A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.
Dubuque, Iowa: Top-Notch Skiing, in the Heart of the Midwest
By Stephanie N. Grimoldby
Think you need to head out West for a great ski trip? Well, you don’t have to travel as far as you might imagine.
In the heart of the Midwest, Dubuque, Iowa’s Sundown Mountain Resort is a family-owned, family-friendly ski resort that boasts 21 runs of varying difficulty, two terrain parks, four lifts and two conveyor carpets.
“It’s a pretty good size,” says Mark Gordon, general manager. “Local kids and people from nearby don’t feel like they’re doing the same runs. We have some great terrain parks – jumps, rails, boxes and tricks – they’re fantastic. One whole side of the mountain is catered more toward that style.”
The south terrain park covers more than nine acres with a variety of challenging kickers, boxes and rails, and the north park includes smaller features such as table tops, boxes and rails.
Sundown also offers one of the highest vertical lifts in the Midwest. At 475 feet high, it stands taller than anything you’ll find in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, most of Wisconsin or Minnesota, up to Duluth.
At the same time, the mountain has plenty of charm. When the park was built, care was taken not to remove too many of the red cedar trees that fill the mountainside. “They were extremely careful when they set up the runs,” Gordon says. “It’s very naturally laid out – you’re skiing through the trees.”
What separates Sundown from many Midwest resorts is its ski school. “Our instructors are award-winning – many go out to Vail, Colo.,” Gordon says. “Ski school director Tony LoBianco is a legend. He’ll actually meet with you first in person, and he’ll determine which instructor is best for you.”
LoBianco, who has instructed at Sundown for nearly four decades, oversees the largest ski teams in the region – about 120 instructors in all. The school’s shorter-shaped equipment, 1.5-hour lessons and eight graduated slope stations are unique assets for skiers.
Families may want to consider Sundown’s Kids Park. Here, children ages 4-11 can get ski lessons, enjoy special activities and snack on cookies, while Mom and Dad enjoy a couple of hours alone on the slopes.
For hungry skiers, Sundown offers two mountain-top lodges that overlook the Iowa countryside. The north lodge has a full restaurant and bar that features live music every Saturday night. The south lodge is open on certain weekends and holidays, and features a full-service cafeteria and lounge.
Be sure to visit during the holidays to see unique twists, like shamrocks painted on the hill for St. Patrick’s Day. “We’re kind of known as the fun mountain,” Gordon says. “We have some really fun people here.”
Off the slopes, there’s plenty to experience in Dubuque, just a short drive away. Iowa’s oldest city embraces both its Old World charm and a modern entertainment vibe with bustling restaurants, engaging nightlife activities and entertainment for the entire family.
Dubuque is home to the Smithsonian-affiliated National Mississippi River Museum, with large freshwater aquariums, touching stations, historical exhibits and more. Adjacent to the museum is Diamond Jo Casino, which also features popular entertainers, great restaurants and even a bowling alley. The city boasts a professional symphony orchestra and live entertainment ranging from Sesame Street Live, the Oak Ridge Boys and Mannheim Steamroller to local theater and dance troupes.
“There are a ton of neat, old coffee shops, 1800s-era buildings,” Gordon says. “Dubuque is a pretty quaint, neat town. At a lot of resorts, you’re in a remote location and don’t get a chance to make it to a city,” Gordon says. “Here, after you’re done skiing, you have about a 12-minute drive to get to downtown.”
Sundown offers package deals that include many of the city’s hotels, shops and attractions. For winter vacation and ski ideas, visit SundownMTN.com and TravelDubuque.com.
Playing in Peoria: Discover a Classic Entertainment Destination
There was a time when Peoria, Ill., was a must-stop destination for touring Vaudevillians and other entertainment acts. Though many of those acts are long gone, this central Illinois community is still an exceptional destination for shows – the same acts you’d expect to see in Chicago or St. Louis, but in a city with much less traffic. For a winter weekend getaway, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found.
The fun starts downtown at the Peoria Civic Center, a gathering space that includes an arena, a performing arts center and several exhibit halls. Everything from major musical acts and Broadway shows to sports events and conventions happen inside, and a busy season is just beginning.
