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From ski hills to the world’s largest potato masher, Wisconsin can be fun in winter

Temperatures have been mild this season, but there are plenty of options to still make the most of wintertime

A layer of snow covers the seat of a playground swing in a neighborhood.
Snow accumulates on a swing at the beginning of a winter storm Thursday, Dec. 22, in Janesville, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Earlier in the year, Wisconsin saw drastic snowfall and cold temperatures. Now, winter is feeling almost spring-like.

Despite the warmer-than-usual winter, some seasonal fun can still be had. Anne Sayers, the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, joined WPR’s “Morning Edition” host Alex Crowe to share some ideas.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

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Alex Crowe: So let’s start off with the non-motorized things that people can do across the state. Can you tell us what we can do and where we can find it?

Anne Sayers: Yes, so a lot of people don’t realize that Wisconsin actually has the third-most ski resorts in the entire country. We’ve got hills and runs for folks of all skill levels — that’s from beginner to expert. We have ski and snowboard hills in every corner of the state.

The good news is that a lot of these places are making snow so they can weather the different changing conditions.

One idea is to take advantage of the First Tracks Friday this season. That’s a new promotion. They have 15 participating ski hills and they’re offering deals and exclusive offers. They have discounted lift tickets for visitors who arrive in the morning on Fridays, things like that.

Some hills to check out: Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau. That’s one of Wisconsin’s largest and oldest ski hills. We have Trollhaugen Ski Resort in northwestern Wisconsin, which stays open until 3 a.m. on Fridays.

Then we have Sunburst Ski Hill out in Kewaskum. They have ski and snowboarding as well as 45 lanes for snow tubing. You can reach speeds of up to 30 mph on their hills.

Granite Peak, Wausau, mountain, skiing
Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau. vxla (CC BY 2.0)

AC: Staying open until 3 a.m. sounds like a fun time. Let’s move on to motorized sports. I’ve heard from a lot of snowmobilers who were itching to get some snow on the ground. Is there enough on the ground right now for those trails to be opened up or are they still closed?

AS: It’s a hard question to answer in the moment because the conditions change. But when we do have snow, Wisconsin boasts 25,000 miles of snowmobiling trails. That’s actually equivalent to the entire circumference of the earth. So we we have a lot to choose from when we have snow.

The good news is that we do offer the Wisconsin snow report. This is an up-to-date, seasonal report that’s going to tell you exactly what the snow conditions are at every point across the state. So you can take a look at either where you’re planning to go and see how conditions are, or actually just plan your trip based on where the snow is and that it’s really up to date.

We have 130 volunteer reporters who help make sure we’re putting the best information before you. It even has some bells and whistles like suggestions for restaurants, places to stay, other attractions while you’re there. So it’s a really one-stop shop as you’re planning that winter getaway.

AC: I know a lot of people love ice fishing this time of year. We’ve had a really cold recent snap, then things started to warm up. Do we know anything about conditions?

AS: It really varies across the state. What we have found is that your local bait and tackle shop is going to be your absolute best resource. They know exactly what’s going on and the conditions just outside the doors. That’s a way to definitely plan your trip and also to stay nice and safe.

AC: There’s stuff to do all the time around Wisconsin. What are some things to do maybe if you’re trapped indoors or something that makes Wisconsin a destination, regardless of whether or not there is a lot of snow on the ground?

AS: I’m so glad you mentioned that because the data really proves that Wisconsin truly is a four-season destination. That’s because — even in the winter when the weather’s not cooperating — we have folks visiting museums, seeing concerts, attending festivals, eating at a restaurant, staying at hotels and just generating that economic impact that supports our communities.

This year, we have some really cool new museums. One of the Children’s Imaginarium in Wausau, a STEM-focused museum. It’s 10,000 square-feet of interactive exhibits — that’s one to take the kids to.

Another is the Food and Farm Exploration Center in Plover. It was recently opened as an educational center that talks about modern agriculture or where our food comes from. Plus, it has the world’s largest potato masher outside the center. It is a 39-foot-tall potato masher. You gotta see it to believe it.

World’s largest potato masher sits in front of the Food + Farm Exploration Center near Plover, Wis. The iconic symbol represents the fun exploration waiting inside and outside at the Center, honoring the agriculture industry, growers, innovators, and consumers. (Photo courtesy Travel Wisconsin)
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