’Twas a glorious summer before the clouds lowered upon our house. But we’ve got some silver linings.
By Liz Chatterton, Ann Christenson, Mary Jo Contino, Claire Hanan, Matt Hrodey, Amber Jorgenson, Sara Rae Lancaster, Howie Magner, Laura Merisalo, Dan Shafer & Daniel Simmons | Illustrations by Whitney Salgado
William Blake sounded content enough with his late-1700s musing: “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” Of course, the words rest atop his poem “Proverbs of Hell” within The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Setting aside any literary, theological or other analyses, Blake might as well have penned a metaphor for Wisconsin and its fickle seasons: a summer not quite long enough, a winter that’s sometimes fraught with snow, sometimes stingier with it, but always plenty cold.
Yet, here we live. And among us are hardy souls who not only endure the frigid elements, but embrace them. Winter, they say, is a season to laud rather than lament, one that beckons us outside rather than banishes us to the confines of a fireside armchair.
They believe there’s no better way to warm up than to go out into the cold and get moving – be it in boots or on skis, snowshoes or bikes. They don’t let weather keep them from festivals and events. They laugh at winter, because it’s fun. Yes, really.
Winter on Wheels
Fat-tire bikes make it possible to pedal year-round. Perfect conditions not required. “It’s just another way to get out on the trails,” says Sara Stum, a winter aficionado who for several years lived the fat-bike life – before investing in one this year – via winter fat-bike relay races. You simply show up, ask for a team, and find someone similarly sized who’s willing to share a bike. Wheel & Sprocket sponsors an evening fat-bike winter series at Lapham Peak in Delafield. Other events are listed at fat-bike.com. Newbies often can take bikes out for a spin at these events. The Bike Fixers, 2410 N. Murray Ave., rents them by the hour, day or week.
The bonus of knitting (and crocheting, for that matter) is that it not only relaxes the mind, but once you get the hang of it, the yarn – growing into a scarf, sweater or blanket – will warm your lap. The classes at Cream City Yarn (15565 W. North Ave., Brookfield, creamcityyarn.com) target beginners to experienced students.
On Saturday mornings, hit up the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market (524 S. Layton Blvd., mcwfm.org), running through April 9. It showcases 50 vendors who offer farm-raised fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and much more.
Fun with Magic
The august and well-rounded Midwinter Gaming Convention marks its 16th year on Jan. 14. The halls of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center (509 W. Wisconsin Ave.), will resound with the whapping latex weaponry of live action role-playing scenarios. The organizers have also assembled a substantial board game library, featuring a long list of tabletop and miniatures games for those who prefer to play by the seat of their pants.
Take a Swing
Yes, you can play winter golf without hopping a plane to Florida. The golf simulators at Fore! Milwaukee (530 N. Water St., foremilwaukee.com) can scratch that golfing itch while the local links are frozen. Join an indoor golf league, practice your swing, or get one-on-one instruction. Even order a round of beers and watch a basketball game while golfing at St. Andrews.
Shadows at the Pfister
Todd Mrozinski finds winter artistically pleasing. As the Pfister Hotel’s seventh artist-in-residence (thepfisterhotel.com/artist-in-residence), Mrozinski says his signature portraits work best in the cold months, when the sun hangs lower and casts a less-distorted shadow. Anyone can walk into the historic Downtown hotel, wander over to his studio and sit for a portrait, which takes about five minutes. Subjects sit between a window or studio light and a canvas. He traces the outline of their shadows in pencil. Then you leave, and Mrozinski uses oil paint to fill in that outline with a glowing shadow portrait. He posts the finished portraits online, with prints available for sale.
Sledding is the people’s winter pastime. Just find a hill, have a seat, and enjoy the ride. And from Waukesha’s Lowell Park to Mequon’s Mee-Kwon Park to county parks all over the metro area, there are plenty of places to combine the laws of gravity and fun. Plus, at four parks in Milwaukee County (Currie, Humboldt, Pulaski and Whitnall), you can go sledding under the lights.
