Weeks of unseasonable warmth and the absence of natural snow on the ground conspired to make things difficult for organizers of this year's Capitol Square Sprints. So they brought in a couple of big snow guns and pumped more than 400,000 gallons of water through them to create a 56-hour micro-blizzard on the Alliant Energy Center grounds. Piled as deep as 14 feet, the resulting snowdrifts were trucked to the Capitol and groomed for the third annual Nordic skiing extravaganza.
Snow problem? No problem.
The organizers of the Capitol Square Sprints are the sort of people who view difficulties as opportunities. Recognizing that they would not have enough man-made snow to groom a full one-kilometer cross-country ski course all the way around the Capitol as they had in past years, they conceived a shorter, wider layout modeled on an elite World Cup cross-country course in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Extending from Carroll Street near West Washington Avenue to Main Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the result was a spectator-friendly 500-meter track with tight roundabouts at either end that would pose new technical challenges to recreational and competitive skiers alike.
Friday evening, as snow arrived by the truckload, you could feel the temperature drop. Each truck deposited an avalanche. More than 60 avalanches occurred in the space of a couple hours, each contributing to the micro-climate shift.
By 7:30 a.m. Saturday, half an hour after the start of open skiing, dozens of snow-starved cross-country skiers were already taking advantage of the opportunity to stride and glide in the shadow of the Capitol dome. Recreational skiers and families mixed with competitive skiers who were scouting the course and warming up for a weekend of racing.
One of the marvels of the Capitol Square Sprints is the event's accommodation of first-time cross-country skiers, elite athletes and almost every level between - kids, seniors, people with disabilities, high school teams, veteran citizens racers.
Minnesota and northern Wisconsin skiers dominated in many competition categories, but Madison and Dane County athletes overcame their early-winter snow deficit to post good showings in some races. The Madison 2 team advanced to the finals of the boys open high school 3x1-kilometer relay, finishing sixth. In the citizens' 5K freestyle event, Madison's Katie Stalland skate-skied to third in the women's advanced classification, while six men with local ties placed among the top nine in the men's advanced division.
The competition built toward Sunday's SuperTour finals, featuring the weekend's most accomplished Nordic ski racers. Now skiing for Northern Michigan University, Madison native Ben Cline had the home spectators cheering him on in the men's SuperTour classic sprint semis but failed to advance to the men's A final, finishing third in the B race.
The citizens/masters 5K classic race brought the weekend's competition to a close. Then the course was opened for snowshoeing.
That evening, a storm front moved in and several inches of snow fell, as if in approval.