For cross country skiers in Madison, winter can prove a fickle friend.
Snowfalls are often inconsistent, and when it does fall, a few days of above-freezing temperatures can quickly ruin groomed trails.
But in welcome news for local cross-country skiers, plans are quickly taking shape to make snow at Elver Park to provide a guaranteed venue for lessons, racing and outdoor winter recreation.
Snowmaking at the west-side park would begin as the weather allows, possibly by early December. The goal is to create a 1.5-kilometer loop of manmade snow running from the shelter building past the sledding hill and around the soccer fields. The trail would be open to anyone holding a valid Madison/Dane County parks ski pass, which costs adults $7 a day or $30 a year.
The snowmaking effort is connected with plans to relocate the Madison Winter Festival from the Capitol Square to Elver Park in February. Held each year since 2005, the festival would continue to feature cross country skiing, ice sculpture, sledding and other events without the need to truck snow downtown.
For the past several years, organizers of the Winter Festival have made big piles of artificial snow near Willow Island at Alliant Energy Center, trucked it downtown on Friday night for the weekend events and then plowed it all away by Monday morning.
“Now, instead of just using that snow for only two days, we can provide skiing all winter while still having the festival,” says Yuriy Gusev, director of the Madison-based Central Cross Country Ski Association (CXC) and founder of the Madison Winter Festival.
While moving the Winter Festival away from downtown will end the thrill of skiing around the Square, officials say the Elver Park venue is well-suited to a family-friendly event. The Parks Commission must still approve the move to Elver, but there seems little opposition from city staff.
“We are excited to see this fun, vibrant event come to Elver Park and the [west] side,” says assistant parks superintendent Charlie Romines. “Elver offers everything you could want for winter fun, from skating to serene ski trails, and, of course, the giant sledding hill. With plenty of parking and easy access right off the Beltline, we think the Winter Festival is going to enjoy its new home.”
Snowmaking for both cross country skiing and sledding at Elver Park has been in the plans for the city’s Parks Division for nearly a decade. The city even purchased two large snow fans and other equipment, but discovered it didn’t have the staff resources or expertise to make it work.
Meanwhile, snowmaking for cross country skiing has taken off at numerous other venues in the upper Midwest, including a half-dozen parks in the Twin Cities and the popular state Department of Natural Resources-maintained trail at Lapham Peak outside of Milwaukee.
At Elver Park, snowmaking duties will be handled by CXC in conjunction with the Madison Nordic Ski Club, which will use the manmade loop to offer lessons to the public and run its various other programs.
The city will continue to provide grooming for skiing at Elver Park and its half-dozen other maintained trails when natural snow falls. The city is also providing the water and electricity for snowmaking, along with use of Elver’s shelter building.
“Madison has invested considerable resources into making Elver Park a year-round destination for outdoor recreation,” says Jen Sereno, president of the Madison Nordic Ski Club. “Holding Winter Fest at the park will help make the event accessible to the surrounding neighborhoods and perhaps attract new families to cross country skiing and other winter outdoor activities.”
Snowmaking at Elver Park is the latest positive development for cross country skiing in Madison, which last year saw the opening of the University Ridge Golf Course as a 20-kilometer groomed trail system.
Outside of the Twin Cities, Madison provides the largest number of participants for the annual American Birkebeiner ski marathon, the largest cross country ski event in the U.S. Some 2,000 area skiers and their families make the trek north each year for the Birkie and its sister race, the Kortelopet.