A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa: It’s a Winter Wonderland in Galena
Who needs a ski resort, when there’s a world-class winter retreat so close to home? Located in the rolling hills just east of Galena, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa provides winter excitement all season long.
The fun starts with the many complimentary outdoor activities, most of which begin at the clubhouse on the South golf course. Inside this wintertime ski shop, guests can access free rentals for cross-country ski equipment, ice skates and sleds.
Several trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, and the course’s 18th fairway is transformed into an exciting sled run, worthy of Galena’s undulating slopes.
“I don’t know the exact length or slope of the hill, but I know that it is significant,” says Sean Karvonen, resort recreation manager. “When people ask if the hill is worth spending time on, I tell them it’s definitely a fun run.”
Down on the golf course pond, the frozen ice is thick enough for ice skating and similar activities. Although the resort’s 225-acre man-made lake is big enough for winter fun, activities such as ice fishing are generally discouraged there. “There’s a slight current, and it’s harder to judge the thickness of the ice there,” says Karvonen.
It’s easy to get warm at the indoor pool, which is held at 85 degrees. The pool deck includes a sauna and steam room; you’ll also find steam rooms at the luxurious Stonedrift Spa.
The most popular weekend for winter fun happens just before President’s Day, when the resort hosts Winter Wonderland Weekend. In addition to sledding, skating and skiing, the resort hosts an outdoor bonfire with s’mores, hayrides led by a team of Clydesdales, outdoor recreation and unique dining. At the skating pond, Karvonen encourages friendly competition with eight-on-eight broomball matches, but his latest hit is turkey bowling.
“We set up bowling pins, and we slide turkeys on the ice,” he says. “It’s a full six- to eight-pound turkey. We wrap it up with duct tape and it slides pretty nicely.”
Winter Wonderland Weekend is also a time for the resort’s restaurant team to have some fun. “Chef Hoppman will carve an eagle ice sculpture with a chainsaw,” says Karvonen. “It’s a big chainsaw, and his design is intricate, with all these tiny grooves in it. You can watch him carve it, and then it’s on display at the Sunday brunch, which we serve at our restaurant, The Woodlands.”
The winter season officially kicks off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa arrives on a horse-drawn wagon to greet children and listen to Christmas wishes. The downstairs ballroom is transformed into Santa’s workshop and has activities such as crafts, bear-building and a live reading of T’was the Night Before Christmas. Every Saturday in December, Santa visits The Woodlands restaurant.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, the resort hosts an adults-only party in the upstairs ballroom and a kid-friendly party downstairs. While the grown-ups enjoy a prime rib buffet, open bar and a champagne toast, the little ones can enjoy a kid-preferred meal of their own, karaoke and fun games.
Winter doesn’t have to be a time to be stuck inside the house. “It’s fun to see people enjoying themselves outside,” says Karvonen. “It’s winter, so people think there’s not so much to enjoy. But there’s a lot we can do out there.”
For more information on Eagle Ridge’s busy winter schedule, visit eagleridge.com.
Chicago Rockford International Airport: Conquer the Colorado Slopes this Season
There’s “snow” time like now to start dreaming of ski season. Winter is quickly approaching in Colorado, where the rugged Rocky Mountains provide fantastic ski conditions from November through April or longer. In just a few hours, you can go from the rolling Midwestern hills to the great Colorado Western Slope, on a Frontier Airlines flight to Denver from Chicago Rockford International Airport.
Once you’re in Denver, you have access to some of the nation’s most famous ski destinations, and four of them are within a few hours’ drive along I-70. About 90 miles west in Keystone, Colo., Keystone Resort is all about skiing. Boasting one of the largest mountains in Summit County, Colo., the resort includes 3,148 skiable acres, 20 ski lifts and several AAA 4 Diamond runs. The more daring skiers and snowboarders can be found at the resort’s A51 Terrain Park, Colorado’s only night park, complete with rails, jumps, jibs and pipes. Daring skiers are also known to join the CAT skiing tour, a mountaintop journey in the comfort of a snowy terrain vehicle. Once atop the mountain, some riders head downhill on their own, skiing through untracked terrain.
A little further west on I-70 is Copper Mountain, an all-encompassing village filled with wintertime activities. The resort averages about 2,400 skiable acres and nearly 280 inches of snow every year, but skiing is just one attraction here. Complete with a tubing hill, zip line and ice skating, the resort is also home to Woodward at Copper, a year-round snowboard and ski training camp. Down in the village, the fun continues at a relaxing spa, several bistros and bars, and a vibrant nightlife.
