Example of well-executed infill development in a downtown area

Planning for winter outdoor activities can be challenging if these activities rely on the availability of ice or snow. In many communities, ice rinks and sledding hills require man-made assistance to be present all season long. For communities that can’t afford this level of investment, other types of activities with a lower cost can provide entertainment during the colder months.

Restaurant Week is a popular addition to the February events calendar in many communities. Offering fixed-price or themed menus at participating businesses, these events encourage customers to experience new restaurants. To extend their impact to other types of businesses, Restaurant Week programs can also offer larger package deals to encourage diners to take in a movie, show or other activity while they are out and about. Smaller communities that lack a critical mass of restaurants might instead try offering a date night series featuring a fixed-price menu and corresponding activity at one or two local restaurants each week for a month-long schedule of events. Other themed events might take advantage of the Valentine’s Day season, such as Lake Geneva’s Cocoa Crawl, featuring cocoa-themed treats at local businesses, or Marshfield’s Hot Chocolate 5K—or they might capitalize on winter comfort food, such as De Pere’s Soup Walk or Fond du Lac’s Chili Crawl.

Since humans are social creatures, the presence of people usually generates additional activity. If your community is successful in attracting individuals to an event, but they are largely indoors during their stay, you will miss out on the opportunity to capture additional interest with the presence of a visible crowd. One simple strategy is to extend the life of patio café spaces. During slightly warmer days, patio seating can be surprisingly popular with little effort. A sunny spot, wooden chairs with blankets, and fire pits or propane heaters will attract visitors in all but the chilliest weather, especially if the patio is at a coffee shop or is located near outdoor activities, plazas or parks for people watching. Edmonton offers a traveling “winter patio in a box” kit that event planners or businesses can reserve for special events or weekend days. Recipients receive wood furnishings, blankets, firepits and ready-for-assembly walls to block the wind.

Adding outdoor amenities for people to experience on their own during their downtown visit can also increase the amount of time they spend outside. Where seasonally appropriate, ice carving exhibits, snow slides or snow mazes can be effective, as can more elaborate productions, such as Icehenge in Lake Mills or the Ice Castle in Eagle River. Other uniquely wintry events that require limited planning—such as “snowga” (yoga in the snow), snow volleyball, snow and ice mini golf (sometimes with glow-in-the-dark balls), polar plunges, astronomy events or kites on ice—can also attract visitors during otherwise quiet periods. Private businesses can get in on the action with installations such as a temporary ice bar or igloo rooftop dining, both of which are often sell-out novelties for restaurants that install them.

View a list of Restaurant Week events in Wisconsin.

Check out Edmonton’s Winter Patio Design Guide.