When the wintery flakes start to fall most people pack up their sports gear and let the season run its course before going outside to play. In Ashland, WI they have a different approach to the winter than most, when the freeze sets in they set up a race from their town to another, Washburn, WI. Midwest Meetings got the chance to ask some questions of Laurence Wiland who is on the Book Across the Bay (BATB) Race Committee, “The event got started 20 years ago as a fundraiser for a couple local groups…lots of groups put on fundraisers, and we were trying to come up with something a little different and unique. One of our original group members had seen an evening event somewhere that used candlelit ice luminaries, and thought that it would be pretty cool to use those to set the mood.”
Starting that first year with just around 350 participants, they have grown to an abominable size, Wiland said, “[the] turnout is obviously pretty weather-dependent, but in our biggest year (three to four years ago I think) we had around 3,800 participants.” The event is entirely volunteer run so it can be quite a task to organize that amount of racers.
In order to draw in the best volunteers for the tough jobs the committee came up with another great idea. Wiland told us they “‘graded’ the jobs according to how hard we thought they were, and then assigned a grant amount to that job. The amount is a percentage of the proceeds.” Depending on how well the event goes the grants can be fairly sizable, but if bad weather rolls in or the race is a bit lean then, as Wiland puts it, “We don’t lose our shirts and everybody shares in the lean times.”
Other events have started piggybacking off of the BATB crew which is only helping create more interest, “Our hands are full pulling off the main event – the 10K ski and snowshoe ‘race.’ We have also always featured a big party afterwards, with live music, dancing, food, fireworks, etc…Earlier in the day on race day, Solstice Outdoors (a local outdoor/adventure outfitter) puts on a free kids ski race. They use our tent and we groom a course for them.” Getting the kids involved is a great way to get parents at the events to participate, or, at least, find a way to keep warm like enjoying some nice hot food or drinks. Willard told us, “We do welcome other like-minded groups who might want to organize other experiences or events around ours and make race day – into maybe even an entire weekend.”
BATB is planning on keeping things steady, Wiland said, “It is not a competitive race, but rather a very unique experience that gets people outside at night…full of unique winter experiences that bring people together up here.” Keeping the community at the front of the race is the most important to all the volunteers. So when the flakes start to fall, rather than hunker down and hibernate, this town opens its doors and books it across the bay.