Winter can be an isolating time, and sometimes even we hearty Wisconsinites need a nudge to break our routines and actually get outside and enjoy the season’s snowy splendor instead of complaining about it. We need motivation to pull on our stocking caps and dig our ice skates out of the closet or even strap on some snowshoes.

Winter After Hours - Photo by: Andrea Paulseth

Every Thursday during January and February, Winter After Hours offers these opportunities and more. Billed as “Eau Claire’s Weekly Snow-Based Social,” Winter After Hours has been held each winter since 2010 in Eau Claire’s Boyd Park. The motivation behind the event is simple: Winter can be a blast, but some of us (mainly those of us who feel we’ve matured past snowpants and snowball fights) sometimes need a reminder. Between 6 and 8 p.m. on those winter Thursdays, Boyd Park is bathed in twinkling light and swarms with as many as a few hundred adults and kids enjoying an ideal evening. A curved loop of ice in the center of the park is the perfect place to try out those skates, whether you’re an amateur or a skate-mounted speed demon. Inside the loop, another sheet of ice is occupied by more skaters as well as hockey-stick wielding youngsters. Didn’t bring your skates? You can rent them on-site from Riverside Bike & Skate. If you’d prefer to try your hand … erm, feet … at snowshoeing, the Boys and Girls Club rents those, too.

 Winter After Hours - Photo by: Andrea Paulseth

If skating isn’t your thing, there’s a bonfire where you can warm up and toast s’mores (although you’ll want to arrive early before the marshmallows and graham crackers are gobbled up). The cozy crackle of logs and the heady perfume of wood smoke are an invitation to relax and enjoy the season. Boyd Park also offers a warming house where you can put on your skates or pour a free cup of hot cocoa.

Eau Claire Winter Art - Photo by: Andrea Paulseth

And, this being Eau Claire, the creative arts are never far away. Just steps from the ice, watch as the Starvin’ Carvists – locally based and internationally award-winning snow carvers Steve Bateman and Jason Anhorn – artfully chip away at a huge, molded block of snow to create a massive, frozen, and often whimsical work of art. (This season, they’ve already created an adorable trio of raccoons and a life-sized TARDIS, the galaxy gallivanting time machine from the TV series Doctor Who.)

Winter After Hours is presented by Volume One and the Eau Claire Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department and sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System and a host of other community businesses. It’s a relaxed, community-oriented event, so come as you are (preferably bundled up!), chat with friends and neighbors, and allow the crisp air to heighten your senses. The good times and good company will make you recognize that Christmas songs aren’t the only place you’ll find a winter wonderland.

To learn more about Winter After Hours and to see photos and a video, visit us here.