Hint: none of them involve cheese…
At the end of February, several hundred athletes will descend on Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for the 15th annual United States Snowshoe Racing National Championships. And although the city (with help from local bike group CORBA) will surely put on a race to remember, visitors to the city of “Clear Water” hope the town is memorable, too.
We called up Michael Strubel from Visit Eau Claire to ask him how to make the most of a weekend in this small Wisconsin town (population ~67,500). “We don’t roll up our sidewalks and hibernate for the winter,” he says. “We have lots of cool events going on.” Here are ten of his favorite:
Winter After Hours
If you’re in town on Thursday, checkout the last Winter After Hours of 2015 at Boyd Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The weekly event, held throughout January and February, encourages folks to participate in winter activities such as ice skating and snowshoeing (rentals are available for each sport). Watch snow sculptures in the making, listen to music, or warm up by the gigantic fire pits, a warming house, and plenty of hot chocolate will warm you up.
The Eau Claire Curling Club was incorporated in 1956 and now boasts more than 300 members. “Around here, a lot of people curl in the same way people play volleyball in the summer—they play a league,” explains Strubel, who notes that curling is a safe, indoor sport. “It’s not like downhill skiing where you’re taking your life in your hands.”
The Club’s facility, which is being used as a home base for the snowshoe championships, will be closed for curling during Nationals to accommodate snowshoers.
Eau Claire is the North American Capital of Kubb, a Swedish lawn game traditionally played during summer (Eau Claire will actually host the U.S. National Kubb Championship in July). But of course, Viking Chess, as it’s also called, has been adapted for winter, and you can play a round or two yourself at Winter After Hours or at Nationals, where a Kubb set will be available to participants.
Kubb sets are also available to buy at Eau Claire’s Volume One Local Store, which is also the site of the Friday night Athlete’s Reception.
Chippewa Valley Wellfest
After you race on Saturday, head over to the second annual Chippewa Valley Wellfest at Florian Gardens. With more than 35 exhibitors, a speakers’ series, and a hearty food court lineup, the event is meant to educate and inspire folks to be healthy and fit. Twenty-minute yoga and other fitness sessions are offered throughout the day—not a bad way to treat your body to some post-race TLC.
Music & Theater
There’s no shortage of performing arts in Eau Claire. Catch Bela Fleck on the banjo at the State Theatre on Friday night, or opt for opera: The Marriage of Figaro, performed by students at UW-Eau Claire, runs through March 7. Those with kids might want to check out Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, playing at the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre on February 27.
Chippewa Valley Museum
This private, non-profit museum “is cool for out-of-towners because it tells the story of the area from the first French traders through more contemporary times,” Strubel says. Among the exhibits on display are Farm Life: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors and Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley are currently on display. At the end of your visit, treat yourself to dessert at the museum’s old-timey Tibbett’s Family Ice Cream Parlor
Of course a town located at 44.8 degrees latitude is going to have some good choices when it comes to alcohol. The Lazy Monk offers quality craft brews including its flagship Bohemian pilsner and dark lager. While you’re in that neighborhood, visit Infinity Beverages, a craft winery and distillery. Belly up in the tasting lounge and order a beerskey, which is created by double distilling beer and then aging it in micro-barrels.
If you’re up for the 12 mile drive north to Chippewa Falls, check out Leinenkugel’s, which has been brewing beer since May 1867.
The recently restored Banbury Place (once a Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Plant) is now 1,900,000 square-feet of floor space where you can find an assortment of local artists and crafters—more than 135 businesses are located here.
“It is open for people to go in and walk around,” Strubel says, “glass blowers and all kinds of people doing their thing in there.” Art murals previously at a downtown location have been preserved and are now on display at Banbury, and the facility hosts an Art Crawl every February to benefit the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council and State Theater.
Slip and Slide
No, not on the snowshoe course. Eau Claire’s Chaos Water Park can take the chill out of any cold day, whether you’re in the hot tub or playing basketball in Anarchy Bay.
If you’re feeling brave, take a plunge on the Bailout Water Slide, which drops you 40 feet, or the Hurricane Run Water Slide, which twists you through a dark tunnel. As you explore the slides, activity pools, lazy river, and ropes course, you’ll be surrounded by aliens, super heroes, and dinosaurs that appear on massive murals throughout the park.
Silver Mine Ski Jump
The Eau Claire Ski Club has hosted the Silver Mine Invitational ski jumping competition since 1886, an event that attracts top athletes from all over the world.
Although the 2015 edition has come and gone, visitors can still view the jump as they drive by on Interstate 94 or Highway 37. Or, come back next winter for the 2016 event, scheduled for January 15-16.