Historic run carries the games torch

(First published in the January 16, 2020 issue of City Pages)

Badger State Games kicked off with a multi-county snowmobile torch ride, just like the first winter games three decades ago


From left, Badger State Games Director Nick Ockwig, Marathon County Motorized Recreation Coordinator Mitchell Fox, and Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs Director Wayde Kreager, at the Trailmates Snowmobile Club in Maine, where the torch run for the Badger State Games began.

The 31st Badger State Winter games this year kicked off with a snowmobile torch run that spanned several northern counties in homage to the very first winter games.

Badger State Games Director Nick Ockwig teamed up with others on snowmobiles leaving Wausau on Thursday morning, Jan. 16. The run concluded at the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby Complex in Eagle River, which hosted the games’ Kitty Kat snowmobile races on a track alongside the world championships.

The torch ride is an homage to the ride that kicked off the first winter games 31 years ago, and featured then Gov. Tommy Thompson, who drove the torch via snowmobile from Madison to Marathon Park to light it.

This year’s ride was not planned far in advance, but came together very quickly, Ockwig says. He first contacted Russ Davis, owner of the Eagle River Derby, to host the Kitty Kat snowmobiles races while Wausau 525 remodels its tracks. While on a visit to the grounds, Ockwig joked with Davis while looking at a photo of Thompson’s snowmobile run: Wouldn’t it be cool to repeat that? By the time Ockwig left Eagle River that day, Davis had pretty much organized the entire run.

The run started at the Trailmates Snowmobile Club in the village of Maine, then went to Merrill, Tomahawk, Hazelhurst, Minocqua/Woodruff and Arbor Vitae, and continued on to Sayner, St. Germain and concluded in Eagle River, where the ceremonial caldron was be lit. The ride covered 150 miles, eight stops and 12 snowmobile clubs, Ockwig says. It kicked off the 31st Winter Games, featuring more than two dozen events, with several events already kicking off last weekend. 

And the revived torch run came at a good time — because this year there’s enough snow on the ground to do it. Last year several events such as the Nordic skiing event and the new winter triathlon were cancelled. This year snow has been on the ground since early December and trails in Zone 1 of Marathon County opened last week, according to Marathon County Motorized Recreation Coordinator Mitchell Fox.

This year weather is unlikely to cancel any events, which should help boost the area economy.

“I think with Nordic, we had to cancel three out of the last five years,” Ockwig says. “When we bring in 500 to 600 skiers, that’s a big impact.”