Every winter when the temperature drops and West Lake Okoboji freezes over, the fictional University of Okoboji comes to life to offer an abundance of winter fun. It all started with a couple of local guys hosting a broomball tournament in 1981 and has since grown into a weekend winter festival that attracts ten of thousands of Midwesterners each year for a variety of outdoor and indoor activities.
The Okoboji Winter Games are held annually in late-January. Here are some of the best activities to take part in during the festivities:
1. See the snowmen
Each year, area residents spend the week leading up to the games building snowmen to be showcased in the snowman building contest, decorating them to fit into one of four categories such as best traditional snowman, best snow creature, funniest creation and best superhero. Visitors can view the wacky creations for themselves at Okoboji Boat Works.
2. Go ice skating
After checking out the snowmen, grab a pair of $5 skates and test your skills on the ice. This fun activity is ongoing throughout the weekend so you can do it when it suits your schedule.
3. Drink a West O Cozy
Named the official University of Okoboji Winter Games beer, West O Cozy is a must-try for all visitors. Created by West O Brewing, this blackberry lager can be found both on tap and in six-pack cans in the West O tasting room.
4. Taste and vote on your favorite chili
This event offers the perfect opportunity to showcase your treasured chili-making skills or simply try some of the area’s best chili recipes. The themed competition attracts over 2,000 attendees each year who purchase mugs and work their way through the samples before casting their votes for their favorites.
5. Go sledding at Arnolds Park
Embrace your inner child or entertain your kids with a visit to the sledding hill at Arnolds Park. Grab your boots, coats and a sled to enjoy the snow and race your friends and family down the slope.
6. Get active with a 5K or Snowga
Nothing fights the cold better than a walk or run. Participate in the Freaky Fast 5k, which includes divisions for all ages and skill levels, for the chance to win a medal or door prize. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, join Yoga Okoboji for "Snowga" at Arnolds Park. Be sure to dress warm and bring your own mat or snag one of the extras.
7. Watch or play in a winter tournament
With an abundance of indoor and outdoor tournaments held throughout the weekend, anyone can embrace their competitive side. Test your aim with the axe throwing tournament, slip and slide your way through a broomball game, join a flag football or indoor volleyball team, try out human foosball or compete in yard games like bean bag toss or keg toss. If competing isn’t for you, help the cheerleaders in encouraging your favorite athletes from the sidelines.
8. Watch or participate in the Polar Plunge
One of the main staples of the event, the Polar Plunge presents the perfect chance to test your bravery or simply witness that of others. Bring a towel and a sense of courage and jump into West Lake Okoboji’s frozen waters. Proceeds from the event benefit the Arnolds Park Okoboji Fire & Rescue Department, whose volunteers are always there to give you a helping hand.
9. Listen to live music
What’s a fun-filled weekend without music? This event brings almost 40 artists to the Iowa Lakes each year, offering a variety of tunes from local acoustic duos, cover bands, rock bands and country artists. You can test your own singing and performance skills during the event’s karaoke nights.
10. Watch the fireworks and the annual Burning of the Greens
The best way to end a long weekend on the ice is warming up around a fire and enjoying a fireworks extravaganza with friends and family. Each year, area residents donate hundreds of Christmas trees to provide the kindling for the Burning of the Greens. After a short presentation announcing some of the weekend’s tournament winners, the trees will be set alight by the cheerleaders with toilet paper torches. Then the sky will light up with a fabulous fireworks show.
Photo courtesy Dave Petrick and the Dickinson County News.