By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jan 23, 2005 at 5:39 AM

{image1} Once a year, the Wausau area becomes the Salt Lake City of Wisconsin winter sports athletes as it hosts the Badger State Games.

The finals in this year's Games will be held in the Wausau area Feb. 4-6. Competition in youth hockey, archery and bowling will go on at 11 locations in the state Jan. 28-29.

Badger State weekend in Wausau has become a true winter festival, from the opening ceremonies, which will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, to the various activities around town. Competitors and spectators can enjoy themselves in what has become the biggest Olympic-style winter sports festival in the United States.

"The Badger State Winter Games have become a winter tradition," says executive director Ron Vincent. "We are looking forward to providing another year of great competition and fun for all ages and skill levels. We are proud the Badger State Winter Games is the largest multiple winter sport festival in the nation."

Wausau hosted the first Badger State Winter Games in 1989. The Summer Games already had been established for four years by that time. Wisconsin was the 16th state to join the National Congress of State Games, set up to promote participation in sports by people of all ages and abilities.

Some wondered if the winter sports would be as popular as the summer events. The first Winter Games featured five sports and drew 1,633 competitors. In some of the early years, especially those when snow was lacking, the Games struggled.

But, they gradually grew, and when the Wisconsin Sports Development Corp. took over the operations, they really took off. A 10-year contract to hold the Games in the Wausau area was finalized in 2000, so the festival has been assured of an annual home for years to come.

Wausau benefits to the tune of about $2.6 million in tourism and other revenue because of the Games, according to official estimates.

Last year, 4,123 athletes competed in 14 sports over two weekends in Wausau and central Wisconsin. Many of those athletes competed in more than one event for a total of 6,067 competitors vying for more than 1,000 medals.

"The Games (last year) were a great success," says Ryan Richards, vice president of operations for the WSDC. "We had a record number of teams in adult hockey, while indoor archery and bowling had impressive numbers in their first year and were great new additions to the Games."

The additions of non-weather dependent sports like bowling, indoor archery and freestyle skiing were made to increase the economic impact of the Badger State Games on the Wausau area especially during lean snow years. These new sports added more than 300 participants to the Games.

At the time of the writing, the Wausau area had plenty of snow this year, so all sports should have decent conditions. In addition to the sports already mentioned, competition is held in Alpine skiing, curling, figure skating, Nordic skiing, Quadrathlon, ski jumping, snowboarding, snowshoe racing and speed skating.

Each sport has divisions of competition. So, competitors can range from virtual beginners to quite accomplished athletes. It's not as much about winning and losing at the Badger State Games as it is about participation in a variety of winter events.

The Wausau area has venues to handle all these sports. Alpine skiing is held at Granite Peak in the Rib Mountain State Park. Ski jumping is at the Iola Winter Sports Ski Jumping Complex. Nordic skiing is at Nine Mile Forest Ski Trails in the Town of Rib Mountain, and snowboarding is at Cascade Mountain in Portage.

Skating competitions are held at Marathon Park in Wausau and Greenheck Center in Schofield. Hundreds of volunteers work at these events to help competitors.

If you're not competing in the Games, but still want to get in on the fun there are plenty of other activities. The festivities start in Wausau with an opening ceremony party at Cedar Creek Village from 5:30 until 7 p.m.

In addition to the competition, a boat and sport show will be held at the Cedar Creek Village. There also will be a sidewalk sale, snow sculpting and winter games not of the Badger State variety.

If you prefer the indoors, you can watch two Olympics movies -- "Miracle" about the legendary U.S. hockey team that beat the Russians and "Cool Runnings" about the Jamaican bobsled team.

An indoor golf range and batting cages can be found in a dome, just in case you are thinking more about outdoor sports during warmer times of the year.

Wausau Insurance Companies presents the Badger State Winter Games. Major sponsors are American Family Insurance, BP, Charter Communications, Ho-Chunk Nation, Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Saint Joseph's Hospital, Marshfield, with additional help from and the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Wisconsin Sports Development Corp. is a nonprofit sports management organization that helps develop sports tourism in Wisconsin and promotes positive lifestyles and physical fitness through amateur athletic events and health education programs. WSDC owns the Badger State Games, the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, Shape Up Wisconsin Kids, Lighten Up Wisconsin and the Fit Kids Challenge. WSDC is also the local host of Ironman Wisconsin.

The Badger State Games Web site is or call (608) 226-4780.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.