Choose Winter

December 2022 View more

No need to hibernate when these cold-weather adventures await

Tubing at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Mountain
Tubing at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Mountain

Last year’s balmy December temps may have been a mild way to ease into the winter, but it was a serious bummer for local venues that count on cold weather to kick off their busiest season of the year. “We always say we are shooting for the middle of December to open,” says Chris Buehler, director of recreation at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports in Lisle. “That’s not been possible because of the warmer start of the winter last year, but if the Farmer’s Almanac is right, this year is supposed to get a very cold start to the winter that will stick around.” Ready to embrace the cold? Consider this your handy guide to the best of snow sports, winter fun, and places to chill.




Polar Plaza Curling Lanes in Glen Ellyn
Polar Plaza Curling Lanes in Glen Ellyn

Have your own pair of skates at home? Once temps plunge below 15 degrees for three days straight, Naperville Park District starts the icemaking process at three lit rinks around town. At Centennial Park (500 W. Jackson Ave.), there’ll be one rink for skating and two boarded rinks for ice hockey and broomball. Rinks at Nike Sports Complex (288 W. Diehl Rd.) and Wolf’s Crossing Community Park (3252 Wolf’s Crossing Rd.) are also lit until 10 p.m. for free skating (December 15 to February 15, weather permitting).

Ice skating on Lake Ellyn
Ice skating on Lake Ellyn

When Depot Pond in Batavia ices over, it’s a picturesque place to skate, with the neighboring Peg Bond Center designated as a warming house (151 N. Island Ave.) When the conditions are just right, Glen Ellyn Park District will clear the snow off Lake Ellyn (645 Lenox Rd.) so skaters can take a spin. Not cold enough? You still can skate on the synthetic ice rink at Polar Plaza in downtown Glen Ellyn even when the temps rise above freezing. The rink opens November 25 with the inaugural Polar Market—a holiday kickoff event with local vendors, visits with Santa, and yuletide entertainment—and daily skating hours (noon—9 p.m.) continue through February 19. The plaza also has two curling lanes with free equipment provided for up to eight players per lane (open 4—9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon—9 p.m. Saturdays and noon—7 p.m. Sundays; lanes are first come, first served). Another option for less frosty days are the outdoor ice rinks at Wheaton’s Central Athletic Complex (500 S. Naperville Rd.), which allow skating and hockey up to 40 degrees, thanks to a built-in cooling system.




Snowshoeing on Morton Arboretum’s Conifer Trail
Snowshoeing on Morton Arboretum’s Conifer Trail

One of the things that has always appealed to me about cross-country skiing is I can chose the level I want to ski at,” says Laura Brown, naturalist and assistant director at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center (12545 111th St., Lemont), which offers equipment rentals, lessons, and groomed trails for cross-country skiing. “If I want to go for a ski in the woods and enjoy the quiet of a winter morning, then I can do that. If I want to get more aerobic about it, I can speed up my pace and focus more on my technique.” The center offers equipment rentals ($15 per person, $40 per family, $10 for seniors) and lessons ($30, equipment included). “Our goal of the beginner lesson is to give people the skills to get around the easy part of our trail,” Brown says. “That includes getting up and down hills, the technique of how to ski—and this would be the classic or diagonal stride.” Trails extend over bridges and through forests with a chance to see coyotes, deer, and hawks along the way. The center is cashless, and online reservations are required for rentals and lessons. If you already have your own gear, no need to make a reservation; just stop in the center to pick up a free trail pass first.

In the golfing off-season, Arrowhead Golf Club (26W151 Butterfield Rd., Wheaton) grooms cross-country trails around its 27-hole course. There’s no trail fee, whether you bring your own skis or choose to rent onsite ($25 for skis, boots, and poles for two hours; $15 for children 12 and under). Rentals also include ski access at neighboring Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. After, defrost yourself in the club’s cozy wood-paneled restaurant, where you can sip a spiked coffee at the bar or order hearty snacks such as battered Wisconsin cheese curds with Sriracha ranch or a soft pretzel with warm cheese dip and honey mustard.

The Morton Arboretum (4100 Rte. 53, Lisle, admission $11—$16) also rents cross-country skis and snowshoes to explore its 16 miles of trails ($3 for poles, $13—$17 for snowshoes, $20—$22 for skis). If you’re up for a challenge, there are plenty of hilly treks to get your heart rate up. If you’re hungry after your workout, head to Ginkgo Restaurant and Café inside the visitors’ center. Whether you stop for a quick sandwich or salad from the grab-and-go case or opt for made-to-order fare, you’ll be sure to savor the views of the icy lake and snow-covered grounds through the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

Have your own cross-country ski gear? The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County grooms more than 50 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, including at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Waterfall Glen in Lemont, and St. James Farm in Warrenville.

Snowboarding at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports
Snowboarding at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports

If downhill skiing or snowboarding is more your style—or you’d like to learn how—hit the slopes at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports in Lisle (5750 Lakeside Dr., Lisle). The park has five ski runs ranging from beginner to advanced, including the Alley, a terrain park with rails, boxes, and a wall-ride feature. Weather permitting, the park opens in mid-December and will stay open into 2023 as long as conditions allow. “Even if there’s no snow in your backyard, we will have plenty of snow on the hill,” says Chris Buehler, director of recreation. Head to the cashier to buy your slope tickets ($24—$30) and rent your skis or snowboard ($20—$30), or register in advance ( for semiprivate or private lessons at the ski school ($35—$60). Take a break and fuel up in between runs at BaseCamp, the slope’s casual bar and grill, or grab a quick bite at the concession stand. There’s also a cafeteria space if you want to BYOF. “Delivery is totally welcomed,” Buehler says. “You can brown bag it in, bring a picnic, or have GrubHub deliver whatever you want.”

