WAUSAU, Wis. - In celebrating the 20th annual Badger State Winter Games, organizers have added snowmobiling and shooting to the nearly 20 Olympic-style competitions taking place over the next two weekends.
And unlike in recent years, warm weather and a lack of snow shouldn't be an issue.
"These are the best conditions in the past, at least, three to four years," spokeswoman Jessica Gammey said. "We are encouraged by the forecast and the snowfall."
The games, one of the nation's largest Olympic-style winter sports festivals, are expected to attract nearly 5,000 competitors in 18 events at 28 venues, many in the Wausau area and central Wisconsin, Gammey said.
This year for the first time, a motorized sport - youth snowmobile racing - and a gun sport - trap and skeet shooting - have been added. Gammey said that has allowed the games to expand their audience without losing their charm.
"You have added events. You have made people part of the games who weren't formerly part of it. You have really expanded it from just an outdoor event," she said. "We change with the times."
For example, for the first time, long-track speed skaters will compete at the Pettit National Ice Center in West Allis, near Milwaukee. Nearly 100 competitors had signed up, compared with 30 a year ago when the races were in Wausau, Gammey said.
About 40 youth ages 4-13 signed up to compete in snowmobile racing on a frozen lake near Wausau, said organizer Candi Wagner of rural Marshfield. Snowmobiles for the youngest competitors travel up to 14 mph.
Adding the motorized competition to the games made sense, Wagner said.
"It is another winter sport," she said. "I am just excited that it is looked at as a sport. We are all snowmobile enthusiasts and honored to be part of this."
Trap and skeet shooting have been part of the summer games for 20 years, said Lee Bilke of Spring Green, the commissioner for the event.
But shooting clay targets with shotguns belongs in the winter games, too, because it is a 12-month sport, he said.
The games started 20 years ago as a one-weekend winter celebration that allowed people to compete on the snow and ice in the Olympic tradition, complete with a torch-lighting ceremony.
Today, the torch-lighting ceremony is gone, and the games have expanded to include events such as bowling, indoor soccer for girls, badminton, indoor archery and billiards. The games also are now officially called the American Family Insurance Badger State Games in honor of their sponsor.
Wausau had 12 inches of snow on the ground Friday, another day of subzero cold, the National Weather Service said. Since Dec. 1, Wausau has received 30.8 inches of snow - 7 inches more than normal and nearly double what was on the ground a year ago.
But a warm-up was forecast for early next week, with temperatures reaching the mid-30s and the possibility of rain, meteorologist Teri Egger said.
"It might make an icy coating on top," she said.
The games attracted a record 6,391 competitors in 2001 with far fewer events that took place on one weekend. Warm weather has been blamed for dramatically reducing the turnout in recent years as some events had to be canceled.
The Wisconsin Sports Development Corp. budgets about $500,000 to organize and promote the winter games, raising the money mostly through corporate sponsorships and competitor entry fees, Gammey said.