2011-12-22 / Front Page

Event Puts St. Ignace on World Stage

Brainstorming Session Tuesday: How To Meet Hospitality Demands of Ice Sailing Championship
By Mary Petrides

Athletes use wings and kites to catch the wind as they compete in snow and ice sailing events. (File photographs courtesy William Tuthill) Athletes use wings and kites to catch the wind as they compete in snow and ice sailing events. (File photographs courtesy William Tuthill) With more than 100 athletes expected to compete on the ice of Moran Bay in the World Ice and Snow Sailing Association’s world championship in February — and national and international media reporters and a crowd of spectators coming along to follow the action closely — events organizers in town say that St. Ignace will be thrust into the international spotlight during the contests as it never has before, and they want to plan now to make sure that the town looks its best and is at its most welcoming, even in the offseason when some businesses and facilities are closed. Organizers are asking the public to participate in a planning meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 27, at Mackinac Grille restaurant to help come up with ideas.

A Washington, D.C. crew working on a documentary about Great Lakes ice has rented the Colonial House during the competition, Chris Green said, while event coordinator Dan Hill has spoken with representatives from NBC Sports, ESPN, and international media, who said they are interested in attending but have not yet committed to do so. He said WISSA draws between 80 and 200 athletes and he hopes for 1,000 spectators, plus spillover from the U.P. Pond Hockey Tournament.

Athletes participate in snow and ice sailing events in Estonia in 2007. Athletes participate in snow and ice sailing events in Estonia in 2007. With many competitors coming from Canada and Europe as well as the United States, staff at the Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and members of the Special Events Committee are now starting to field requests for language translators and places to store and repair ice sailing equipment. They want to be sure to accommodate as many of the requests as they can.

At the WISSA world championship, athletes on skis or skates will use the wind they catch in kites, wings, or sails to power themselves across the ice in Moran Bay Monday, February 20, through Friday, February 24. At least 32 athletes from northern Europe have already committed, said Special Events Committee Chairman Mark Sposito.

Ice and snow sailing is a more popular sport in Europe, and many of the athletes are well-known in their countries, said Cheryl Schlehuber of the Chamber of Commerce board.

“Some of these kids are really rock stars in their country,” she said. “Some are really famous.”

This includes Simon Gill of Salaberry de-Valleyfield, Quebec. Mr. Gill won the 2008 world championship in kite sailing in Val Brilliant, Quebec, in 2008 and also participated in WISSA 2009 in Riga, Latvia, said Will Tuthill, WISSA president. Mr. Gill won the world championship again in 2010 in Saguenay, Quebec, and came in sixth in WISSA 2011 in Oravi, Finland. He plans to compete in St. Ignace in 2012.

It is important to show that St. Ignace is vibrant and welcoming, organizers say. Because of strong winds here, WISSA’s North American Championship competitions are expected to be hosted here in future years.

“They’re not coming in at prime season. We don’t have lots of sunshine this time of year. We may or may not have pretty snow. Our streets aren’t lined with pretty flowers that time of year,” said Janet Peterson, director of the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. “How can we truly light up the community?”

Organizers are hoping to discuss downtown lights and sprucing up storefronts, even if they’re closed for the season.

The meeting is also intended to coordinate efforts among the Special Events Committee, Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority, and others working on the project.

The St. Ignace Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce have been receiving requests for French-speaking babysitters and garages for athletic gear in addition to the usual inquiries about lodging. The championship follows on the heels of the U.P. Pond Hockey Tournament, which fills the available lodging in town.

Mrs. Schlehuber said at least one person who doesn’t speak English has rented a place during the event.

“One of the ladies from Quebec speaks broken English. . . She spoke enough to say that her friend who was coming didn’t speak,” so the reservation had to be confirmed in French, as well as English. “It was very fun, and it was just an eyeopener.”

At the meeting, community members will also learn more about the event.

“It’s an education process … to better inform the community of what this is and the magnitude of it, and also what steps can you, as Joe Doe Business, take to be part of that positive perception that we hope people will go away with,” Mrs. Peterson said.

Meeting Is Tuesday

Want to learn more about WISSA or share ideas for showing St. Ignace at its best during the tournament? Organizers are meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 27, at the Mackinac Grille to coordinate and brainstorm ideas. Everyone is welcome.

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