Living in Chicago means having a complimentary lifetime pass to complain about winter all you like. But true Chicagoans know when to bury that pass deep in their parka pockets and embrace the season.

Here are some ideas for making the most of winter and getting the kids out of the house, regardless of whether the snow comes sooner … or later.

If it snows

Sled in the forest preserve. The Chicago area is about as hilly as Lake Michigan, but local kids know that when there’s snow on the ground, the Cook County Forest Preserve provides some fine sledding runs for young speed demons. There are 10 hills in all, and they’re open 10 a.m. to sunset (or 9 p.m. for the few that have lights). 800-870-3666, free, fpdcc.com.

Go tubing at Villa Olivia. While the forest preserve doesn’t allow inner tubes, the course at Villa Olivia in Bartlett is tailor-made for them. There’s even a “tube lift” that tows you up the hill. You must be at least 6 years old to tube it, though 4- and 5-year-olds may accompany an adult. 1401 W. Lake St., Bartlett, 630-540-4199, villaolivia.com, 4:30-10 p.m. Weather permitting starting December 13th. Thursday-Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, $20 for ages 6 and over, $5 for ages 4-5.

Snowshoe and cross-country ski at Northerly Island. Northerly Island is about as close to an urban oasis as Chicago has, and nothing proves the point more than the shush-shushing of cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter. Equipment is available to check out for $5 at the fieldhouse. 1521 S. Lynn White Drive, 312-745-2910, chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/Northerly-Island

If it doesn’t snow

Strap on skates. Chicago doesn’t lack for lovely — and free! — places to ice skate.

  • Or hit Warren Park (6601 N. Western Ave., 773-761-8663, chicagoparkdistrict.com) for more of an intimate neighborhood feel.
  • In the burbs, Skokie’s indoor Skatium Ice Arena (9300 Weber Park Place, Skokie, 847-674-1500, skokieparks.org/skatium-ice-arena) has a full-size rink plus a small one that’s perfect for parties.
  • And Rink Side Arena in Gurnee (6152 W. Grand Ave., Gurnee, 847-856-1064, rink-side.com) has laser tag and black-lit mini-golf.


Play in the man-made stuff. Who is Mother Nature to tell us when we can and can’t have snow?

  • Skiers can hit Wilmot Mountain (wilmotmountain.com) and Devil’s Head Resort (devilsheadresort.com), two ski areas just a short trip from Chicago that make their own snow, El Niño be damned.
  • Wilmot also offers tubing. For cross-country lovers, Lapham Peak in Wisconsin (laphampeakfriends.org) makes its own snow along lighted trails.


Lie on a luge. It may be a little off the beaten snow path, but there’s a reason the luge is one of the highlights of every Winter Olympics: Its speed is unmatched. Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, about three hours from Chicago in Muskegon, Mich., will train anyone ages 8 and up in downhill daredevilry. It may seem daunting, but as Eminem once said, you gotta luge yourself in the moment. msports.org, 877-879-5843.