This winter, the civic center welcomes “Dancing with the Stars,” a touring version of the hit ABC show, in addition to foodie and TV personality Alton Brown, stand-up comedian Rodney Carrington and country music star Miranda Lambert. Come March, Peoria hosts Winter Jam, a touring show of major contemporary Christian artists. John Mellencamp pays a visit in June.
The Peoria Symphony Orchestra returns to the theater this winter for another excellent season, performing many classical compositions including some by Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler. This winter, audiences will enjoy Broadway shows on tour, including the revival of Anything Goes, Beauty and The Beast, and Peter and the Starcatcher.
Sporting events also are a big draw at the civic center, home of the Peoria Rivermen, a minor-league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. The arena is also where you’ll find home games of Bradley University’s NCAA Division I basketball team and, in Mid-March, the state finals for high school boys’ basketball.
Outside the civic center, plenty of other venues host quality entertainment this winter. On campus at Bradley University, theatre students present two plays this spring: The Mountaintop and Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Meanwhile, the Peoria Players are the nation’s fourth-longest consecutively running community theatre, and the longest-running in Illinois. They produce about six shows every year, and this winter and spring will present Cabaret, Pirates of Penzance and Damn Yankees.
The city’s east side is home to the Eastlight Theatre, which produces many well-known musicals and plays. A collaboration of groups in East Peoria, this theater produces youth shows in addition to an annual performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Just outside of Peoria, on the way to Bloomington, Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre produces a variety of quirky shows inside a massive, high-roofed barn. About to begin its 40th season, Conklin’s serves a country-style buffet and runs shows throughout the year.
In downtown in Peoria, local visual and performing artists show off their talents every first Friday of the month. About a dozen area studios open their doors, unveiling creative spaces inside converted industrial buildings. A full map is available online at ciaoPeoria.org.
Locals love to gather at Rhythm Kitchen Music Café, a lively coffee bar and restaurant that’s open from breakfast through late night. Every Friday and Saturday evening, dancing and foot-tapping are encouraged by local musicians who perform a corner of the dining room. Closer to the Bradley campus, crowds gather at One World Café, an eclectic restaurant that takes pride in using fresh, local ingredients and giving back to the community.
It’s no Nashville, but Peoria may be the next best thing. Learn more about the area’s entertainment venues at visit Peoria.org.
The Quad Cities: Discover Works of Self-Taught Genius at the Figge
By Stephanie N. Grimoldby
The Figge Art Museum, located in the heart of Davenport, Iowa, plays host to world-class traveling exhibitions on a regular basis.
This winter, the museum hosts another stunning exhibit: “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum,” which runs through March 15. Coming directly from New York City, on its first stop of a national tour, the 115-piece exhibit offers something for everyone.
“It encompasses a pretty broad range of artists, and that’s kind of the concept of the self-taught artist,” says Tim Schiffer, Figge executive director. “It’s changed over time, but some elements remain constant, such as the idea of using materials at hand. A lot of the artists were craftspeople or tradespeople.”
“Self-Taught Genius” includes quilts, paintings, decorative furniture, drawings, ceramics and other works, created by artists of all ages and backgrounds, and completed between the 18th and 21st centuries.
There’s a ceramic jar made and signed by a slave, and several quilts, including one made by Kentucky plantation slaves. Also on display is a pre-American Revolution quilt made of printed fabric – an illegal practice in the colonies, because the British held a monopoly on cotton manufacturing, Schiffer says.
Curated by the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the exhibit provides a window into the historical and social trends shared by each particular artist and era. It also brings to question the definition of artistic genius and whether someone who is self-taught can aspire to be a great artist.
“The premise of the exhibit is the self-taught artist as a particularly American phenomenon,” Schiffer says. “All of the works in the show are by artists who did not have formal training. They’re identified as self-taught artists – they’re folk artists.”
The American Folk Art Museum mounted the exhibition not only for its historical and social value, but for the artistic impulse that reflects our national character. According to Schiffer, Adam Gopnik, a staff writer at The New Yorker Magazine, summed it up perfectly during a symposium dedicated to “Self-Taught Genius.”
