Time to break out the sleds, saucers, snow tubes and cafeteria trays. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for this weekend in Dane and neighboring counties, forecasting a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain for tonight and, on Saturday afternoon and evening, snow accumulations of four to eight inches across south-central Wisconsin. With winds projected at 20 to 30 miles per hour gusting to 40, expect significant drifting. All followed by a cold snap.
Ever alert to the recreational opportunities this presents, the City of Madison is announcing today that this weekend marks the season's official opening of sled hills at Madison's parks.
Laura Whitmore, the community-relations coordinator for Madison Parks, notes the city has already started making snow to help cover the sledding hill at Elver Park -- both the gold standard and the ne plus ultra among sledding hills in city parks. Depending on your nerve and other sensibilities, its massive size renders Elver's steep and deep slope the most a) exhilarating, b) fearsome, c) intimidating, d) monstrous, or e) terrifying sled hill in Madison's city park system. Plus f) all of the above.
Whitmore ranks the two sledding hills at Hiestand Park -- off Milwaukee Street on Madison's east side, convenient to her own neighborhood -- as the collective runner-up to Elver's steep and deep titan. "It's very exhilarating," she says of the Hiestand hill.
Other city parks with significant sledding hills include Berkley, Olbrich, Sycamore, Warner and Garner -- the latter, Whitmore reports, boasting a new sled hill courtesy of the city's recent removal of a backstop that had once stood at the bottom of the run.
Burnishing its status as the Matterhorn of sled hills in Madison parks, Elver Park's warming shelter and restrooms are scheduled to open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday -- though hours may be cut back due to weather conditions or insufficient patronage, and the concession stand will not be open until Dec. 18.
Whitmore cautions that sledding down any hill in Madison's parks is done at your own risk, which is true enough. Several years ago, an exuberant neighborhood sledding party at Olbrich Park came to an early, whimpering end when one of the adult guests ran his snow-tube into the brick faade of the city water-utility station at the west end of the slope. He incurred only a flesh wound and a blow to his self-esteem, but the blood made for a mighty festive holiday complement to the pristine white of the snow.
City staff will evaluate conditions throughout the forecast winter storm to determine whether they merit grooming Nordic ski trails in city parks.
For updates on these and other winter activities, see the City of Madison's winter portal.