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Okoboji Winter Games kick off this weekend

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa — The University of Okoboji Winter Games is gearing up this week to draw people outdoors and out of the winter doldrums. But if you’d rather stay cozy and warm inside, there are plenty of activities to do that as well during this 34th annual celebration at the Iowa Great Lakes.

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From a Polar Plunge and Freeze Your Fanny bike ride to cribbage, card game and indoor golf tournaments — and a Chocolate Classic complete with cake pops, truffles and a cookie-eating contest — there’s an activity to fit virtually everyone’s interests.

New events this year include turkey bowling and Sled Head Breakfast at the Lake Okoboji United Methodist Camp, a family-friendly fishing outing and an indoor children’s carnival, all on Saturday.

The annual Winter Games draws an estimated 30,000 people to town each year at the end of January, nearly quadrupling the population of the communities that make up the Iowa Great Lakes.

“Snow is falling right now, and that pulls in the snowmobilers,” said Jen Johnson, program director for the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce in Arnolds Park, Monday morning.

With colder temperatures in the forecast, Johnson said Saturday highs in the 20s should help to lure people to the Iowa Great Lakes.

“Even if outdoors isn’t your thing, we have plenty of indoor activities like the chili cook-off, the Chocolate Classic … omelet brunch,” she said. “If you’re a foodie, the winter games are a good place for you also.”

The seventh annual People Project, during which people are arranged to form something — this year it’s a bison — is hoped to draw at least 200 participants. Johnson encourages people to wear dark colors if they want to participate. Once everyone is in place, aerial photographs will be taken of the image.

Many of the events throughout the weekend are fundraisers, and Johnson said at least 20 non-profit organizations benefit from the Winter Games.

“I think the fact that we’re celebrating our 34th year doing this is a testament to how the community rallies around this event,” Johnson said. “It’s a great escape for people to get out and enjoy everything the Iowa Great Lakes has to offer.

A complete schedule of the University of Okoboji Winter Games, as well as registration information for some of the activities, can be found online at


All Day: Indoor Golf Tournament; Indoor Mini Golf Tournament, Spirit Lake

5-7 p.m.: Chili Cook Off & Dessert Bar, Expo Building, Spirit Lake

6 p.m.: Guns ‘n’ Hoses Boot Hockey tournament — professional division, Boji Bay Ice Arena, Spirit Lake

8 p.m.: Johnny Holm, Tiki in the Tent, Parks Marina, Okoboji


All Day: Indoor golf and mini golf tournaments; ice skating, Okoboji Boat Works, Smith’s Bay; Boats on Ice boat show, Parks Marina, Okoboji; Helicopter rides, Parks Marina

8:30 a.m.: Cribbage Classic, Okoboji Middle School, Arnolds Park

9 a.m. to noon: Pinochle & 500 tournaments, Senior Center, Spirit Lake

9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Ice Fishing Outing, Dickinson County

10 a.m.: Snowball Drop, Olde Town Spirit Lake; Freeze Your Fanny Bike Ride, Okoboji Expedition Company

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Winter Crafts, hikes and activities, Dickinson County Nature Center

10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: SnowHawks Fun Ride, starts at Polaris and ends at McKeen’s, Spirit Lake

10:30 a.m.: Guns ‘n’ Hoses Boot Hockey Tournament, Open Men’s and Women’s Division, Parks Marina, Okoboji

11 a.m.: People Project, Iowa Lakeside Lab, form of a bison takes shape at noon.

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Family Snowshoe Hikes, Dickinson County Nature Center, Okoboji

11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Kid’s Carnival, Boji Bay Fun House Pavilion, Milford

1 p.m.: Bean Bag Toss, Preservation Plaza; Cookie Eating Contest at the Chocolate Classic, Expo, Spirit Lake

1-3 p.m.: Kids Games, Parks Marina, Okoboji; Sweet Classic & Shopping Galleria, Expo Building, Spirit Lake

1:30 p.m.: 5K/10K, Spirit Lake Middle School

2:30 p.m.: Frozen Fanny Fat Bike Challenge, Kenue Park, Okoboji

3 p.m.: Polar Plunge, State Pier, Arnolds Park

6:30 p.m.: Winter Games Extravaganza and Burning of the Greens, Preservation Plaza, Arnolds Park


All Day: Indoor Golf tournament; Boats on Ice boat show, Parks Marina, Okoboji; Helicopter Rides, Parks Marina

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Co-ed Indoor Volleyball, Spirit Lake Middle & High School Gyms

11 a.m.: SnowHawks Radar Run, Parks Marina, Okoboji

2-5 p.m.: Snowball Dance, Senior Building, Spirit Lake

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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