A lot of folks shiver at the thought of planning a winter weekend getaway in the Midwest. Not Wisconsinites. For the most part, they relish it. Especially here, in the state's capital, where diehard winter enthusiasts have increasingly been showing up over the last three years for Kites on Ice, a winter kite festival held the first weekend in February.
Madison's premiere winter outdoor event takes place on the frozen ice of Lake Monona and inside the structure adjacent to it, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. USA Today named the fest one of the top 10 places in the country to go fly a kite.
Chicago kiters include a psychiatrist from Northwestern University and Chicago Fire, a sport kite team that has appeared in four World Cup competitions and participated in more than 120 festivals.
Many of the Kites on Ice kiters have won awards at kiting competitions world-wide, though festival founder Craig Wilson notes that "this event is not a competition. It's more about enjoying a fellowship of people with this common toy, the kite, and showing off."
During the festival, Wilson will present a workshop on kite aerial photography.
The Decs, short for The Decorators, is a six-member British team that does some pretty complex kite maneuvers while standing shoulder to shoulder. Another performer, "kite-skier" Mike Delfar, skis while flying his kite.
The actual kites are a cultural feast for the eyes--and a designer's dream. Often gigantic, some range from 60 to 120 feet. This year there's more of a focus on different types of kites, including inflatables, centipedes, boxes, figures, traditional Japanese and Chinese mechanical kites.
All the kite-flying events can be viewed from the ice or from inside the center's Grand Terrace room--except for "Nite Lites & Kites," a show with a fireworks finale that can be viewed only from outside.
In the convention center on both days, there will be kite-building workshops, historical displays, a miniature kite exhibition, kite aerial photography and indoor flying shows (Wilson says it's not hard to fly a kite indoors as these specially made kites of light fabric can easily move through a "slice of air").
Taking place outdoors will be the grand launch, team precision kite flying, the kite skiing and ice skating. A much-needed warming tent will provide warm refreshments and kite repair.
Children will not go wanting for winter fun. Experts will be on hand to get kids involved in ice fishing, ice skating and snowshoeing.
A crew from "Into the Outdoors," an Emmy-winning children's television series in Wisconsin, will be filming these activities as well as the kiting in different kite fields.
If you go...
From Chicago, take Interstate Highway 90 to U.S. Highway 12-18 West (the "Beltline") in Madison. Exit on John Nolen Drive, 4 miles from the interstate. Go north at the exit (your only option) until you come to Lake Monona; the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is to the right.
A number of hotels are offering special rates for the Kites on Ice weekend, including Best Western Inn on the Park, 608-285-8000; Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor's Club, 608-257-6000; Howard Johnson, 608-244-2481; Residence Inn by Marriott-Madison West, 608-662-1100. Be sure to mention you're coming in for Kites on Ice in order to get special rates. For a more complete list of places to stay, check out the Web site listed below.
STUFF TO SEE
Wisconsin's state capital boasts about 90 parks (eight are conservation parks). The Wisconsin State Capitol Building sits eight inches lower that the nation's Capitol Building, with four wings pointing to each of the compass points. Inside, it's detailed with rich marble and granite. State Street offers great eclectic shopping, galleries and restaurants and leads to the University of Wisconsin's sprawling Big 10 campus, which sits on Lake Mendota's south shore. An hour's drive to the West is Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's former home near the Wisconsin River.
More about the 4th annual Kites on Ice can be found at www.madisonfestivals.com or by calling Madison Festivals at 608-310-7294.