Stay on Track
The Pettit National Ice Center (500 S. 84th St., thepettit.com) has always had an indoor track, but a $90,000 donation from Badgerland Striders running club in 2013 made the new and improved venue a favorite for winter runners.
Get to Know Joe
Is the “barista” title one you’ve yearned to add to your CV? It can be arranged. Stone Creek Coffee Roasters (422 N. Fifth St., stonecreekcoffee.com) offers classes to school you in the art of pulling shots and steaming milk. “Never Stop Learning: Espresso 101” is held on the second and third Thursdays of each month. In three hours, you and four other students will get a full overview of espresso equipment and go home with a certificate of completion, sticker and pencil, and a Stone Creek T-shirt.
No Gear, No Worries
For outdoor winter adventures, the Urban Ecology Center (urbanecologycenter.org) has the gear you need. An annual membership fee grants access to cross-country skis, sleds, skates and snowshoes. “Our mission is to connect people to nature within the city,” says Urban Ecology’s Jeff McAvoy. “We want to make it easy.”
It’s tradition for baseball fans to count down the days until players report for spring training (Feb. 19 for the Brewers). In Milwaukee, it’s also tradition for the home team to welcome fans at Brewers On Deck. The Jan. 31 event at the Wisconsin Center (400 W. Wisconsin Ave.) gives fans young and old the chance to meet and greet their favorite players, and offers fertile ground for autograph hounds to secure plenty of signatures for their collections.
Add a Little Color
Sorry, little Johnny. Mommy’s stress-relief drawings get real estate on the refrigerator now, too. If you’re in the market for a creative mental break, grab a literal page from your kid’s coloring book. Or pick up a coloring book made for adults, available at Sendik’s and Boswell Book Co. Unleash your inner Reggie Baylor.
Crystals by Candlelight
Snow and candles combine to light up a dark winter night during two candlelight ski and hike events at the Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit. They happen Jan. 16 on the Nordic trail (on Highway H just south of Palmyra) and Jan. 30 at the forest’s Lapham Peak Unit, both from 6-9 p.m. On the Nordic trail, hundreds of points of light are placed along the 1.2-mile purple loop. At trail’s end, sip hot chocolate, eat chili and make s’mores next to a bonfire.
Ice climbing is a thing in some parts. People scale frozen rocks or mountains, hands clenching specialized ice picks while spikes called crampons are strapped to their boots. Not quite ready for it? Maybe start with rock climbing of the unfrozen variety. Head to Adventure Rock (21250 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield, adventurerock.com) or Turner Hall (1034 N. Fourth St., milwaukeeturners.org). Both are open to the public and offer climbing routes designed to welcome beginners or challenge experts. “Yes, climbing is physical… but it’s also a super social sport,” says Adventure Rock’s Craig Burzynski. “It’s like a bar for active people.”
Pay for a full seat. Only use the first 4 inches. At Monster Jam 2016 (monsterjam.com/tickets), you’ll meet some very interesting new friends: Grave Digger, Stone Crusher, Barbarian. Watch them fling 7,500 tons of mud, spit fire and crunch cars, with world-class drivers behind the wheel, including the Queen of Carnage herself, Madusa. Hearing loss included free of charge. Jan. 22 and 23.
Technically, floating within an enclosed and soundproof tank isn’t sensory deprivation. You hear and feel the temperate water, and you can turn on lights and/or music. But it’s absolutely winter deprivation, and Float Milwaukee (211 W. Freshwater Way, floatmilwaukee.com) has one of the most relaxing ways to escape the season, or anything else.
Make a Splash
The key to surviving a Wisconsin winter is to stay resilient and get creative. Perhaps that’s why Wisconsin is home to more indoor water parks, of all things, than any other state. Country Springs Hotel (2810 Golf Rd., Pewaukee, countryspringshotel.com) and Blue Harbor Resort & Spa (725 Blue Harbor Dr., Sheboygan, blueharborresort.com) offer parks both big and close, so you can splash around without freezing your flippers off.