“He said the show is a reflection that anyone can be anybody,” he says. “Anyone can grow up to be president. The common man can be anything he wants to be.”
And that’s precisely why Schiffer believes everyone will enjoy this exhibit.
The Figge has several additional exhibits available during the winter months, including its permanent collections. Of particular note is its Grant Wood Archive, dedicated to the Iowa-born painter who became famous for his portrayals of the Midwest. Perhaps his best-known work is “American Gothic,” which depicts a woman next to a man holding a pitchfork, in front of a wooden farmhouse with a window made in the Carpenter Gothic style. A part of our popular culture, it has come to represent rural American values.
Another reason to visit the museum, comprised of 65,000 square feet of glass overlooking the Mississippi River, is to enjoy views of the large bald eagle population that migrates here during cold weather, says Jessica Waytenick, public relations and marketing manager at the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. Whether from the museum lobby or the fourth floor, the views are spectacular. Visitors particularly interested in eagle watching also can check out Bald Eagle Days in nearby Rock Island. The QCCA Expo Center hosts the family-friendly event Jan. 9-11.
For more information on the Figge Art Museum, visit FiggeArtMuseum.org. To learn about events and attractions in the Quad Cities, go to VisitQuadCities.com.
Travel Wisconsin: Many Ways to Play in This Winter Wonderland
By Travel Wisconsin
Winter in Wisconsin isn’t just about snow; it’s about the fun memories made with family and friends during a magical time of year. Some of the best memories are made over a weekend getaway playing in the snow, warming up with hot cocoa and enjoying a crackling fire at the end of a laughter-filled day. Check out these suggestions to take advantage of the fun to be had during Wisconsin winters.
Stay in Your Seat: Wisconsin Snow Tubing
Feel the rush of the wind as you zoom by beautiful Wisconsin winter scenery on a snow tube. The best part? You don’t have to leave the comfort of your seat. Snow tubing in Wisconsin is a fun-filled activity for all ages and abilities, no experience required.
Visit Sunburst Winter Sports Park in Kewaskum and tube under the bright-blue Wisconsin skies or underneath the stars at what’s called the “World’s Largest Tubing Park.” With the ability to make their own snow, Sunburst has 42 tubing chutes that are always ready for fun.
At Wilmot Mountain in Wilmot, race your way down one of the 1,000-foot-long tubing lanes, and let the winner get a hot chocolate at the brand-new lodge.
Make everyone in the family happy at Cascade Mountain in Portage, with four snow tubing chutes, more than 30 downhill skiing runs, and a snowboarding park.
Wisconsin Scenery is Best for Cross-Country Skiing
If slow and steady is more your pace, Wisconsin has hundreds of picture-perfect cross-country ski trails. Make your way through the rolling hills of the snow-covered countryside or underneath a canopy of pristine forest.
Whether you’ve never put on a pair of skis, or you live in them all winter long, Wisconsin offers more than 700 miles of trails for all skill levels. With so many to choose from, we recommend a couple that you won’t want to miss.
Wisconsin’s state capital is ideal for a weekend of cross-country skiing at Governor Nelson State Park.
Door County is home to five state parks, with enough trails to keep you busy and exploring all weekend long. The county’s Whitefish Dunes State Park is where you’ll journey through a beautiful wooded landscape.
And, don’t miss the chance to ski by the flickering light of candles, during a candlelight ski night in one of Wisconsin’s state parks.
Catch Cabin Fever This Winter
Warm up this winter by renting your very own private cabin. With plenty of cabins for couples or families, Wisconsin is perfect for weekends away, while creating lasting memories.
Walnut Ridge Log Cabin in Platteville is a charming, rustic log cabin that offers total privacy with pampering amenities, including a wood-burning fireplace, perfect for a romantic getaway.
Families will love Woodside Ranch Resort in Mauston because there are so many activities for kids. Take a winter horseback ride through scenic wooded trails and relax in your own cabin at night.
If an active getaway is what you seek, check out Christmas Mountain Village in the Wisconsin Dells, easily accessible to winter sports for the entire family.
To discover plenty of other Wisconsin winter destinations, visit TravelWisconsin.com.