Where the locals go in Madison during winter

jet-roomDreams of a white Christmas usually come true for us in Wisconsin, but there’s a quick skid of difference between picturesque wintry weather and an avalanche of discontent.

A new exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, gently reminds us that the modern-day pleasures and pitfalls of winter are gentle when compared to what our forefathers experienced.

“Tis the Season: Winterful Wisconsin” dips into photo archives, artifacts and amateur home movies to show how we historically coped and celebrated the harshest of seasons.

“I wanted to create a fun, nostalgic trip down memory lane and a feel for how we dealt with snow before all the niceties of today,” says exhibit curator Leslie Bellais.

You’ll see 20-foot snowdrifts from 1881, Ojibwe snowshoes from 1843, raccoon gauntlet gloves and – Leslie’s personal favorite – a 1958 Mirro Sno Bronco sled.

“An ad describes it as riding fast and high off the ground, like a real bronco,” she says, of the Manitowoc product. “We’ve had a history of sled manufacturing in Wisconsin.”

Two short video stations show old-time home movies and a 1969 state tourism promotion of winter. Expect to see airborne toboggans that barely miss trees, a couple skating in a business suit and skirt, downhill skiing without poles and snowshoeing in knickers.

The tourism promo insists that “snow is a beautiful friend,” which you may or may not agree with as we get deeper into it.

“Winterful Wisconsin” stays up until Jan. 10, 2015, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 N. Carroll St., Madison. wisconsinhistoricalmuseum.org, 608-264-6555

A visit to Madison usually means shopping on State Street, a State Capitol tour and maybe tickets to a Badger sports event or Overture Center show.

Sure, that’s a full and satisfying weekend, but much more is uniquely Madison. Here’s my top 10 list for winter.

Tour Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Dr. The Frank Lloyd Wright building wasn’t constructed until 1997, and it peers over the Lake Monona shoreline. Free guided tours begin at 1 p.m. Friday through Monday during winter. mononaterrace.com, 608-261-4015

Add a visit to First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Dr. Architect Wright was a member and designed the original Meeting House, a National Historic Landmark. The 2011 Atrium addition earns national accolades for sustainable design. Winter tours begin after the 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services. Donations appreciated. fusmadison.org, 608-233-9774

Shop Monroe Street, where the unusual mix of independently owned businesses begins near Camp Randall Stadium. The only chain is Trader Joe’s, 1810 Monroe St. shopmonroestreet.com

Sniff out a cheap (dumplings at Umami, 923 Williamson St.) or pricey (A Pig in a Fur Coat, 940 Williamson St.) dinner along Williamson Street, Madison’s most bohemian neighborhood. Add a cold tap or two, plus blues and rock, at Crystal Corner Bar, 1302 Williamson St. We locals who crave bargains shop St. Vinnie’s, 1309 Williamson St. cwd.org/community

Attend a live broadcast of the nationally syndicated “Whad’Ya Know,” hosted by Michael Feldman of Wisconsin Public Radio. A $10 ticket (less for students, seniors) for the 10 a.m. to noon Saturday show at Monona Terrace includes coffee and sweet rolls, but arrive early. notmuch.com, 608-262-2201

Take a docent tour at Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave., available most Sunday afternoons, and check out the many exhibits of European to contemporary art. Admission is free. chazen.wisc.edu, 608-263-2246

Eat breakfast at the Jet Room, 3606 Corben Court, while sizing up corporate jets at Wisconsin Aviation. A wall of windows faces runways and airplane parking. Benny at the Jet – at least six choices of eggs benedict – is a specialty. jetroomrestaurant.com, 608-268-5010

Wander roomy Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St. It has no lakefront views like Memorial Union, its University of Wisconsin sister, but a lot goes on: bowling to art shows, Team Trivia on Monday nights and music at The Sett (named after a badger burrow) on weekends. Rates for overnight accommodations start at $90 for two; that includes free parking. union.wisc.edu, 608-890-3000

Explore the UW’s Geology Museum, 1215 W. Dayton St. You’ll see red granite from Wisconsin and rocks from the moon, learn about caves, fossils, meteorites, dinosaurs and glaciers. Download a fun, kid-friendly booklet for self-guided tours. Admission is free. geology.wisc.edu, 608-262-2399

Sign up for a Hop Head Beer Tour and leave the driving to somebody else. Where you go, via bus during winter, and the cost depends on the date. hopheadbeertours.com, 608-467-5707.

For more about how to amuse yourself in Madison: visitmadison.org, 800-373-6376.

Shopping for someone who appreciates all seasons of Wisconsin weather? Consider this trio of recently published Wisconsin Historical Press books.

Blaze Orange: Whitetail Deer Hunting in Wisconsin ($29.95) by Travis Dewitz turns the annual autumn pilgrimage of hunters into a photographic showcase of artistry and connection between humans and the natural world.

Perimeter: A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan ($29.95) by Kevin Miyazaki is a beautiful photo book that captures the many moods of the Great Lake’s 1,800-mile shoreline.

The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac ($22.95) by John Hildebrand is a collection of insightful essays that tap into ordinary events, places and objects that define and enrich the Midwest way of life.