Chestnut Mountain Resort, Galena
● Drive time 2 hours and 45 minutes
● Thrill factor 5/5
● Stats 475-foot vertical drop, 19 runs (three black diamond), lift tickets from $40
● Rundown It’s no snowcapped peak, but Chestnut is positioned on a ridge along the Mississippi, which translates into lovely views and steep runs that end abruptly at the river’s edge. Daytime is best, unless you’re looking to practice your ice-carving and tumbling skills.
● A Poor Man’s … Aspen. If only for the bumpin’ town and quality hotels. Skip Chestnut’s lodge and roll up instead to the adults-only Goldmoor Inn, five minutes down the road, or head downtown to the kids-allowed Ulysses Suites, which opened in June.
Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports, Lisle
● Drive time 30 minutes
● Thrill factor 1/5
● Stats 100 feet of vertical, five runs (one labeled “advanced,” but it’s not what you think of when you think black diamond), lift tickets from $21
● Rundown Yes, those five tow-rope-only bunny hills — the longest of which comes in at a tenth of a mile — make up the entirety of Four Lakes. But if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a fun time, especially for kids skilled enough to zip around unattended and parents inclined to sip hot drinks while they wait.
● A Poor Man’s … Beaver Creek. OK, it’s not the “Ivy League of ski schools,” but the teaching staff at Four Lakes has 100 years of combined experience, and all the gentle slopes give tots an unintimidating place to practice.
Villa Olivia, Bartlett
● Drive time 40 minutes
● Thrill factor 3/5
● Stats 180 feet of vertical, seven runs (one black diamond), tickets from $14
● Rundown Look for bunny hills with tow ropes, a quarter-mile run with a quad lift, a terrain park, and solid kids’ lessons that are especially good for squeezing in over school breaks and on weekend nights. Also: snow tubing!
● A Poor Man’s … Park City. No history of silver mining like you’ll find out west, but anyone who grew up nearby knows the urban legend of a landfill transformed into a ski hill. While the rumors aren’t true, the fact that the legend exists says something in and of itself.
Snowstar Extreme Sports, Andalusia
● Drive time 2 hours and 50 minutes
● Thrill factor 4/5
● Stats 262 feet of vertical, 15 runs (eight black diamond), lift tickets from $26
● Rundown “If you build it, they will come” plays out in your head as you follow the lights down a gravel road to a ski hill set in the middle of farm fields. You’ll have the best time if you spring for the tubing package, which includes a tubing hill with colored lights.
● A Poor Man’s … Big Sky. No bears or bison, just bald eagles doing their winter migration at nearby Mississippi River towns — especially on cold days at the unfrozen dam at Rock Island’s Schwiebert Riverfront Park, 20 minutes away. (Click here for more places to peep eagles.)