Get the Bends
Bikram is not an obscure 18th-century artist. It’s a series of 26 yoga poses performed in a room heated to 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. Winter doesn’t stand a chance. Hot Yoga Milwaukee (2084 N. Commerce St. and 17800 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield; yogamke.com) offers Bikram and the slightly less-intense Vinyasa style.
True Wisconsinites know where to find locally knit mittens and caps, and other cold-weather must-haves that ease the pain of a 10-below day. But it’s the lip protection that we think safeguards you from the potential of all-day discomfort. Milwaukee Candle and Apothecary makes a very smooth and not-at-all sticky lip balm in multiple scents (try rosemary mint; avoid vanilla rose), and Slinger-based EllaBee makes a beeswax balm (our pick: peppermint) for those who like their lip moisture on the gritty side.
Better Than Snowmen
Lake Geneva’s Winterfest hosts the 2016 U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition Feb. 3-6. From colossal snow blocks stretching 9 feet, teams carve their frosty art over three days before the teams vote for their favorite work, excluding their own, of course, and learn the results of a public ballot.
You know how to sweep. You can stand on ice. Why not put these skills to use in an Olympic sport that’s a cross between frozen bocce and shuffleboard? The Milwaukee Curling Club (milwaukeecurlingclub.com) has a world-class new facility in Cedarburg. It hosts three “Learn to Curl” sessions for beginners and offers facility rentals. Or just watch the masters guide stones down the long sheets of ice to their bullseye-like targets. The club hosts bonspiels – that’s curling for “tournaments” – throughout the winter and spring.
Do a Drive-by
If you’re seeking breathtaking winter moments without losing your breath, venture onto the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. The 115-mile drive, marked with green acorn-shaped signs, traverses six counties, with maps available at forest headquarters (S91 W39091 Highway 59, Eagle) and driving directions online.
A Good Book
Options for reading communally now span the Internet, and even comparatively glitzy events at such stores as Boswell Book Co. (2559 N. Downer Ave., boswellbooks.com). At Boswell, Rebecca Scherm will read from her debut
novel, Unbecoming, about a Tennessean art thief hiding in Paris, on Jan. 8. And on Jan. 21, Chicago criminology professor John Hagedorn will give a talk on his new nonfiction book The Insane Chicago Way: The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia, concerning events of the early 1990s.
Burrowing into the snow to create a fort is one thing. Crawling into one carved by nature can be surreal. Naturalists at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (1111 E. Brown Deer Rd.) dub these natural forts “icecanoes.” The igloo-
ish formations rise along Lake Michigan when frenzied waves freeze in place along the shoreline. The snow and ice hollows evoke a moonscape, says Tom Finley, education director at the Schlitz center. And the hike to see the icecanoes can be just as much fun, especially for kids. Icecano hikes are among the festival offerings during the Schlitz center’s annual winter carnival on Jan. 24 – along with sledding, skating, snowshoeing, live music, crafts, snow bowling and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
They’re easily one of the, ahem, coolest experiences in the state. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ice caves can be explored on foot, just so long as Lake Superior is solid. Do yourself a favor and make a weekend of it; the 6.5-hour drive will necessitate plenty of time for leg stretching. And be sure to read the safety tips for the caves at nps.gov.
Milwaukee is the land of festivals, and not even our harsh winters can stop that. Our friendly suggestions? Try Waukesha’s Winter Janboree, a weekend extravaganza Jan 15-17 that features ice-sculpting, a penguin egg hunt and an Alaskan malamute dog-pull competition. And on Feb. 6, check out Bay View’s annual Mitten Fest for live bands, local beer, bourbon barrel-aged old-fashioneds and “Brandy Land.” It all goes down at the intersection of East Potter and South Logan avenues.
