(First published in the January 31, 2019 issue of City Pages)
First it was a lack of snow, then bitter temperatures that messed with Wausau area events, schools, businesses and even the mail
A small number of sledders took rides down the snow sculpture at Winter Fest on the 400 Block Saturday. Attendance was the worst in five years because of the cold
The several inches of snowfall Wausau received last week brought welcome relief to winter sports programs including the Badger State Games; but the subzero temps that followed put a further damper on activities, as schools, businesses and even mail delivery closed in response.
BSG already had to cancel the Nordic skiing and Winter Triathlon scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 26. Though the snow might have allowed the events — Nine Mile Recreation Area opened last week following two snowfalls, for example — organizers canceled to give athletes enough advanced notice, says Badger State Games organizer Nick Ockwig. Bitter cold temperatures over the weekend led organizers to cancel the youth snowmobile races and postpone the trap shooting event.
The lack of snow and cold temperatures have posed difficulties for the Marathon County Parks Dept. to open facilities. Parks staff opened Nine Mile cross country ski trails last Thursday, says Parks Director Jamie Polley; but the course was later closed this week because of the cold. The city of Wausau only recently was able to open the downtown ice rink at the 400 Block just in time for Winter Fest. All other city rinks remained closed, Polley says.
If there’s a silver lining: the closures have led to a 30% increase in indoor ice rink usage, Polley says.
A lack of snow caused similar problems last year, leading to the cancelation or postponement of several winter events. The Snekkevik Ski Race, scheduled for Jan. 12 this year at Nine Mile, has been canceled for the past two years now. Race organizer Jeanne Alexejun says they will keep trying to hold the race, which is the second oldest in Wisconsin. “It’s very frustrating,” Alexejun says.
According to the National Weather Service in Green Bay, roughly 8.6 inches of snow has fallen in the Wausau area in January —far less than the 12.7 inches typical for this time of year.
The subzero temperatures didn’t help Wausau Events’ Winter Fest on Saturday, Jan. 26, which saw far fewer folks braving the cold and the cancelation of numerous parts of the events, including the dog sled pulls, the curling event, and the fat bike demos; and even skating with the Riverwolves hockey team was cut short. A handful of folks skated around the 400 Block rink Saturday, toward afternoon. Even the indoor events saw much sparser attendance than usual.
Acting Wausau Events director Lindsey Lewitzke says Winter Fest’s attendance was the lowest in five years — only an estimated 1,000-1,500. A record 4,000 people attended two years ago, when it was 40 degrees with a foot of snow, Lewitzke says.
Subzero temperatures continued into the week, with several businesses closing on Wednesday, and some even earlier. UWSP canceled classes through most of the week, K-12 schools closed Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and most businesses in downtown Wausau closed Wednesday when temperatures hit -26. Even the U.S. Postal Service suspended delivery to most of the Midwest.