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Cold Play 101
Entry-level venues for nine gnarly winter sports
by Marcia Froelke Coburn
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING CAMP SAGAWAU (12545 111th St., Lemont; 630-257-2045) has a great course for beginners—a two-and-a-half-mile loop that’s mostly prairie—plus one-and-a-half miles of more challenging terrain with steep hills. Rent equipment for $12; grab a quick lesson for $10 more.
ICE-SKATING No one wants to be the stumbling dork surrounded by twirling showoffs. You can relax at the Warren Park ice rink (6601 N. Western Ave.; 773-761-8663, chicagoparkdistrict.com). There’s an old-school feel here, thanks to music on the sound system and the tall evergreen trees circling the rink. Admission is free; skate rental is $6.
LUGING Embrace the thrill of hurtling feet-first down a steep, twisting chute. The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex (462 Scenic Dr., North Muskegon, Mich.; 877-879-5843, msports.org) starts beginners near the top of its 850-foot track, designed by Olympic lugers. A two-and-a-half-hour lesson for $40 will have you shooting down the luge several times. Bring proof of health insurance; wearing an old coat and elbow pads is recommended.
SKI JUMPING Founded by a group of Norwegian jumpers, the Norge Ski Club (100 Ski Hill Rd., Fox River Grove; 847-639-9718, norgeskiclub.com) is the oldest operating ski club in the United States and the destination for serious jumpers. Beginners can get instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and on the occasional Saturday. Call for a free trial; a full season’s worth of lessons costs $150.
A STONE’S THROW Two-and-a-half-hour curling lessons for beginners at the Chicago Curling Club (555 Dundee Rd., Northbrook; 847-564-9877, curlingchicago.org) cost just $35. Wear loose-fitting clothes, not jeans, and bring a pair of flat-bottomed shoes with clean soles to wear on the ice.
SLALOM RACING Learn how to clear the gates like the pros do at Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports (5790 Forest View Rd., Lisle; 630-963-3422, skifourlakes.com). Slalom and giant slalom classes start on Monday nights in January for $30 a lesson.
SLEDDING Pick up a cheap slide at any hardware store and head for the man-made hills. Landscaping around Soldier Field (1410 S. Museum Campus Dr., soldierfield.net) has created a 33-foot sledding hill southeast of the stadium. The lighted spot is open daily until 11 p.m. for sledding, starting in December.
SNOW TUBING No sleds allowed, but a bit of courage required. At Mount Hoy in the Blackwell Forest Preserve (Butterfield Rd., one mile east of Rte. 59, Warrenville; 630-871-6422, dupageforest.org), you rent a park district inner tube ($4 a day) for one of the longest rides around: The hill boasts 800 feet of downslope run.
SNOWBOARDING Dedicated exclusively to snowboarding, Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park (19-265 Western Ave., Algonquin; 847-836-7243, ragingbuffalo.com) is the place where boarders hit the half pipes. There is a beginner course; lessons— group and private—are available for $20 to $40. Day passes cost $32 to $45.
SNOWSHOEING On free snowshoes borrowed from the park district, you can stomp around Northerly Island (1400 S. Lynn White Dr.; 312-745-2910, chicagoparkdistrict.com) now through February, as long as the snow is at least three inches deep.
SURFACE TENSION Bass Pro Shops (6112 W. Grand Ave., Gurnee; 847-856-1229, basspro.com) sells the necessary gear for ice fishing: auger, skimmer, lures, jigging rods, tip ups, and bait. Reel Action Sport Fishing Charters (920-360-2136, reelactioncharters.com) in northern Wisconsin can provide a shanty for $50 a person or the full monty—guides, underwater cameras, and fish-cleaning—for $100 a person.
Photography: technotr/istockphoto; piskunov/istockphoto