Breckenridge and Vail, Colo., are both cities and massive resorts. The summit at Breckenridge holds 155 different trails, the longest of which is 3.5 miles long. While the slopes are just as challenging at Vail, that city comes alive with activities and entertainment. Kick off the ski season from Dec. 9-15 at Vail Snow Daze, with bar parties and outdoor concerts all over town. For a warm, relaxing experience, retreat to one of several luxurious spas, where massage treatments, steamy whirlpools and sweltering saunas await.
About 100 miles farther southwest, situated amidst White River National Forest, is Aspen, Colo., and its Snowmass slopes offer a quintessential Rocky Mountain experience. It’s no surprise that these slopes have hosted the Winter X Games – Aspen’s peaks rise as high as 12,500 feet, and include nearly 300 slopes of varying difficulty, with some of the largest ski acreage of any location in the country.
Off the slopes, bustling Aspen offers endless opportunities to be pampered and have fun. There are more than 100 places to dine out, serving everything from baked goods and barbecue to Mexican, sushi and fine dining. Lodging ranges from quaint hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to top-notch luxury resorts. For example, on Aspen’s Main Street is the historic Hotel Jerome, built in 1889 and adorned with classic Western touches and plush modern amenities. Or, on the city’s western outskirts is the Ritz-Carlton, a ski-in/ski-out village surrounded by slopes and steeped in luxury.
Other prime ski destinations are accessible through Frontier Airlines. From its Denver hub, Frontier reaches top-notch slopes in Salt Lake City; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Bozeman, Mont.
To learn more about Frontier Airlines’ flights from Rockford to Colorado, visit flyrfd.com.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa: An Active Outdoors Winter Awaits
Cold, snowy weather is right around the corner, and at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, in Lake Geneva, outdoor fun is happening all winter long. It’s not just downhill skiing you’ll find inside this 1,300-acre campus – it’s also a great place for cross-country skiing, ice skating and sledding. Best of all, everything is open to the public, not just resort guests.
The Mountain Top includes 18 runs, with more than 200 feet of vertical skiing that weave through the trees and hills. Weather permitting, the slopes are open from early December through early March.
“As long as it’s cold outside, we have the ability to make it snow,” says Hans Hauschild, director of winter activities and The Mountain Top, where a machine can transform 1,000 gallons of water into fluffy snow every minute. “Even if there’s no snow in your backyard, if it’s cold out, we can put snow on the slopes.”
Located a few miles northeast of downtown Lake Geneva, the resort is often 5 to 10 degrees cooler than Chicagoland and northern Illinois, Hauschild says. To learn about ski conditions, especially in the early part of the season, it’s best to call ahead or to check the ski slope webcam available on the resort’s website. The camera refreshes every 10 seconds, providing an eagle-eye view of current conditions.
These slopes are abundantly family-friendly, with kid-friendly ski areas and constant lessons for skiers of all skill levels. Most of the resort’s 70 ski instructors are certified to teach children through the Professional Ski Instructors of America – American Association of Snowboard Instructors.
Families can also sign up for snow fun classes, such as the Snow Cub program for four- to six-year olds, which covers skiing basics in a more secluded area.
“Lessons take place in a designated area, so they’re off the main trails,” says Hauschild. “It’s an easier area for them to get acclimated with skiing.”
The Mountain Mite program, designed for older kids, covers all skill levels in skiing and snowboarding. Private and semi-private lessons are available for both children and adults upon request. Visit on a weekday, and you might see some of the local kids who visit as part of an after-school program.
Around the resort, there are other ways to take in the winter scenery. From the gear shop, cross-country skiers can follow nearly five miles of trail through forests and portions of the resort’s two championship golf courses.
“It intertwines in the woods, then goes onto the golf course for a bit, and then back into the woods,” says Hauschild, who’s spent more than 20 winters here. “It’s very peaceful out there.”
At the resort’s WELL Spa, hikers can also rent snowshoes and begin a nearly 0.75-mile trail around the resort. Near the golf pro shop, there’s also an ice skating rink and a sledding hill.
Atop the mountain, skiers can rest inside the warm chalet, a snowflake-shaped building that offers storage lockers, in addition to refreshments at the Leinenkugel Mountain Top Lodge. The mountain also includes a gear rental store and a retail shop for last-minute gear purchases.
“Always bring an extra pair of socks with you, in case your feet get wet,” says Hauschild. “Also, wear waterproof or water-resistant clothing, especially kids, as they may spend lots of time on the ground.”
At the resort, guests can extend their stay with a “Stay and Ski Free” package, which includes free area lift tickets with an overnight stay. As the resort celebrates its 45th anniversary, other special discounts will continue this winter.
