Celebrating Winter – Festival brings out warm smiles in cool weather

Team Bloody Mary celebrates after scoring a goal against the Ice Holes on Saturday during the 2012 Winterfest Broomball Tournament in Virginia City. Photo by Ben Coulter

VIRGINIA CITY – The harsh weather that swept across the southwest Montana landscape last weekend didn’t deter the Madison County community from showing up in Virginia City for the 2012 Winterfest.

More than a few locals came out of the woodwork to participate in friendly competition ranging from sled races and broomball to cross cut log sawing and dog wheelbarrow races.

The highlight of the weekend was the broomball tournament, which began on Friday evening with seven teams and carried on into Sunday afternoon. The tournament format allows for six players on the ice at a time with a minimum of two women per team, and two 20-minute periods with a 10 minute break in between. Referee Skip Hissong was a first-time official for last year’s tournament, and he volunteered to work the whistle again this year.

Alinon Arpin (right) celebrates with Team Bloody Mary during the 2012 Winterfest Broomball Tournament in Virginia City. Photo by Ben Coulter

“It’s not hockey, but it is hockey,” Hissong said while eating a hot dog during halftime of one of Saturday’s games.

“It’s a great winter break, because winter can be long and ugly here,” he continued. “You got people from all over the Ruby Valley and Ennis and even beyond that come out and enjoy and have a good time.”

While the atmosphere at the broomball tournament remained friendly throughout the weekend, the underlying spirit of competition managed to show itself once or twice. Great and not-so-great feats of athleticism were displayed by young and old alike as players dove, slid and sprawled across the ice, frantically waving their broomsticks at the game ball affectionately nicknamed Wilson.

When a severe snowstorm arrived Saturday afternoon, spectators and competitors alike filtered their way from the ice rink at the city park to the Pioneer Bar to get out of the weather and warm up. Many people took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a hot (or cold) beverage inside before heading back out for the two-man log sawing competition.

Virginia City resident and event organizer Joanne Erdall has helped out with Winterfest since its inception, and she said the highlight of the weekend is just getting people to come out and enjoy each other’s company.

“We see each other every year at the same event, and it’s really fun,” Erdall said.

Three-year-old broomball enthusiast Pete Kelley takes in the action from the sidelines of the annual broomball tournament in Virginia City on Saturday. Photo by Ben Coulter

Particularly popular at this year’s Winterfest was the dog-in-a-wheelbarrow race, which is exactly what it sounds like. After the race was postponed Saturday because of the weather, spectators lined up on Main Street on Sunday to watch four heats of three competitors each race a block down the street, from the Pioneer Bar to the Dudley Garage.

Erdall said this year’s race was a huge success. “I know that one will be coming back,” she said. “It turned out great, and the winner got a case of beer.”

Regardless of what a their agenda was, the 2012 Virginia City Winterfest was a great way for people to get outside and beat the cabin fever that inevitably sets in this time of year. Whether they were a seven-year-old running in the sled races or a 60-year-old trying not to slip and fall on the broomball court, everyone there had a good time.

Broomball tournament ref Skip Hissong summed up the weekend as he finished his hot dog before heading back out to officiate the second half of a Saturday afternoon game.

“They’re all fun to watch, and anything can happen in something as goofy as this,” he said.

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