MARCH MADNESS
This says it all about the ambition and location of South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. SXSWeek, as it’s known, lasts from March 12th to the 21st in 2010. It’s not just because everything, including a week, is bigger in the Lone Star State; no, the South by Southwest festival’s ambitions have grown to include not only music but also film, media, and presumably world domination since it first drew a bunch of people to the Texas capital to hear some good tunes in 1987. Even though the festival is now also about corporate sponsors and celeb-laden parties you can forget getting into, South by Southwest still retains its all-important devotion to great music as well as the tantalizing prospect of catching a band before they rocket to sold-out stadium concerts. Besides, any event that can draw an eclectic bunch like Devo, Ice Cube, and Van Morrison has something going for it.
Info www.sxsw.com

APRÈS-SKI, MINUS THE SKIING BEFORE
I’m not going to lie; there have been plenty of times when I’ve been on the slopes thinking only about where to go for après-ski, the postskiing festivities that reward your exertions with good food and drink. But why not skip the preamble and get straight to the fun? For two days in January, 100 wineries from northern Sonoma County take part in the annual Winter Wineland, where you’ll not only get to do the usual tasting and tours of the country’s best vineyards but also get to meet the winemakers and taste limited-production wines, new releases, and library wines. Even better, many of the wineries have done what most of us can’t: They've paired their best vintages with just the right food and done it all in unique, cozy settings. Examples of past years’ activities include National Football League playoff tailgate parties with barbecue (Armida and Selby wineries), a campfire with hot dogs and s’mores roasting over vine clippings (Frick Winery), wine pairings with beans and franks (Field Stone Winery), homemade pizza (Everett Ridge), gourmet macaroni and cheese (Hawkes Tasting Room and Moshin Vineyards), and a chance to spin the Recessionary Wheel to win discounts and prizes (Trentadue Winery).
Info www.wineroad.com

FISH THE EVERGLADES
Florida’s Everglades and Alaska aren’t usually thought of simultaneously. But go to either place during the summer and you’ll find they share at least one natural wonder: mosquitoes the size of small raptors. In winter, leave Alaska to the skiers and instead head to Everglades National Park, where annoying bugs are virtually nonexistent and the temperature is a balmy average of 77 degrees. It's one of America’s great natural wonders, and an added plus is that 300 different species of fish inhabit the one-third of the park that’s covered by navigable water. Thanks to the Everglades’ unique ecosystem, both saltwater and freshwater fish can be had, and -- if you’re really lucky, really skilled, or both -- you can aim for the coveted “grand slam” of reeling in one each of a snook, trout, redfish, and tarpon. To protect the sensitive environment, many rules govern fishing in the Everglades, so it’s best to team up with a good guide.
Info www.nps.gov/ever

TORCH A SHIP
Maybe the Vikings get a bad rap. Maybe instead of pillaging and terrorizing, they just wanted to have fun. That’s certainly the impression everyone visiting the remote Shetland Islands in Britain would get if their trip coincided with the yearly Up Helly Aa festival in January. The Shetlands were invaded and ruled by the Vikings for hundreds of years, but residents must either have short memories or not think their Norse rulers were too harsh, because the festival today involves getting dressed up in Viking garb and partying like it is 899. Some say that although it has murky origins, Up Helly Aa was begun to curb boisterous holiday celebrations. Well, if that’s done by encouraging a raucous day-and-night party with dress-up Vikings wielding axes that culminates with a torchlight parade through town and the ceremonial immolation of a Viking longship, then mission accomplished.
Info www.visitshetland.com/major-events/up-helly-aa

FIND SUMMER
Plenty of folks don’t hate skiing -- they just loathe winter. Luckily, they can take advantage of the fact that the world has two hemispheres and give the entire season a miss by heading down under to Australia, where January and February are synonymous with heat waves and barbecues. Besides enjoying the vibrant cities of Sydney and Melbourne and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef, festive Aussies have plenty of other ways to mark the beginning of summer. For instance, the 628-nautical-mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has been both a proving ground for some of the world’s top sailors for 64 years and -- and this is where you come in -- a reason to throw a big party in Sydney Harbor, where the race starts, and in Hobart on the island of Tasmania, where it ends. Once in Tasmania, which has likely suffered from its association with Bugs Bunny’s cartoon nemesis Taz, check out the Taste Festival, where you can sample local produce, wine, seafood, and many other culinary specialties from the island. There’s nothing devilish about that.
Info www.discovertasmania.com

HOT HEAD
A face-plant into a snowdrift can leave your face burning from the cold. Strange as it may be, a dollop too many of Tabasco Pepper Sauce, the ubiquitous hot sauce found on restaurant tables everywhere, can also leave your face aflame. Tabasco may be a welcome blast of summer in a bottle, but probably more than anything, a visit to the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory on Avery Island, Louisiana, during winter qualifies as a hot trip -- particularly when it’s done in combination with a stop in New Orleans, which is a couple of hours to the east. For more than 140 years, Avery Island has been the home of McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce, and the process for making it hasn’t changed much during that time. Seemingly conceived perfectly for the task, Avery Island sits atop one of the world’s largest salt mines -- salt is a key ingredient in making the sauce -- and has soil conducive to growing the necessary peppers. Producing Tabasco sauce is a family affair, and generations of employees have worked and lived on the island. Of course, hot sauce isn’t all there is to the island, so be sure to check out the 250-acre Jungle Gardens -- home to azaleas, bamboo, and camellias -- and explore the marshes and bayous that surround this natural paradise.
Info www.tabasco.com