There’s plenty of active, snow-filled fun happening at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa this winter. For more information, visit grandgeneva.com.
Playing in Peoria: A Vibrant Arts Scene Awaits
The arts are alive and well in Peoria, where vaudevillians once asked, “Will it play in Peoria?” Whether it’s visual or performing arts you’re after, this weekend destination has a broad sampling of great places to experience them.
The newest arts destination sits along the bustling riverfront, inside the new Peoria Riverfront Museum. Adjacent to its kid-friendly exhibition halls is the Midwestern Folk Art Gallery and International Feature Gallery. Together, the spaces showcase touring shows and some of the Smithsonian-affiliated museum’s 17,000-item collection. Recently the site of an Ansel Adams photography show, the international gallery will display vivid glass sculptures by southwest artist Dale Chihuly starting Nov. 23.
On the other side of the Riverfront Museum, many visitors enjoy the Giant Screen Theatre, a five-story screen inside one of the nation’s first all-digital movie theatres. The screen often plays current blockbusters and educational shows.
Just a few blocks away is Peoria’s busiest entertainment venue, the Peoria Civic Center. The site of large conventions and big-name concerts encompasses three venues: a 2,000-seat theatre, a convention center and an arena. This season, it plays host to big-name shows including Million Dollar Quartet, Flashdance, and the musical comedy version of The Addams Family.
Music lovers can also enjoy the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, the 14th-oldest in the U.S., which plays at the Peoria Civic Center and Peoria’s Grace Presbyterian Church. This year’s seven-concert series includes a program of classic movie soundtracks, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and a romance-filled Valentine’s Day performance.
Peoria is filled with every kind of music on the weekends, but at the Contemporary Art Center, home of Rhythm Kitchen Music Café, the music plays every night from Tuesday through Saturday. Each Friday, the gallery hosts live jazz and blues during its Live at the Five Spot. On other occasions, it hosts salsa and swing dancing, and open-mic poetry. Did we mention it’s also a fully functioning art gallery?
The first Friday of every month, Peoria’s artists come out to play, during the First Fridays Studio Tour, hosted by the Central Illinois Artists Organization. Nearly 70 artists, in media ranging from ceramics and glass to paintings, drawings and photographs, display their works at 10 different galleries, many of which are also their functioning studios.
For a real immersion, Studios on Sheridan offers an artistic laboratory for 20 artists, who work and display inside this transformed 1930s-era bakery and warehouse. Right next door, the edgy Backspace gallery displays what it terms “risk-taking contemporary art” and hosts related lectures and events.
The Peoria Players Theatre is the state’s longest consecutively running community theatre, and the nation’s fourth-longest. Producing musicals, comedies and dramas, the group’s season this year includes Oliver, The Miracle Worker and Shrek: The Musical.
This is just a sample of the what’s happening in Peoria. For a complete calendar of the city’s arts events, visit peoria.org.
Starved Rock Lodge: Experience Winter’s Beauty in the Woods
Nestled in the woods near Utica, Ill., Starved Rock Lodge is a quiet retreat all winter long. Within the historic Lodge is a massive two-sided fireplace, which crackles with glowing logs that warm the winter air.
Days are shorter, but hikers still come to see the beauty of Starved Rock State Park, which includes more than 13 miles of trails to explore year-round. Some hike through the woods and frozen-over canyons on their own, while others prefer the added value of guided hikes offered every weekend, even in the winter.
Starting off the holiday season, the Thanksgiving Buffet, on Nov. 28, brings families and friends together in the rustic Lodge. Reservations are required, so plan ahead.
Inside the Lodge’s Main Dining Room, recently revamped menus provide new choices, along with the comfort food that Lodge guests have always enjoyed.
Early winter is the perfect time to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life, especially before the hustle of the holidays begins. For corporate groups who choose to host their holiday parties at the Lodge, the Sales & Catering Department is happy to help with all of the planning for social rooms, activities, food and drinks.
This December, the Lodge launches its Third Annual Photo Contest. After all, what better place is there to capture great images than in Illinois’ best photographic playground? Photographers of all skill levels are invited to submit their best photos from the park, in one of five categories.
Entries are accepted from Dec. 1, 2013, through Feb. 22, 2014. Details are on the Lodge’s website, starvedrocklodge.com. Prizes will be awarded at a photo show scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 23. If you are interested in having booth space at the show, please call (815) 220-7386 to register.
The Lodge’s New Year’s Eve Party is always a memorable event, one that guests return to enjoy year after year. Most who attend buy the all-inclusive package, which includes an overnight stay, dinner buffet, cocktails, Champagne, party favors and a chance to win a $1,000 travel voucher.
