For a single Saturday in February, cars, trucks, and bicycles are replaced by skiers and snowboarders on the streets of Downtown Marquette. Rather than removing snow, truckloads of snow are brought in to fill the streets with jumps and rails and a circus ensues.
Surrounding the spectacle are beer tents, music, and a couple thousand spectators sheering at the top of their lungs for the Downtown Showdown.
Marquette's steep streets, huge crowds, and Superior views make for an event that's largely unrivaled in the Midwest. For one, it's an open event—meaning anyone can enter. The very core of the event is its inclusive nature, one that has eight-year-olds on their first pair of skis riding next to college students with more than a decade of competition experience. Grandmas and grandpas commingle with 20-year-olds for five hours in the middle of downtown, where they can watch their grandkids throw tricks next to the building where they do their banking. You have an activity usually limited to Marquette Mountain, on display for anyone who finds their way downtown on the afternoon or evening of February 20.
"I don't know of another single rail jam anywhere that invites a 10-year-old kid to participate," Downtown Showdown mastermind Brandon Croneberger said.
That being the case, the essence of the event is simple for Croneberger: to give skiers and snowboarders — no matter how old or young — an opportunity to showcase their skills for their families, friends and community. For those that rarely make it out to the hill to see their grandkids or kids ski or ride, for example, the Downtown Showdown is somewhat of a validating experience for the 10-year-old rippers who spend their winters not in a gymnasium but in the cold, doing terrain park laps at Marquette Mountain.
"You're bringing this amusement park of sorts to the general public, and combining the college-aged demographic with older and younger ages," Croneberger said. "We had 8 year olds last year, and they were hiking up and down the hill and showing grandma and grandpa or whoever that this is what they do at Marquette Mountain every day, and now maybe [family members] will consider going skiing. And that all stems from kids being able to showcase their skills."
Add in a beer tent, warming areas and a location that can't really get more convenient, and it's obvious that Croneberger has perfected the recipe for a family-friendly event that still brings a certain 'wow' factor. That very 'wow' factor has contributed to what Croneberger speculates is a growth of twice the competitors and nearly 2000 more spectators since year one, in 2012.
"We had maybe 30 or 40 riders the first year and now we're up to almost 100," he said. "We're also close to 2500 total spectators, where we started with maybe 500 our first year."
The root of the Downtown Showdown's allure isn't just its accessibility or inclusivity, however, and even Croneberger knows that having a resilient audience is critical to the event's success.
"People here aren't afraid to come out and stand in zero-degree weather," he said. "As a matter of fact, they come and tailgate an event like this because there's beer involved, and that's our personality in Marquette — other people hibernate for winter and we recreate for winter, we think about how can we get out of the house."
Words by Amanda Monthei