The UW’s Skating Tradition
The UW campus has always been eager to embrace winter, regarding cold temperatures, ice, and snow as an open invitation to socialize and have fun. What better way to do so than to pull on a pair of ice skates?
Historically, skating has been an efficient mode of transportation, an elegant way to exercise, and an activity open to all social classes. Even Queen Victoria was a fan. It’s a pursuit that goes way back: researchers believe that the first skaters used flattened bones as early as 3000 B.C.; in the 13th or 14th century, the Dutch made skating far easier by crafting steel blades.
Badgers were happy to join the bandwagon centuries later. The student board sponsored winter-centric activities in the early 20th century during the campus Ice Carnival. Wisconsin Hoofers — a club for outdoor recreation — took over management in 1940, calling the annual event the Winter Carnival. Activities ranged from broom hockey to carving ice sculptures to speed skating, and organizers flooded the Memorial Union Terrace to provide plenty of icy surfaces.
Although Lake Mendota seemed like a natural venue for skating, snow and rough ice make it less than ideal. In the 1920s, the university created rinks across from Memorial Union — on what is now Library Mall — for hockey and recreational skating. In the winter of 1927–28, the Wisconsin Alumni Association formed intramural teams for women that included skating, hockey, basketball, swimming, and more.
“Wisconsin women in these years thus enjoyed far more sports options than their predecessors in the early years of the university, when about the only athletic endeavor open to them was a sedate game of croquet,” wrote E. David Cronon MA1949, PhD1953 and John Jenkins MA1973, PhD1978 in their book The University of Wisconsin: A History.
Interest in skating isn’t waning as the decades pass. Today’s students can join a figure-skating club; Hoofers sponsors skating lessons for beginners; the women’s and men’s hockey teams offer open skating days with Badger fans each season; and, should especially frigid days feel daunting, the Camp Randall Sports Center features an indoor ice rink.