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 (“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
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
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 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).
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.
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.
12545 West 111th Street
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.
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.
4100 Illinois Route 53
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.
1400 S. Lynn White Dr.
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 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.
Quentin Road, north of Dundee Road
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.
Cricket Hill Fields, Montrose Harbor
601 W. Montrose Ave.
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
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.
425 E. McFetridge Dr.
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.