Late winter highlights include Eagle Watch Weekend, set for Jan. 26-27, 2014. All that weekend, guests can enjoy hands-on exhibits and a live “Birds of Prey” show. Throughout January and February, Eagle Trolley Tours put guests up close to these wintering birds. Tours include lunch and a guided tour aboard a Starved Rock Trolley, to see America’s symbol of strength.
In the quiet of winter, comfortable Lodge rooms and 13 cabins sit peacefully in the woods, providing a getaway that can be truly restful and rejuvenating. Massage therapists are on-site, and guests can always enjoy the indoor pool complex, with a hot tub and saunas.
For more about this winter’s fun at Starved Rock Lodge, check the event calendar online at starvedrocklodge.com.
Green Lake: Explore Wisconsin’s Oldest Resort Community
Wisconsin’s deepest natural lake is a destination made famous because of its natural beauty. American Indians were the first to discover Green Lake’s remarkable landscape, which is teeming with fish and surrounded by hills, cliffs, forests and sheltered bays. In 1847, settlers made it the first permanent resort west of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Today’s Green Lake is Wisconsin’s jewel and a place with a relaxed lifestyle. The family-friendly city on the lake’s northeast shore is filled with great attractions, from retail shops, restaurants and parks to bed & breakfasts, resorts and conference centers.
The waterfront is this area’s main attraction. At 237 feet deep, the lake boasts 27 miles of shoreline and covers 7,346 acres. It’s excellent for boating, fishing and swimming, but its surroundings are also perfect for biking, hiking, picnicking and camping.
Green Lake is an exciting destination year-round, with events celebrating everything from the summer solstice to the start of the harvest season, From the historic Thrasher Opera House, to the Green Lake Festival of Music, to free concerts in the park every Wednesday, entertainment and activity is plentiful every day. Depending on your mood, dining choices range from five-star dining to a casual “show up in your flip-flops right from the lake” atmosphere. In Green Lake, ice cream is lunch!
For you landlubbers, Green Lake offers four golf courses. The Golf Courses of Lawsonia includes two 18-hole championship courses and was named “Wisconsin Golf Course of the Year 2008” by Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin. Tuscumbia Country Club, founded in 1896, is Wisconsin’s oldest course. Mascoutin Golf Course and White Lake Resort round out the area’s great golfing. All are within a short distance of downtown Green Lake.
Bikers, too, will find a perfect landscape amidst this varied terrain. The area boasts 140 miles of biking trails on seven routes, including Green Lake Conference Center’s trails. There is a route for every skill level.
Whether it’s your home away from home or your home sweet home, Green Lake offers simple pleasures and the time to relax, reconnect and rejuvenate while pursuing your favorite recreation. For more information, contact the Green Lake Area Chamber at (800) 254-7354.
Green Lake’s Best Links
The Golf Courses of Lawsonia: Its two courses, covering 36 holes, have been recognized by Golf Week and Golf Digest as some of Wisconsin’s – and the nation’s – best public golfing. The Links course maintains a wide-open Scottish aesthetic, while The Woodlands course is carved out of the thick forest bordering Green Lake. The Woodlands features tree-lined fairways and severe elevation changes.
Mascoutin Golf Club: In a land where fire-worshiping American Indians once lived, this course was carved out of a century-old forest in 1975. With undulating greens, sand traps galore and plenty of water hazards, it’s a challenging course, but appealing to golfers of all skills. In 1999, Mascoutin opened a new nine-hole course. Known as The “Blue,” it features waste bunkering, elevation changes, forced natural hazard carries, river views, water hazards and even a “cliff” hole. This was the site of the 2006 WSGA State Amateur Championship.
Tuscumbia Country Club: Wisconsin’s oldest golf course has a reputation for being excellently manicured, with majestic evergreens and hardwoods, thick rough, tight fairways and rolling landscape. Tuscumbia’s 27-hole, 6,301-yard, par 71 layout is complemented by a log clubhouse with meeting space, ninth-hole snack shop, driving range, practice green, fully stocked pro shop, club repairs and locker rooms.
White Lake Golf Resort: This 18-hole, par-72 golf course is carved out of ancient glacier-formed hilltop scenery, and offers a maximum distance of 6,359 yards, with ten doglegs. Its first nine-hole course includes a 515-yard No. 6 hole with a densely tree-guarded green. The newer nine-hole course includes a par-5 No. 15 hole that has a trap-protected dogleg, fairway pond and tree-covered green. Set on a vacation resort, the course is surrounded by rental units, a supper club/lounge and sandy beachfront. Located a few minutes from Green Lake, on Hwy. 23.