It’s just about March now, and we’re covered in fresh snow fall. I always find it funny that people expect March to be the end of winter – this is Wisconsin after all, and it happens again and again that we get dumped on late in the season – especially if you’re close to either Lake Michigan or Superior.
I’m sure at this point many of you are terribly tired of the cold weather and bleak skies, but I urge you to not let it get you down. There really is a lot of ways to not let winter get the best of you. You can ignore it like, you would your messy roommate, or embrace it as a good friend. No matter how you prefer to deal with these last few blustery months, there’s an option for everyone.
Not everyone loves winter. If you’re just not a fan of it, here are some great options to keep yourself productive and motivated during the darker months.
The Arts Are Alive in the Winter – Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the entire city hibernates. It’s a great time to check out the ballet, find out that you actually do like opera (especially one full of Dale Chihuly sculptures…) or listen to some of your favorite video game music performed by an orchestra.
Volunteers Are Still Needed – If you’re planning on not spending much time outside during the winter, you might as well spend it inside a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or educational center like the Urban Ecology Center. It might not be the same as a stroll in the park, but it will definitely keep you busy, you’ll probably make some new friends, and you’ll be helping those less fortunate than yourself. It’s a win-win-win situation!
Visit The Museums – Don’t worry, we all do it. It’s easy to forget about museums during the summer. There’s so many festivals and activities going on, the sun stays up later than 4:00PM, and it’s beautiful out. Why would you spend your time inside a stuffy building?
But during the winter, you might as well see what they’re up to. Most museums have a free-day every so often – the Milwaukee Public Museum is free every Monday for Milwaukee County residents, and the Milwaukee Art Museum is free the first Thursday of every month as well – so check out any museums close to you and see what they offer to help keep costs down.
Catch Up on Your Reading – There’s no better way to enjoy a blizzard than curled up on the couch with a good book and a warm drink. Bonus points if you’ve got a fire roaring and something delicious basting in the slow cooker.
Change Your Life – Most people become a little reclusive after the Holidays, so why not use it to your advantage and do something good for yourself? I’ve found that there’s no better time to join and gym and take some yoga classes. Don’t want to spend the money? Rearrange your house to give yourself a little workout space at home.
If you’ve been thinking of eating a bit healthier too, now is the time to do it before fried food festivals start and hanging out with all your friends again. You’ve got a full three months before it warms up – live at the gym and yoga studio, change your diet, and come out of your cocoon as a beautiful butterfly.
This is my favorite way to deal with winter. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but bitter cold temps and deep, heavy snow have been hitting Wisconsin for the last 50,000 years, and despite the climate change, it’s probably not going to turn into Key West any time soon. In other words, you might as well learn to enjoy it.
Try Downhill Skiing – You might not be aware, but there are actually a fair number of ski areas in the Upper Midwest. Heck, even Olympic athlete Lindsey Vonn got her start on little Minnesota ski hills. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re no fun. There are enough hills around the state that every major city is close to one:
- Milwaukee – The closest park is definitely The Rock Complex in Franklin. The hill isn’t huge since it’s a reclaimed garbage dump (don’t worry, no smell at all ;) but it’s pretty steep and can get you some speed. It’s not too far of a drive to other area favorites such as Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin Dells area, and less than an hour drive to Sunburst Ski Area outside Kewaskum.
- Madison – Madison might be the city with the biggest selection of nearby ski-hills. Cascade Mountain – mentioned above – is even closer to Madison than it is Milwaukee. The Tyrol Ski Basin is just 20 minutes West of Madison, and being in the rugged Driftless Area, has surprisingly aggressive terrain for the Midwest. I’d recommend your apres-ski consisting heading to Mt. Horeb for any of the award-winning brews crafted at The Grumpy Troll Brewpub.
- Wausau – The obvious choice here is Granite Peak, situated in Rib Mountain state park. Since it is in a state park, you have to head into town for lodging, but they have some great ski-lodging deals, like the “Brew-Ski” package that get you a couple beers at the Great Dane Pub and Brewery.
- Eau Claire – Once you head towards the North Woods, everything gets a little more spread out. That said, there’s still a couple good ski hills in the Eau Claire area, such as the very kid-friendly Trollhaugen. Or head an hour Southwest to the Bruce Mound Winter Sports Area where fully lit runs, a new chairlift and chalet add up to long days of downhill fun.
- Awesome Ski Lodge Near Nothing – Okay, that’s not the actual name of the place – it’s actually the Trophy Lodge at Mt. Du Lac Ski Resort. It’s still under construction, but if it lives up to the hype and pictures, it would be well worth a week-long vacation to Northern Wisconsin ski destination near the shores of Lake Superior. It’s about 2.5 hours North of Eau Claire or Minneapolis, or about 6.5 hours away from Milwaukee, so it’s a hike, but if you love winter sports it could be worth it.
and with over 30 downhill ski areas, there are plenty of hills for every other Wisconsinite as well.
Go Snowshoeing – This sport still hasn’t taken off very well in Wisconsin, but it’s on the upswing. Cross-country skiing has a much longer history around these parts, and because snowshoes ruin the grooming of XC trails, it’s hard to find any paths that allow snowshoers.
Luckily, the DNR has put together a list of state parks that do have snowshoe trails here. And keep in mind that in the winter, smaller county parks might be your best option. Anywhere you can hike in the summer is good snowshoe territory as long as they haven’t set up ski trails. In the Milwaukee area, I like Lapham Peak for a very easy-going snowshoe trail (it’s the horse/mountain bike trail in the summer), or for a challenge head to the John Muir / Emma Carlin trail in the South Kettle Moraines.
Glide on Glass – There’s something about falling on your butt again and again while ice skating that makes you feel like a kid again. In addition to the countless ponds and lagoons that set up skating around the state, two great Milwaukee area options are Red Arrow Park and the Petit Ice Center. Red Arrow is in the heart of Downtown Milwaukee and sports refrigeration to keep the skating going up to 50 deg F, a warming cabin for days when chillers aren’t needed, and a nearby Starbucks for hot drinks.
The Pettit Ice Center is a national Olympic training facility for speed-skaters (I had two World Champions in my high school homeroom at the same time – two!), but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s open all the time for people looking to just get out of the house and have some active fun.
Lock Yourself in a Cabin and Make Something Awesome – Okay, okay, this one is a little bit of a stretch. Just because Justin Vernon of Bon Iver did it doesn’t mean we all can ;)
This is really just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). There are countless ways to not let a cold and dreary winter wear you down. I know it’s hard to overcome the winter doldrums some times, and the secret is to never let them get started. No snow on the ground? Head to a museum. Getting blasted by a blizzard? Curl up with a book and get ready for some great skiing tomorrow.
What’s your favorite winter-time activity?