The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Home for the holiday

    Janie Boschma

    When the Ski Sprites Water Ski Show Team began running a haunted house out of the Eau Claire County Exposition Center seven years ago, signs didn’t point to it becoming a repeat performance.

    Renee Erickson, director of the Ski Sprites Water Ski Show Team, recalled how the first year was a tough one for the group as a whole.

    “We got in trouble with the fire inspectors, and instead of having it actually in the Expo Center, we had to have it outside,” Erickson said.

    Flash forward six years later to the organization’s current go-around, and the story becomes one of irony.

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    The Ski Sprites will open this year’s Haunted Castle Friday at the Eau Claire County Exposition Center, County Fair Grounds.

    Neil Morley, the current adviser to the ski team and former president of the organization, started the haunted house event after hearing the financial success that other ski teams had with similar types of fundraisers.

    Morley said he thought the Fanny Hill Theatre Halloween Trail was dying, and not a lot of Halloween-themed events were happening in Eau Claire for the college demographic. Morley set out to create a fundraiser that could appeal to both the Altoona-based Ski Sprites and the college students that attend UW-Eau Claire.

    “I knew that Eau Claire was the right place to have a haunted house because there was an obvious need and the audience clearly wanted it,” Morley said.

    Attendance from the first year steadily increased. It then flattened for about two years. The haunted house took off last year, thanks to some promotions and new visions, raking in more than 2,300 visitors, Morley said.

    Since the event began, the house, or in this year’s case a castle, has been built by volunteers from the ski team. In the past, the Ski Sprites’ haunted houses had 13 rooms. But Erickson said expectations are much higher for this year’s event.

    Two days have been added to accommodate the overwhelming excitement building up to this year’s event, Erickson said. The team is expecting more people than ever, so there will be 15 rooms, on-site child care, and a front that genuinely looks like a castle, she said.

    Three weeks prior to the opening night of the Haunted Castle, the Ski Sprites volunteers get together to set up and build the structure from scratch in hopes of keeping on schedule to make everything perfect for opening night.

    The crew of volunteers consists mostly of members of the ski team and their immediate families. This year, Erickson has seen a much larger number of Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts volunteering, along with members of the UW-Eau Claire Ski Team who are trying to add to their service hours by helping out with the event.

    For the first time in recent memory, some random people also volunteered to pitch in, Erickson said.

    Junior Kyle Erickson sets up rooms, decorates and scares visitors once the haunted house opens in order to help raise funds for the ski team.

    “I think my favorite part of it all is seeing a tough guy come in with his girlfriend clinging to him and then being able to scare both of them,” he said.

    He described the Haunted Castle as less expensive than going to a scary movie, but more fun, more unique, and much scarier.

    “Sometimes, people will come out crying or running,” he said. “It’s fun to know you are doing that and that you are given an opportunity to interact with your audience.”

    On opening night, admission to the Haunted Castle will also get students a pass to Action City, and a bus will run to the Haunted Castle from the Towers Hall parking lot.

    Renee Erickson had nothing but praise for those involved with the project. She said every single one of the volunteers makes a difference, and 70 of them will be on hand for opening night.

    Along with raising money for the ski team, the haunted house collects about 1,000 pounds of food a year for Feed My People Food Bank, Erickson said.

    “We are not as proud of what we do if it is not as good,” Erickson said. “That type of personality means a lot to us, and it really reflects the attitude of our organization and all those who help out.”

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