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Winter: It's one thing to endure it, another thing to enjoy it. Where you fall on that spectrum depends on how you engage the season. To develop a true passion for winter, TRAVELER recommends forgetting about all the devices we humans have created to separate ourselves from the cold – such as 500,000 BTU furnaces that turn tail when the temperature drops to 10 below, or the vehicles of every stripe that inevitably end up in a snowbank, somewhere.
Be bold! Meet winter head on, and you'll be surprised at how congenial a season it is. You might, for instance, contemplate a winter camp-out. In many ways, winter camping has a definite edge over the summer version. First, you'll have the woods to yourself...almost. You will have to share Wisconsin's two million acres of wild lakes and forests with bobcats, wolves, deer, rabbits, eagles and owls. (Sorry.) Second, you'll have your pick of sites: Sixteen of Wisconsin's 46 state parks and five of the 12 state and national forests offer winter camping. Third, there will be NO mosquitoes. Fourth, there will be no mosquitoes. Fifth, no mosqui...you get the idea.
To your usual camping kit, add warm under- and outergarments, a sturdy pair of warm boots, perhaps a nip of brandy to fortify the hot cocoa. Leave the bug dope at home, but remember to bring along a star chart – the brilliance of the winter night sky is unmatched. You might see something above that you've never seen before. For details about winter camping locations, facilities and fees, call Wisconsin Tourism Information at 1-800-372-2737.
People 60 and older can engage the season on Elderhostel's 40-acre wilderness campus at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River. Take up cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; the organization offers programs in both. Or join in one of Elderhostel's winter walks highlighting seasonal ecology, animal adaptation and survival, meteorology and astronomy. For a schedule, call (715) 479-6456, or write Elderhostel c/o Trees for Tomorrow, P.O. Box 609, Eagle River, WI 54521.
If you'd really like to get off the beaten path, try snowshoeing. Trails aren't necessary – with snowshoes, you can traverse terrain otherwise inaccessible in warmer seasons (e.g. your back yard). Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha offers half-day snowshoeing workshops from mid-December through February. Call (414) 896-8007 for dates and times. Many other nature centers have snowshoeing classes – try contacting the center nearest you.
As the joy of winter gets under your skin, you'll soon discover there's no anxiety like snowanxiety. When the suspense of wondering how much snow is enough becomes too much to bear, alleviate the tension with a call to the Wisconsin Snow Conditions Hot Line – 1-800-432-TRIP. You'll get the latest updates on cross-country and snowmobile trails, plus downhill skiing conditions statewide. The line is in operation with the first significant, sustained snowfall (no later than December 5th).
So, hoist that mug of cocoa and make a winter's toast: "May your cheeks grow ruddy, and icicles hang from your moustache!"