Madison Winter Festival
If your kids are anything like my son, they're much, much happier about all the snow we've gotten the last few winters than you or I are. When Ben was younger and we were experiencing several years of snow drought, he would cry bitter tears as the winter slipped away with no opportunity to go sledding, build snowmen or have snowball fights. (This may have been when he conceived the idea that it would be nice to live in Alaska, something he's still considering.)
Now, with constant snow cover the new normal, he practically lives in snow pants. He rides his bike (with studded snow tires) around town in snowstorms. He can't wrap his head around people who complain about winter weather, a category that includes his parents. To him, the snow and cold adults whine about so irritatingly are nothing less than a fantastic opportunity to play in ways that you can't in the summer.
If you'd like to tap into this enviable mindset -- and placate any kids you may have who can never get enough of being outside in the winter -- you can do no better than to take the family down to the Capitol Square on the weekend of Feb. 20-21 for the Madison Winter Festival.
This is one of those events that actually make you glad you live in Wisconsin. In a way, it's the winter equivalent of the Dane County Farmers' Market: a mass celebration of the season, deliberately located at the heart of the city and state. On Friday night, volunteers will spread trucked-in snow, so that when you arrive on Saturday morning you'll find the Square transformed, a winter playground waiting where the politicians circle during the week.
The festival isn't just a kids' event -- the organizers want everyone, even cold-averse adults, to learn to appreciate the fun you can have here four months out of the year -- but there are plenty of activities to appeal to kids, and some designed especially for them. You can find the full schedule and listing of events at the festival website, but here are some of the highlights:
You can cross-country ski around the Square (lessons available for those who don't know how, rentals available for those who don't have skis) -- undoubtedly stopping to chat with acquaintances as they glide by, just like you do at the Farmers' Market. You can try out snowshoes, courtesy of Rutabaga, where apparently the winter market for canoes and kayaks is discouraging. You can go snow tubing -- like sledding, only faster. There's a snow bike obstacle course and a snow bike costume race, courtesy of Trek.
More: You can ooh and aah at the ice and snow sculptures. You can watch "rail riders," extreme snowboarders doing tricks on an elevated ramp. And there's a 5K fun run from the Capitol to the Kohl Center and back, with a 1K for the kids (and a little event for the dogs, who apparently aren't banned from the Square on winter Saturdays). It all sounds like crazy fun, even for those of us who view winter chiefly as an opportunity to get some sleep and build up body fat between summers.
But trust (some) grownups to find the "good for you" in any crazy-fun situation and turn it into homework. Enter the Kids W.O.W. ("Wander Outside This Winter") Challenge. This earnest health education initiative, linked with the festival, proposes that kids keep a chart of how often they play outside in the winter and how many fruits and vegetables they eat. (If you register online and report your results, you can become eligible for a GRAND PRIZE! -- superfluous capitalization courtesy of the W.O.W. Challenge.) Because there's nothing like having to painstakingly record your physical activity to make playing outside appealing to kids -- oh wait.
Take my advice and just bring your kids downtown and play with them. Chances are they already know how to have a good time outside in the winter, but you just might learn something.