The annual University of Okoboji Winter Games was in full swing this past weekend. Events began as early as Jan. 25 with the schedule full to bursting on Saturday. Chilly temps earlier in the month had helped thicken layers of ice across the Iowa Great Lakes — reaching more than a foot in some areas. But warmer conditions in the weeks that followed led to thinner ice conditions in some parts of the local lakes and prompted officials to relocate or even cancel certain competitions. However, a number of crowd favorites were able to be held largely as planned.
The billowing forms of the Okoboji Kite Festival could be seen for a time floating amidst the morning fog. The festival attracts dozens of professional kite fliers from across the world, who in turn bring hundreds of large-scale kites — each engineered to resemble a sea creature, mythical beast or even an astronaut. The kites were grounded early Saturday morning and remained on the frozen surface of West Lake Okoboji until the sun broke through the clouds that afternoon.
Teams battled through their brackets Saturday during the annual broomball tournament just to the east of Pillsbury Point. The hockey-esque game was one of the original events during the inaugural 1981 Winter Games and continues to attract organized broomball teams as well as amateur troupes to the Iowa Great Lakes each winter.
Runners got an early start from the Majestic Pavillion during Saturday morning's 5K, and teams of six shuffled and kicked as the competed in the human foosball tournament in Preservation Plaza.
The annual Winter Games Chili Cookoff crowded the Dickinson County Expo Building in Spirit Lake on Friday evening, and the spicy gave way to sweet as the yearly Chocolate Classic and Galleria set up in the Expo Building Saturday afternoon.
And as the sun began to set on Saturday, a crowd slowly amassed in Preservation Plaza in anticipation of the annual Burning of the Greens. Once the flaming evergreen boughs and wreaths had died down, many of the onlookers headed to the nearby beach to view the evening's Fireworks Extravaganza.
The professional kite fliers were able to add another layer of interest to this year's display. Kites shaped like sea creatures — squids and octopi — were towed by small vehicles as they circled the fireworks display. The kite fliers had similar plans last year, but high winds and blowing snow during the 2023 games prompted a change of plans. This year, the night-kites were fitted with LED units, producing bands of color which strobed down each kite's trailing tentacles — making the large-scale forms appear all the more like giant animals from the deep-sea as they swam across the sky.