Operated by the Bartlett Park District, Villa Olivia (1401 W. Lake St.) offers seven ski runs (beginner to intermediate), a terrain park, and a chairlift ($14—$40 for slope tickets, $43 for snowboard rental, $23—$33 for ski rental). Need to brush up on the basics before hitting the slopes? Book ski or snowboard lessons ranging from beginner to advanced ($34—$55 per lesson). Weather permitting, the park opens December 17 and closes for the season March 5.




Downers Grove Ice Fest
Downers Grove Ice Fest

The season’s beer fests give the phrase “ice-cold brewski” a whole new meaning. Bundle up for Naperville Ale Fest’s Winter Edition on February 25 at Frontier Park (3380 Cedar Glade Dr., for tickets), where you can sample stouts, porters, and barrel-aged beers fit for the season while fire pits and a heated tent keep the vibes cozy. There’s also the Westmont Winter Beer Festival on February 18 at Ty Warner Park (700 Blackhawk Dr., Westmont). Tickets range from $50 to $70 and include 20 four-ounce pours from local craft breweries (and there’s also a $10 designated-driver option).

Entertaining an under-21 crowd? Wheaton Park District hosts its annual Ice-A-Palooza, a free outdoor fest for families, on February 4 at the Central Athletic Complex. Ice-skate at the outdoor rink, play games, and snap photos with costumed characters (last year’s guest stars, the Ice Queen and Snow Princess, bore a very strong resemblance to Elsa and Anna). February 3 to 5, visit the Downers Grove Ice Fest to see ice sculptures stationed in front of local businesses and watch chainsaw-wielding artists creating their frosty artwork live at the Main Street Station (5001 Main St., Downers Grove). Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and runs through January 7. Take a one-mile stroll through dazzling light displays among the trees (six are new this year). For sustenance, s’mores kits are for sale for the fire pits stationed throughout. Tickets ($10—$27 per person) sell out early, so plan to snag yours in advance (




Tubing at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Mountain
Tubing at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Mountain

If skiing sounds entirely too athletic, tubing could be your ideal winter activity. “All you have to do is grab a tube, have a seat, and let gravity do its job,” says Chuck Randles, general manager of Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin, which operates a 22-lane tubing hill adjacent to its ski facilities (11931 Fox River Road, Wilmot) The resort is a 90-minute drive north from Naperville, and the tubing hill has its own entrance, parking, and lodge so you can avoid tangling with ski crowds. Conveyor lifts transport you and your tube to the hilltop, where you’ll begin your icy descent down one of the 1,000-foot lanes. Rides are slower during the day when the sun softens the snow, so plan an evening visit if you have the need for speed. With the help of snowmaking machines, the tubing hill’s anticipated opening date is Dec. 9; buy tickets online ($35—$54) in advance, as weekends and holidays tend to sell out. There’s no lap-sitting allowed, and riders must be 42 inches tall.

To give tubing a try closer to home, head to Mount Hoy Tubing Hill at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville (entrance on Butterfield Road east of Winfield Road). Rent a tube ($10/day) and slide down the 800-foot slope, which is open when there’s at least three inches of snow from Dec. 3 through Feb. 26 (weekends and school holidays, 10 a.m.—4 p.m.) Kids age 5 or younger can ride on a parent’s lap. Villa Olivia also operates a four-lane tubing hill that’s open Thursday through Sunday, with a Magic Carpet conveyor lift to haul you and your tube to the top of the slope. Make a reservation online for a two-hour time slot in advance ($24—$30 per person,

Try Something New

Your winter bucket list

▢ Visit Naper Lights, a series of holiday displays along the Riverwalk, Jaycees Park, and Water Street in downtown Naperville through December 31.

▢ Rent snowshoes and traverse the trails at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center (3609 Spring Rd., Oak Brook) or Red Oak Nature Center (930 N. River Rd., North Aurora).

▢ Sign up for the Winter Solstice Hike (December 21) at the Morton Arboretum (4100 Rte. 53, Lisle) or tour the trails on your own to see artist Daniel Popper’s Human+Nature sculptures in the snow.

▢ Sip hot chocolate at Skating with Santa December 3 at Rocket Ice Rink (180 Canterbury Ln., Bolingbrook) hosted by the Naperville Park District.

▢ Watch an ice-harvesting demonstration at Kline Creek Farm (1N600 County Farm Rd., West Chicago) from December through February. Follow the farm’s Facebook page for times:

▢ Tee off from a heated bay at Topgolf (3211 Odyssey Ct., Naperville).

▢ Race in the Lions Club Reindeer Run on December 3 in downtown Wheaton.

▢ Ride a miniature steam train to the North Pole during Holiday Express at Blackberry Farm (100 S. Barnes Rd., Aurora) in December.


Photos courtesy of Wilmot Mountain (Wilmot Mountain), courtesy of Glen Ellyn Park District (Lake Ellyn), courtesy of Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports (Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports), courtesy of The Morton Arboretum (Conifer Trail), courtesy of Greg Kozlick of 726 Visuals (Downers Grove Ice Fest), and Wilmot Mountain (Wilmot Mountain)