Winter Carnival

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Bryce Richter

When frigid temperatures have settled in and sunny skies are rare, what could bring UW students out of their homework-induced hibernation for some frozen fun?

That’s the puzzle that the Wisconsin Hoofers solved when the student group took over the university’s Winter Carnival in 1940, drawing the campus community together for ice sculpture contests, a ski jump, and a Snow Ball.

Skate cabarets and broom hockey were among the events on deck for the first few carnivals, when organizers flooded the Terrace to create a makeshift ice rink. The Central Ski Association hosted an official championship meet each year — and if Madison snow was in short supply, more was shipped in on railroad boxcars from northern Wisconsin.

Those were the days when much of the student body could fit into one large building for an all-school dance — but as the university’s population rapidly expanded in the decades since, the carnival itself has kept pace, adding new activities and developing twists on old ones to keep students engaged.

Bryce Richter

Now cohosted by Hoofers, Recreational Sports, and the Wisconsin Union, last winter’s carnival boasted a broomball tournament, a make-your-own-kite event, nighttime fireworks over Lake Mendota, and human bowling, with students sitting in inflatable tubes that sail across the ice to knock over giant inflatable bowling pins.

And in a nod to the carnival’s beginnings, Hoofer Ski and Snowboard Club hosts the annual Rail Jam, where several hundred students gather at the top of Observatory Hill to cheer on classmates who attempt daring tricks on a ski jump.

Bryce Richter

“The goal of Winter Carnival has always been to encourage everybody to go out and have fun in the winter,” says Yiqun Ma x’19, who organized last year’s event for Hoofers.

Ma says he hopes to push the envelope further for carnivals to come and experiment with activities that were “not possible logistically or technologically back in the day,” such as hosting a live concert on the ice.

But no matter the decade, Winter Carnival provides a yearly excuse to bundle up — maybe don a cozy red Wisconsin hat — and go play outside.

Tags: Campus history, sports, Student life, Tradition

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