Keep an eye out for the mythical Sugar Dragon during maple-sugaring season at the Riveredge Nature Center (riveredgenaturecenter.org) in Saukville. Spy this curious creature as it roams in the wild acres at Riveredge while on the center’s Snowshoe 5K, Jan. 31. After the race, have a pile of pancakes, topped with the center’s home-tapped maple syrup.
You may think ice fishing is crazy, at least until you see the fish. “This is the Mount Everest for brown trout,” says Eric Hataaja of WiBigFish (wibigfish.com). You bring a fishing license. And warm clothes. Hataaja and his crew take care of the rest, including coaching on how to reel in an unseen lunker through a 10-inch hole in the ice.
Vince Condella will celebrate 34 years at WITI-TV FOX6 in February. The chief meteorologist is likely right about Milwaukee’s weather more often than you think. By Dan Shafer
Everyone’s favorite weather cliché has some truth to it: If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. How hard does this make your job?
There’s never a dull day. There are a lot of changes, and that’s just the nature of being in the Midwest. But it’s a prime spot that a lot of meteorologists would like to be in, because every day is challenging.
What’s the biggest misconception about meteorologists?
Everybody assumes we’re wrong all the time. In reality, no one keeps track of our forecast accuracy, and I always tell people, please do.
Will this winter be different?
There’s an El Niño in place, a very strong one, meaning an abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean at the equator. Some years, the warming of the ocean in the Pacific is stronger, and other years, it’s weaker. This year, it’s stronger. Whenever we have a strong El Niño in Wisconsin, we tend to have – and I’ll emphasize the word tend – slightly milder-than-average winters and usually less snow. All it takes is a couple well-placed storm systems, and we can still get hammered.
How often do you see the effects of climate change?
It’s very difficult to pick out a weather system or an individual trend for a season and attribute it to climate change. This is the challenging thing about looking at climate. To observe it, we have to stand back and look at it over a 50- or 100-year time span. There’s no question we have had a warming of the globe. That’s indisputable. There have been some fluctuations, but the trend is warmer. The question is: How long will this last? We certainly have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than we’ve ever had on record. For people who want to implement change, it’s tough to convince other people, “Hey, this change is going to happen, but it’s going to happen slowly.” Climate doesn’t come right up and slap you right in the face. That’s what makes policy change challenging.
A list of standout Wisconsin beers to keep you warm during the cruel winter months. By Dan Murphy
Lakefront Holiday Spice
Holiday Spice has become a local classic due to its blend of orange zest, cinnamon, clove and a warming 9.4 percent ABV. It’s Lakefront’s seasonal gift to all of the good girls and boys.
Black Husky Sproose II IPA
Spruce trees just exude winter, don’t they? Experience the flavor of spruce with the signature beer from Black Husky. The bold IPA is made with spruce tips for a unique, ahem, piney bitterness.
Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout
Central Waters’ version of a barrel-aged stout is not as decadent as others (namely, Bourbon County). That doesn’t mean the rich flavor isn’t there. The brew is delicious, complex and more accessible than boozier onyx-colored elixirs.
New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
Belgian Red isn’t a winter seasonal, but that’s a good thing. The world-renowned fruity brew is perfect as a cheery cherry treat. It’s ideally situated at the intersection of tart and sweet.
Capital Brewery Winter Skål
Winter beers don’t have to come with high ABVs. Winter Skål, by Middleton’s Capital Brewery, is an easy-drinking amber brew that combines a nice malt presence with a slightly bitter finish.
Sprecher Winter Lager
Hints of coffee and dark, roasted malt flavor don’t have to be over the top. The delicious beer has a surprisingly crisp and satisfying finish.
3 Sheeps Cashmere Hammer Nitro Rye Stout
Dark chocolate flavor comes through big-time along with spicy rye. And nitro provides a smooth mouth feel. That’s a great combination.
