By:  KRISTINE HANSEN with Milwaukee Magazine

You don't have to go far to get the most out of winter.

There’s no need to leave Wisconsin in winter – because that’s when a unique variety of seasonal activities pop up, whether it’s skiing upstate or checking out Milwaukee’s burgeoning craft-distillery scene. This is also a chance to tour the Main Streets of Milwaukee-area suburbs, where eclectic shopping and ethnic dining – paired with a hot-chocolate break – easily fill an afternoon as the perfect staycation.


Known as the Midwest’s No. 1 ski-resort vacation destination, Granite Peak Ski Resort in Wausau’s Rib Mountain State Park is just a three-hour drive from Downtown Milwaukee. Perfect for not only adult skiers but families of differing levels, too, there are 75 runs, four terrain parks and three high-speed lifts, all at the base of Granite Peak. Nervous first-time skiers can get their bearings in the on-site ski school while après-ski culture awaits at Sundance Chalet, a structure dating back to 1939 and now serving appetizers and drinks near a crackling fire. Since the runs were created in the late 1930s, new attractions have been added over the years, including a multimillion-dollar investment last summer that further boosts the Midwest’s largest snowmaking operation (a boon during an unseasonably warm spell when snow has all but melted).

Consider staying overnight near the resort to avoid a lot of driving in one day. Many properties offer a water park (such as at Grand Lodge & Logger’s Landing Indoor Water Park) or indoor pool (such as the Jefferson Street Inn, which includes a free breakfast and is pet-friendly) to extend the fun as well as sooth muscles sore from skiing. Another reason not to head back to Milwaukee the same day: You can check out the nightlife (live music, pubs and more) found in Wausau’s River District. Family Festival Weekends in each ski season cater to multi-generational groups.

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