load of Alpine and Nordic gear. He, too, noted strong Alpine boot sales. "The boot is arguably the most important part of the system," he explained.
Looking around at all the inventory in the Alpine ski room, Gryboski said that when he arrived to set up his gear before the show, the sheer volume of skis overall "had me kind of worried in terms of getting a smaller slice of the pie, but it seems to be going well." Friday's snow, he suggested, "helped quite a bit."
Gryboski was also talking up the Nicolet National Forest's 22-kilometer Lakewood Cross-Country Ski Trail during the resale, noting that his shop was only a mile or two from the trailhead.
By the time the resale drew to a close late Sunday afternoon, the numbers bore out Martin's projections from the day before. Total sales came to $253,000 - a mere $5,000 shy of last year's record tally - according to assistant resale director Ben Creagh. He estimated that 2,300 shoppers came to the resale, making 1,185 purchases.
Those kinds of numbers suggest a healthy confidence in prospects for snow. But these are not the only harbingers of winter. Lake Monona was steaming on Monday morning - surrendering heat in anticipation of freezing over. By the next morning, there was a narrow border of slushy ice all along the northeast shoreline.