Unless you've got a couple of kids running around, we're guessing that sledding down the rolling hills of Lincoln Park isn't the first winter activity that comes to mind. Welcome to the world of skiing and snowboarding. It's a bit pricier than the good ol' plastic sled that snaps in half when you run over a bump, but it's got some added perks: On-site dining, fancy chairlifts and, of course, some pretty exciting slopes. Whether you've never stood on skis or are a recent West Coast transplant, the Midwest "mountains" await snow-inclined folks of all kinds.
Get a Colorado ski or snowboard experience at Granite Peak
In 2000, when entrepreneur Charles Skinner took over this once-tired, 700-foot mountain that has some of the strongest vertical runs in the Midwest, he knew he'd struck gold. After a little re-vamping and re-imaging, Granite Peak in Wausau, Wisconsin's Rib Mountain National Park was back in the business. With 75 runs—including seven tree-skiing glades and a terrain park for the tricksters—seven high-speed lifts and Sun Kid Wonder Carpet (think O'Hare's gliding walkway, but on snow), Granite Peak's trail map doesn't look like a beginner's ski park.
Drive it: four-and-a-half hours north of Chicago
Ski/snowboard it: Opens December 12. Hours vary. Buy online and you'll shave a few bucks off lift ticket prices; otherwise, buy at the resort for $58 (all day), $50 (open time–4 p.m.) or $28 for night skiing from 4–9 p.m. Discounts available for children ages 6–12, seniors 65+ and adult/child combo skiing.
Drive an hour and you're ready to ski at Wilmot Mountain
If you're not ready to take the plunge yet, you can warm-up at this nearby Wisconsin resort. Eight chairlifts, three rope-towns, a terrain park and 25 runs pepper this little piece of heaven. Novices go wild on green (beginner) runs like "Broadway" and the "Upper Cat Trail," while advanced snow plowers strut their stuff on the advanced black-diamond runs, including "Shenanigan" and "Superior." Re-fuel at the full-service cafeteria or the Pizza Barn, or ease those aches and pains with a few drinks at the bar. At least the drive home won't be an arduous one, right?
Drive it: one hour northwest of Chicago
Ski/snowboard it: 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and holidays. Prices for one of three time frames: open–4:30 p.m., 2 p.m.–11 p.m. or 4:30 p.m.–11 p.m. range from $32-$42 for adults, $22-$29 for kids 11 and under, and $16-$21 for seniors. Discounts available for students, groups, emergency workers and military personnel.
Adventure seekers head west to Chestnut Mountain
Galena, Illinois, is best known for its quaint, small-town feel and wineries, but visitors shouldn't overlook its tucked-away mountain. Chestnut's 475-foot vertical drop offers 19 runs, ranging from beginning to advanced. With six chairlifts and three surface-lifts for the beginners, you'll have no excuse to hang out at the bottom of the mountain. If you need some pointers pre-run, take a lesson with one of the 50 expert instructors. Once the mountain has worn you down—and trust us, it will—you can chill out in the historic town.
Drive it: three-and-a-half hours northwest of Chicago.
Ski/snowboard it: 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.–midnight every Friday (January 2–February 27). Adult weekday tickets cost $35, $30 for evenings-only; it's $45 (two days $88) for weekends and holidays. Discounts are available for children (under 12), seniors (over 55) and groups of 15 or more.
A touch of old Swiss-style skiing at Alpine Valley Ski Resort
With five black-diamond runs, eight intermediate and eight beginner, Alpine Valley caters to skiers and boarders of all levels. Make the easy drive for just a day trip or do the weekend thing; a vintage '70s-looking ski chalet beckons tired skiers into its rooms and recently remodeled dining area. With two high-speed chairlifts, the mountain will keep you moving up and down faster than you can say "slalom race!"
Drive it: two hours north of Chicago
Ski/snowboard it: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends and holidays. For $31 on weekdays, you can ski from either 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. or 3–10 p.m.; an all-day pass runs $45. On weekends and holidays, ski from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. or 3-11 p.m. for $41; an entire day goes for $50. Discounted tickets available for beginners; kids 6-and-under get half-price lift tickets.
Share your ski angels at Devil's Head Resort
If you're serious about skiing but don't want to drive the extra miles to Granite Peak, Devil's Head is probably your best bet. With a 500-foot vertical drop and over 300 acres of terrain, it clocks in as the Midwest's third largest ski resort. The ten speedy chairlifts will take you up to 28 ski trails that are divided into almost perfect thirds by beginner, intermediate and expert. Oh, and did we mention that you've got 3.5 miles of cross-country ski trails to explore?
Drive it: three hours northwest of Chicago
Ski/snowboard it: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.–10 p.m. weekends and holidays. Adult day cost $40 on weekdays, $45 weekends; adult evening goes for $30 on both weekends and holidays; and adult day and night cost $45 weekdays, $50 weekends. Discounts available for kids and those only using the rope-tow area. On Thursday nights, a lift ticket will only cost you $14!
Get tricky at Raging Buffalo Snowboarding Ski Park
If you just want to hit sweet jumps till you drop, this Algonquin, Illinois, park is the place to be. Started in the early '90s as a haven for snowboarders, who at the time were banned from many local ski resorts, Raging Buffalo's reputation as a killer park has grown tremendously over the past 16 years. Pack up your gear, grab some cash and buy a helmet (it's mandatory here), and get ready to impress your fellow snow-lovers. Two main rope tows lead you up a steep-enough slope and into the land of large, challenging jumps and one huge half-pipe. And since snowboarders have finally outgrown their skier-hatin' (or vice versa), the park also welcomes skiers who want to hit jumps.
Drive it: one hour west of Chicago
Ski/snowboard it: 4–10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.–11 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday. Check its website for holiday hours. Ladies ride free on Wednesday evenings from 4 p.m.–10 p.m. Tickets go for $32 weekdays, $45 weekend and holiday all-day, $40 weekend and holiday noon till close, and $38 weekend and holiday half-days.
Each week, Centerstage Chicago's crack staff will answer a question you have about the city, showing you some of the best places around in the process. Did we miss something? Tell us. Got a question you want us to answer? Ask us and we'll get right on it.