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Chicago Winter Sports Guide: Skiing, Snowboarding, Sledding

December 28, 2010 7:00 AM

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Sundown Mountain

Winter’s inevitable snow is often a source of great misery, but it can also be a key ingredient for great fun. From mounds to mountains, the Chicago area and surrounding region offers an array of options for snowy sport and leisure.

Here’s a selection of locations and destinations for making the most out of winter’s white bounty.

Downhill Skiing/Snowboarding

Downhill (“Alpine”) skiing/snowboarding is limited here in the prairie, but there are a few options to choose from, if you don’t mind getting up early and filling up the tank.

Devil’s Head Resort
Merrimac, WI
devilsheadresort.com

Devil’s Head is a three-hour drive from Chicago, past Madison in South Central Wisconsin. Its 30 slopes favor the intermediate skier who enjoys lengthy cruising without too many harsh bumps. It’s a bit of a drive, but with resort-style amenities it’s an ideal destination for an extended weekend stay.

Sundown Mountain Resort
Dubuque, IA
sundownmtn.com

At the Iowa border near Galena, Dubuque’s Sundown Mountain Resort offers 21 trails and a seven acre terrain park, with a mini terrain park for beginners. Also a lengthy drive, but as it’s the only Midwest recipient of the National Ski Area Association’s Award of Excellence, it’s worthy of a road trip.

Villa Olivia
Bartlett, IL
villaolivia.com

Villa Olivia is the nearest downhill skiing option to Chicago, but it is also a rather modest 1/4-mile run. Slopes are open seven days/week for skiing and snowboarding, with snow tubing limited to Wednesdays and weekends (tickets sold separately).

Wilmot Mountain
Wilmot, WI
wilmotmountain.com

Located just over the Wisconsin border, past Antioch, Wilmot Mountain offers 24 runs of varied terrain for all skill levels. The mountain is tricked out with a Snocross course and a terrain park with over 30 different rails and boxes, making it an ideal destination for freestyle skiers and riders.

Cross-country Skiing

If you want to ski without hitting the highway, consider slipping into some free-heel bindings and giving the Nordic style a run. Sure, it lacks some of the speeds and thrills of downhill, but it’s a great workout, a relaxing respite from city stress, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying a lift ticket.

Camp Sagawau
12545 West 111th Street
Lemont, IL
fpdcc.com

Camp Sagawau, part of the Cook County Forest Preserve, is regarded as an excellent place for beginners, with about five miles of groomed trails, daily skiing, lessons and equipment rental.

Lincoln Park
Chicago, IL
chicagoparkdistrict.com

The paths and trails around Lincoln Park’s 1,208 lakefront acres are abundant and ideal for cross-country skiing. Equipment rental is available at REI, 1466 N. Halsted Street.

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL
mortonarb.org

Morton Arboretum recently opened its 1,700 acres of stellar landscapes to cross-country skiing. Visitors must bring their own skis, though snowshoes can be rented for $8 per pair for up to three hours.

Northerly Island
1400 S. Lynn White Dr.
Chicago, IL
chicagoparkdistrict.com

On select weekends through February, as long as there are three inches of snow on the ground, the Chicago Park District offers cross-country skiing (and snowshoeing) around Northerly Island. Rent skis and snowshoes for free at the field house with an ID.

While some parks and forest preserves have cross-country ski rental available, there are options for day rentals in and around the city. Viking Ski Shop in Logan Square and Barrington (vikingskishop.com), Beverly Bike and Ski (beverlyallseasons.com), and REI in Lincoln Park and Oakbrook Terrace (rei.com) all offer Nordic ski rental. For individuals looking to join a group outing, the Discovery Center (discoverycenter.cc) has organized day-long trips to Lincoln Park on January 8, 29 and February 19 for a nominal fee with rental option.

Sledding

Sledding is great fun for kids of all ages, and it’s the most convenient and economical way to hit the hills in winter. There are several local options—all you need is a sled (or even a cafeteria tray). Here is a sampling of sleddable slopes in and around the city.

Deer Grove
Quentin Road, north of Dundee Road
Palatine, IL
fpdcc.com

While all toboggan runs throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve are currently closed, sledding abounds. The 1,000-acre forest preserve at Deer Grove is ideal for both cross-country skiing and sledding, with a lengthy run that ends over frozen Deer Grove Lake.

Lincoln Park
Cricket Hill Fields, Montrose Harbor
601 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL
chicagoparkdistrict.com

Cricket Hill, east of Lake Shore Drive at Montrose Harbor, isn’t specifically designated for sledding, but it’s a popular spot for it anyway.

Mount Trashmore (James Hill)
Oakton & Dodge
Evanston, IL
cityofevanston.org

The 65 ft. hill in Evanston’s Robert E. James Park, endearingly referred to as Mt. Trashmore, was a solid waste landfill until 1965. Skiing was prohibited in the ‘80s, and sledding on the large center hill is currently not allowed, though sledding is permitted on the small and intermediate hills.

Soldier Field
425 E. McFetridge Dr.
Chicago, IL
chicagoparkdistrict.com

If there’s little or no snow on the ground and you’ve got the sledding bug, head to the museum campus. Southeast of the stadium there’s a relatively new 220 ft. slope, complete with machine-made snow for all-winter sledding.

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