Milwaukee Brewing Co. “Admiral” Stache Baltic Porter
The “Admiral” is aged briefly in bourbon barrels to add a layer of complexity. Rich and sweet, and a worthy adversary of cold months.
Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale
A stellar offering from Tom Porter’s small Lake Louie Brewing in Arena. Ideal for those who like their malty brews on the sweet side.
Biloba Smokin’ Gramma Scotch Ale
Brookfield’s brewing gem has this beer down pat. This gramma stands out due to sweet malt, a hint of oak and just enough smoke to make it interesting.
Ale Asylum Big Slick Stout
Ale Asylum’s seasonal stout has big roasted malt flavor with a reasonable 7 percent ABV. Hints of chocolate and coffee round it out.
Hinterland Winterland Porter
Sure, the name is catchy, but that’s not why it’s on the list. Winterland is for those who like their porters slightly bitter. Roasted malt flavor is there, but there’s also an intriguing hint of juniper.
The battle of winter fought through a healthy appetite. By Ann Christenson
A Korean dish created to use up leftover stuff, which is why there’s a little mushroom, onion, spinach and carrot along with rice, beef bulgogi and a pan-fried egg. Served inside a warm stone bowl at Kanpai Izakaya. (408 E. Chicago St.)
Butternut Squash Ravioli
How ravioli transitions to winter: It’s poached in apple cider, then served with toasted pecans, sage and brown butter. Rich and sweet. It’s at Triskele’s. (1801 S. Third St.)
A hot mocha is coffee with a heavy chocolate chaser. Fuel Café’s Mexican mocha drops in some cayenne, as well as cinnamon, to amplify the wake-up call. (818 E. Center St.)
You can get more luscious than this slow-cooked, white-beany gem, but you don’t need to. The pork shoulder and belly, pork shank, duck confit, sausage and lamb are enough. Sit back at Pastiche, scoop up the fat-drenched juices, and think about going nighty-night real soon. (3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
It’s a simple formula – beef, mushrooms, thick tomato sauce, three Italian cheeses and lasagna noodles. Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn does it old-school. (6501 W. Bluemound Rd.).
The Polish riff on boiled, pan-fried noodle dumplings. I like these plump half-moons stuffed with pork and beef, or potato and cheese. Head to Polonez and get a Polish pilsner while you’re there. (4016 S. Packard Ave.)
Thee Dirty Burger
What makes this tasty sausage patty “dirty”? If you would have told me 20 years ago I’d eat Velveeta again, I’d have told you I’d sooner eat Easy Cheese. Damn, the “cheese product” tastes good with bacon, pickle, tomato and Thousand Island sauce. A Vanguard specialty. (2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
Big Boy Burger
It’s everything about this – American cheese, Big Boy sauce, two patties, sesame-seed bun. Memories of childhood visits to Big Boy restaurants. Served at Kil@wat in the Intercontinental Milwaukee Hotel. (139 E. Kilbourn Ave.)
If you enjoy pot roast (with lamb) and mashed potatoes, this will be right up your alley. Like dinner at Grandma’s, provided she can cook, at County Clare. (1234 N. Astor St.)
Pimento Cheese Biscuit
Let’s give Troubadour Bakery props for hooking up its big, flaky biscuits with Martha’s Jalapeno Pimento Cheese. The Milwaukee-made cheese is mixed with chopped kale and scrambled eggs, and slathered in a warm, halved biscuit. Served at Colectivo Coffee cafes.
Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole
Bass Bay Brewhouse serves this dense square of potato heaven (like a solid block of scalloped potatoes), topped with crushed Corn Flakes, for brunch and with steaks on the dinner menu. Glorious. (S79 W15851 Aud Mar Dr., Muskego)
There’s a skillset required for making this, and it’s required of all Rochambo employees (or they better retire the “best Irish coffee around” claim). Irish whiskey spikes the coffee, and whipped cream aptly rests “on” the coffee without breaking the surface. Chin, chin! (1317 E. Brady St.)