Before you plop down on the couch to watch great world athletes compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, why not try out some cold-weather sports yourself?

This weekend promises great possibilities to ski, skate, sled and maybe attempt something you’ve never done before — like hopping on a sleigh ride, sliding a curling stone, cross-country skiing with a dog tied to your waist or racing a bicycle on a snow-packed course.

Not one but two outdoor celebrations are on tap in Madison: The Frozen Assets festival, kicking off Friday and sponsored by the Clean Lakes Alliance on Lake Mendota; and Madison Winter Festival, based in Elver Park and running both Saturday and Sunday.

Both festivals are free and designed for all ages, with plenty of chances to be a competitor, a spectator, or a total novice. Both events are designed to celebrate that beautiful, frigid, thrilling fourth season – winter — as only Madison can.

The details:

Frozen Assets

When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday

Where: On Lake Mendota, with events starting at the Edgewater Hotel, 1001 Wisconsin Place.

Highlights: Many events take place on the lake – not on the lakeshore, mind you, but on the actual frozen waters of Lake Mendota.

That includes Kites on Mendota (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday), a display of huge, imaginative kites framed against the winter sky; a curling sheet with the chance to try out one of the world’s oldest team sports; pond hockey games; and the Madison Capitols slapshot competition, hosted by Madison’s professional hockey team.

A planned Fat Bike Race and 5K run/walk had to be canceled because of slick ice – and no snow cover. Instead, visitors will be able to see ice boats from across the Midwest compete on the lake in the 43rd Nite National Championships (

Festival-goers can peer into an ice lab set up by the UW-Madison Center for Limnology from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The Edgewater ice rink will feature a speed skating demo from 11:45 a.m. -12:15 p.m. with Olympic Gold Medalist Casey FitzRandolph, and a figure-skating performance from 1:30-2 p.m. by the Figure Skating Club of Madison.

Saturday’s offerings also include sleigh rides from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; face painting from 10:30 to 3 p.m.; a ballet show by Central Madison Ballet at 11 a.m.; and a kids’ sled pull from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A display of the Historic Mary B ice boat, snowshoeing, hot chocolate and s’mores will be available throughout the weekend. A sold-out fundraiser – this year called Mendota Vice (and with a Madison-meets-Miami theme) – takes place Saturday night.

Cost: Festival admission is free. Some competitive events carry a fee.

Full schedule:

Mission: Now in its fourth year, the Frozen Assets festival celebrates the fact that one of Madison’s greatest attributes – its lakes – can be enjoyed year ‘round. Last year the three-day festival drew an estimated 6,000 people and raised more than $150,000 for the Clean Lakes Alliance, a not-for-profit organization devoted to improving the water quality of the lakes, streams, and wetlands of the Yahara River watershed.

Madison Winter Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday

Where: Elver Park, 1250 McKenna Blvd., on Madison’s Southwest Side.

Highlights: Yuriy Gusev, event organizer for the Madison Winter Festival, says that the festival really “began” on Dec. 10 – the day that ski trails and the sledding hill at Elver Park opened with machine-made snow. The snow was made possible by equipment, supplies and labor from the festival itself, Central Cross Country Ski Association, Madison Nordic Ski Club and volunteers. Even with the ups and downs of temperatures this season, that snow has provided plenty of winter fun at Elver Park for nearly two months.

Trails will be topped off with fresh snow before this weekend’s events, which include a non-competitive cross-country ski tour called the Ice Age Challenge Tour (8-9 a.m. Saturday), the Frosty 1.5 Mile Dog Jog/Walk (9:30-10:30 a.m.), the Frosty Kids Fun Run (10:30-10:50 a.m.), and a Candlelight Ski & Snowshoe Tour (7:30-9 p.m.). The Movin’ Shoes 5K Run/Walk (participants $25) also takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Among the competitive events are the 5K Ice Age Challenge (9:30-10:15 a.m.) and the 15K/22.5K Ice Age Challenge (10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.), both cross-country ski races. The Wisconsin High School State Championships cross-country ski race runs 2:30-7:30 p.m.

On Sunday, the Fatbike Big Cheese Race starts at 4:30 p.m. ($25; register by 11:59 p.m. Friday).

Sunday’s activities also include a Skijoring Clinic and Fun Race (cross-country skiing with a dog) from 8-10 a.m., a free cross-country ski clinic from 10-11:30 a.m., the 3K-5K Snowshoe Scurry snowshoe race at 11 a.m. ($30), and the Wisconsin High School State Championships cross-country ski race from 12:30-3 p.m.

A kids’ activity corner, sledding, ice skating, ice hockey, cross-country skiing, ice games, snow carving and a bonfire with hot cocoa run 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Cost: Admission is free. Timed races carry a fee; day-of registrations are available for most paid events. Cross-country ski equipment and ice skate rentals are available to the public through Madison Parks concessions at Elver Park. Hourly ski rentals are $9 adults, $5 youth; ski permit required. Ice skate rentals are $2-6; sleds are $2 an hour; sit-skis are $9 adults or $5 youth per hour.

Full schedule:

Mission: Founded in 2005 and now in its second year at Elver Park, the Madison Winter Festival is a community celebration of winter recreation, outdoor sports, art and healthy lifestyles.

There is plenty of winter fun to go around, said Madison Winter Festival’s Gusev, who welcomes the idea of the Frozen Assets festival happening the same weekend.

“Madison’s a big city,” he said. “My dream would be that every park would celebrate winter on the same day all over the city. A day when everybody comes outside, and celebrates winter.”


Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.