Recreation & Destinations

NWQ Getaway Guide, Winter Edition

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A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.

Ice fish at the Frozen Assets Festival, from Feb. 3-5.

Ice fish at the Frozen Assets Festival, from Feb. 3-5.

Even More Events at this Frozen Assets Festival

By Lindsey Gapen, assistant managing editor

Last year, 6,000 people embraced the cold weather for one of the Midwest’s fastest-growing winter festivals: Frozen Assets.

This year, the three-day event from the Clean Lakes Alliance, platinum sponsor, The Edgewater, and title Sponsors CG Schmidt Construction, Lands’ End, Hovde Properties and Spectrum Brands, expects to draw nearly 10,000 people.

“We’re pleased to once again host this community event,” says Amy Supple, Chief Operating Officer of The Edgewater. “The festival is expanding this year to bring even more excitement to the community during winter months.”

Sleigh rides, ice hockey, ice-fishing demos and other family-friendly activities are all returning to this year’s festival, which occurs Feb. 3-5.

Novices and pros alike can compete in new competitive events: a Friday night Fat Tire bike race along a lit course on Lake Mendota, a Saturday morning 5K or 10K snowshoe run, a Saturday morning amateur ice fishing derby, and a Sunday morning professional ice fishing tournament that is part of the North American Ice Fishing Circuit 2017 schedule. The NAIFC also offers kids camps, gear demonstrations and an amateur ice fishing derby for the everyday angler looking to fish a professionally-run tournament.

The Friday night bike race is unique to the area, thanks to its exclusive lake-only track along a completely lit course. Bikers leave from The Edgewater and make loops along the southwest corner of Lake Mendota. Snowshoe runners follow a similar course on Saturday morning. These new events join the already popular sleigh rides, ice skating, pond hockey, ice lab walks, and many more popular – and free – family-friendly activities.

What started as a fundraiser event has blossomed into a three-day family-friendly festival on Lake Mendota. This year, Frozen Assets hopes to bring even more people and raise even more awareness for the lakes. Donations support Clean Lakes Alliance, an organization that protects and improves water quality in local lakes, rivers and wetlands.

“Promoting the quality of our lakes, and finding unique ways to activate the waterfront are cornerstones of The Edgewater’s community strategy, and perfectly aligned with the mission of Clean Lakes Alliance,” Supple says. “Frozen Assets is just one example of the important work this organization does to enhance the quality of life for our residents and to bolster Madison as a regional destination.”

“Thanks to our generous sponsors, we’ve raised over a half million dollars for the lakes at Frozen Assets over the past five years,” adds Clean Lakes Alliance Executive Director James Tye. “This money goes directly towards lake improvement projects and practices aimed at making our lakes healthy for generations to come.”

The Edgewater offers stay packages to visitors who wish to be right on site for this action-packed weekend. Packages include a late checkout along with various amenities.

For more information about Frozen Assets, including a schedule of events, ticket information and hotel information, visit cleanlakesalliance.org/frozen-assets/. To book your weekend stay, visit theedgewater.com.

Granite Peak Ski Area, Wausau, Wis.

Granite Peak Ski Area, Wausau, Wis.

Granite Peak Ski Area: Let the Powder Fly This Winter

It’s time to dust off those skis and hit the slopes. Whether or not there’s snow in Illinois, you’re guaranteed to find fresh powder at Granite Peak Ski Area at Rib Mountain State Park, in Wausau, Wis.

Located just two hours north of Madison and three hours east of Minneapolis, this family-friendly getaway kicks off its early season on Nov. 19 this year.

A Mountain of Family Fun
Granite Peak is a favorite family destination ski resort in Wisconsin, offering mountain skiing with the luxury of a drive-to-ski vacation. It’s the largest ski area in Wisconsin, and with its location in the heart of the state, Granite Peak is also conveniently located.

At 700 feet, Granite Peak has the tallest vertical drop in both Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and it features 75 runs — about twice the number of runs you’ll find at most Midwest ski areas.

Getting to “Yes” has Never Been Easier
If you’re talking about a ski trip to Granite Peak, the kids are sure to be all in. Families return year after year, with generations in tow. From tots to teens to parents and grandparents, the excitement and appeal of skiing and boarding never get old.

“Granite Peak has provided our family with a yearly getaway for more than 30 straight years,” says Colleen O’Malley, of Chicago. “It’s the best value in the Midwest for family skiing and has given us countless memories over the years to cherish.”

High-Speed Lifts, At Your Service
High-speed lifts service 72 of the 75 runs at Granite Peak, whisking skiers to the top of the mountain three times faster than traditional chairlifts. Over a weekend, that can translate to miles more skiing and boarding.

“My sons learned to ski at hills in southern Wisconsin, but they learned to become good skiers at Granite Peak because of the expert instructors and the variety of runs with different degrees of difficulty,” says Mark Kropoloski of Arlington Heights, Ill. “It’s always challenging and once you’re down, you get back up the mountain fast. Plus, you just can’t beat the Midwestern hospitality you’ll find at Granite Peak.”

Better Snow, More Snow, Longer Season
Thanks to the largest and most sophisticated snowmaking operation in the Midwest, Granite Peak can deliver a fantastic winter experience, no matter what Mother Nature delivers.

Just A Fraction of the Cost of a Ski Vacation out West
“It’s important to us to make pricing family-friendly and affordable enough that families can make a few visits to Granite Peak each year,” says Vicki Baumann, Granite Peak general manager. “Our monthly Family Festivals are an incredible value. The key to making your dollars go further at Granite Peak is to order early and online. Always order your tickets at least 72 hours prior to your arrival and you’ll enjoy significant savings.”

