SPICER -- This weekend, around 40 ice sailors will gather on Green Lake in Spicer to participate in what will be for many the first ice sailing regatta of the season.
The Western Region Championship, sponsored by the International DN Ice Yachting Racing Association, is being held at Green Lake this year because it's one of the few larger lakes in the Midwest that has ice favorable enough for sailing.
Despite the warmer temperatures this winter, the conditions at Green Lake are "nearly perfect" for ice sailing, according to Kyle Metzloff, who traveled from Madison, Wis., to participate in the weekend's race.
"You want to have ice that's at least 6 inches thick," Metzloff said. "It has to be smooth, with no snow. And it has to be cold enough where the ice isn't slushy. For the warm weather we've been having, this lake is good."
This year, it was a challenge to find a lake that would work well for the Western Region Championship, said Julie Jankowski, the racing association's Western Region Rear Commodore, who helped organize this weekend's regatta.
"Because of the warming trend, a lot of lakes aren't ready yet this year," Jankowski said. "We hunted all over the region and were fortunate to find this lake."
For avid ice sailor Jori Lenon, of Madison, Wis., this will be her first time out on the ice since April. She says there's nothing like the feeling of being on the ice with the other competitors.
"My favorite part is learning how to go faster," Lenon said. "It's so beautiful, seeing all the boats fly out on the ice. The whole atmosphere is amazing."
Lenon said she averages speeds of about 45 to 50 mph, although the boats can go up to 65 mph, she said. Wind, of course, plays a big factor in determining speed. She said the best wind conditions for ice sailing are between 10 and 15 knots.
Because there are so many factors involved in sailing, Lenon said she reads a lot of articles and postings online to sharpen her skills in the offseason.
"There's definitely a high learning curve," Lenon said. "But the best part about this sport is that we're a really tight-knit community. We learn a lot from each other. You meet a lot of people and see many of them at the same events."
To be an ice sailor, you have to be committed, because you never know where the best lake will be for sailing, Lenon said. She and other sailors are used to traveling longer distances to participate in these regattas.
"You have to hit the road in this sport," Lenon said. "You never know where it will take you."
At this weekend's competition, there will be sailors from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and even Germany, according to Jankowski.
Geoff Sobering, treasurer of the racing association, said traveling to Green Lake is a first for him. It's also his first competition of the season, and he's looking forward to getting out on the ice.
"It's all fun, even when you lose," Sobering said. "Last year, we only had about four or five weekends of sailing. This will be a lot of fun."
In Sobering's 13 years of ice sailing, he's had two major accidents: one when he hit another boat, and one when he sailed over several feet of open water. The back of his boat "just disappeared," he said.
"Accidents can happen pretty often," Sobering said. "But in both of these cases, I walked away without any injuries. It's actually a remarkably safe sport. Most of the time, you're sailing with other people who are paying attention and looking out for you."
To take precautions, every sailor is required to wear a helmet, and an ATV with proper safety equipment is always nearby, Sobering said.
If local ice sailors are interested in participating in this weekend's regatta, they can register between 8 and 9 a.m. today at Green Lake. Registration is $35. The Western Region Championship begins at 10 a.m. with a race for children. The adult race will start around 11 a.m.