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More Winterfest, human sled races this weekend



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February 04, 2014 | 03:53 PM
Darien Schaefer sat at the reception desk at the Chamber of Commerce Monday morning looking no worse for wear.

He was filling in at the front desk while his staff went out for a going-away lunch for Grace Eckland, the long-time director of marketing of the chamber’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, who recently retired.

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Schaefer, the new president of the Lake Geneva Chamber, is celebrating a rite of passage himself. He’s half way through his first Winterfest, which kicked off last weekend with the U.S. National Snow Sculpting competition. Yet to come, among other things, is a human dog sled race.

As they left for the luncheon, one of his staff said, “Good luck.”

“I’ll be fine,” Schaefer said.

And, indeed, he was.

He answered the phone with his familiar confident, upbeat cadence. When one caller asked him about Winterfest, he rattled off the itinerary like he’d done it all before.

One thing he didn’t have to worry about was the weather. It was cold enough for the sculptors to carve, but warm enough for visitors to weather.

If visitors wanted a warming shelter they found one inside the Riviera where food and drink were served while a band played.

The event also drew the attention of several national TV audiences, so plenty of people knew about it.

Throughout the event, Schaefer was a constant presence — shaking hands, talking to the sculptors, looking up when someone pointed at something in the Riviera rafters.

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“In my job, it’s sometimes hard to enjoy the moment,” he said. “You’re always looking ahead.”

Without missing a beat he added, “But I stopped a few times and it was great to see all the people enjoying themselves.”

Schaefer gave credit to others involved — the city, Grand Geneva which “makes” the snow, the veteran staff, the sponsors and those who help at the Riviera, where the event is held.

“Our event coordinator, Erin Thornburgh, is responsible for keeping everyone on the same page and she has worked harder, slept less, and worried more than anyone else,” Schaefer said.

Indeed the people he was thanking had done a lot of the planning and preparation for the event before Schaefer arrived in November.

Unlike all those Winterfest veterans, Schaefer is watching the event with fresh eyes and is already looking ahead to next season, when Winterfest will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Late last week, he said the idea list was constantly growing. He estimated there were “about 100 ideas” already on the list — and that was just Friday night.

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One thing Schaefer’s pondering already is a way to have more going on at the Riviera after the traditional closing time — of 4 p.m. on Saturday. He is happy with the number of events that area businesses plan around the event, especially those that benefit the residents as much as the visitors.

The chamber and the retail community have long wanted to extend the Lake Geneva vacation season beyond the summer. That’s why Winterfest was made a whole week this year.

But, before he and his helpers get ahead of themselves, they have to shepherd the remaining week of the event, which includes a “Fire on the Beach” event Wednesday night and human dog sled races, on the beach, on Friday night and Saturday.

The first Winterfest he’s attended, turned out to be the first Winterfest he’s run — and it’s barely begun.

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