Specially priced lift and lodging packages feature a variety of fine hotels in the Wausau area, all just minutes from the slopes. For peak savings, book your ski-and-stay packages online and early. For more information, visit skigranitepeak.com.

About 70,000 people visit Sinnissippi Park each year to see these large works of art.

About 70,000 people visit Sinnissippi Park each year to see these large works of art.

There’s Always Something to do in Rockford

By Jermaine Pigee, deputy editor

From putting your snow sculpting skills to the test in the 31st Annual Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition to watching the snow melt during Meltfest 2017, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Rockford at this time of year.

The 31st Annual Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition is slated to take place Jan. 18-27 at Sinnisssippi Park, 1401 N. 2nd St.

Teams from around the state will compete in Rockford for the right to represent Illinois in the 2018 U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition.

Roughly 70,000 visitors brave the cold to view these massive works of snow art each year. Viewing hours are from sunrise to 10:30 p.m.

“This time of year is great for a snow sculpting competition and a great event to follow the holidays,” says Andrea Mandala, marketing and communications manager with the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB). “The annual Snow Sculpting Competition in the Rockford Region is truly a spectacle to see.”

For more information, visit ilsnowsculpting.com.

Another popular event happening in early 2017 is The Sock Monkey Madness Festival, which will take place March 4-5 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on both days at the Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford.

Visit this annual one-of-a-kind festival, which will be a celebration of the red-heeled sock. This year’s festival theme is “Candyland” and features games, crafts and vendors selling handmade and other themed specialty merchandise and food.

Guests can also make their own sock monkey during sock making workshops, which is the highlight of the festival.

“Sock Monkey Madness Festival is a well-known and beloved event in our community,” Mandala says. “It’s interesting to learn of the history behind this popular toy made from original Rockford red heel socks. It’s also so fun to make your own real and original version of the sock monkey in the workshop.”

Go to midwayvillage.com for more information.

If you are not a fan of the snow, you will definitely enjoy Meltfest, which will take place at Prairie Street Brewhouse on March 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Celebrate the melting away of winter, while the community melts together.

Meltfest is a family-friendly festival with a variety of free activities, including live music performances, magic and science shows, trolley rides and mascot and character appearances.

There’s also an assortment of kids’ activities, including art, drawing, crafts, science booths and balloon creations.

Visit meltfest.com for more information.

Finally, Spring ArtScene showcases original works of art at galleries, studios and commercial establishments across the Rockford Region on April 14 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and April 15 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Enjoy new exhibits and original works in varioust styles, including watercolor, acrylic, wood, sculpture, pottery, furniture and photography.
“Every year I hear the same comments, ‘I didn’t know Rockford had so many artists!’  Rockford has incredibly talented artists and we want them to stay,” says Sharon Nesbit-Davis, interim director of the Rockford Area Arts Council. “We hope people will support the artists through buying their work.”

This event provides a unique opportunity for people to get together, meet artists and see many types of art at one time in a festive environment.

Go to springartscene.com for locations and other information.

A beautiful female cardinal takes a little break from her flying. Winter is a great time to view birds.

A beautiful female cardinal takes a little break from her flying. Winter is a great time to view birds.

Starved Rock Lodge: The Perfect Time for Mid-Week Travel

By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge

Winter is the one season of the year when days are shorter, but seem to last much longer. This is a good thing, if you’re looking to relax. Booking a mid-week getaway might be the perfect answer to avoid winter blues and give you a feeling of accomplishment in the process.

Located just south of Utica, Ill., the Lodge’s comfortable hotel rooms and cozy cabins in the woods are just steps away from more than 13 miles of hiking trails, which lead to snow-covered canyons, frozen waterfalls and amazing views from bluffs overlooking the scenic Illinois River Valley of Starved Rock State Park. Parents, children and grandparents alike enjoy getting a glimpse of bald eagles in flight from the top of Starved Rock, Lover’s Leap or Eagle Cliff. Starved Rock Lodge offers guided hikes every Saturday and Sunday, year ‘round. Hikers embark on a 4.5 mile adventure to see LaSalle Canyon and extraordinary views from some of the most beautiful lookout points in the 2,600-acre park. Led by guides from Starved Rock Lodge, these hikes are the safest and most expedient way to see the park from an insider’s point of view.

New for 2017 is “Flight Night” – a progressive dinner that includes travel on a Starved Rock Trolley for appetizers; wine sampling at August Hill Winery; craft beer and mini-main course samplings at Lone Buffalo & Tangled Roots; and a fine finish with decadent desserts and after-dinner drinks at Starved Rock Lodge. This Trolley Trio of Fun is offered as an overnight package or dinner only. For dates, prices and reservations, visit trolleytrio.com.

Starved Rock is a haven for photography enthusiasts. Cardinals, white-tailed deer and a variety of wildlife call the park home. Sunrises and sunsets along the Illinois River are amazing. The lodge’s annual photo contest accepts entries through Feb. 20, 2017. Awards will be presented on Feb. 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Great Hall.

Pending enough snow, Cross Country Ski Weekend is set for Feb. 4 and 5 at nearby Matthiessen State Park. Skis, poles and boots may be rented and beginner lessons are offered.

The highlight of the winter is Eagle Watch Weekend, set for Jan. 28 and 29. Tickets are available for the interesting “Birds of Prey” shows. Hands-on exhibits are on display in the Great Hall and at the nearby Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. Eagle Trolley Tours run throughout January and February. They include lunch, a guided tour and transportation aboard a Starved Rock Trolley.

The Winter Wine Walk takes place in downtown Utica on Jan. 11. Sled dog demos and seminars will take place on Jan. 15 and Feb. 19. Dueling Pianos will rock the Great Hall on Feb. 21 and 22 with additional musical tribute shows on the calendar for the future.

All events are detailed on the Lodge website at starvedrocklodge.com.

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