Holy cow, it’s already January! I don’t know about you, but the holidays were magical, joyous, warm, exciting and filled to over flowing, especially with tasty, well-cooked food. Oh boy, do I need to get outside! Yes, it’s January, it’s cold, there is snow and wind and long travel times and we’re all a little frazzled from the holidays. Perfect.
This is a wonderful time to get outside, and yes, I really mean that. The air is crisp, the light through Chicago’s almost perpetual winter overcast is softly muted, so please come with me for some winter outdoor adventures. Let’s go skiing! Rather than downhill, Cross Country Skiing (XC for short) is just the ticket for us flatlanders – it’s easy on your muscles and joints, is excellent exercise whether we’re just casually striding along or more vigorously speeding things up, and since it works upper body muscles as well as our legs, we’ll keep very warm indeed, even on some very cold days. The best part is that no ski lift up a big mountain is required.
But where should we go? Remember all those trips we’ve taken on bike paths in and around Chicago? Each and every one of them is an excellent place to XC ski. Or snowshoe. Did I mention snowshoeing? They are both great fun, snow shoeing for deep snow, on paths in the woods that are not meant for skis, and XC skiing on the bike paths and wider trails that are frequently groomed especially for this type of activity.
Our first stop, Sagawau Nordic Center, 12545 West 111th St., in Lemont, has everything we need. We can rent some skis, and perhaps you’ll join me in a beginners class. (I truly need a refresher class, and these are taught by skilled instructors.) The five trails are connected, well marked loops; it’s easy to pick one that looks fun, and do another one as you discover how much fun we’re having. It’s truly beautiful scenery with glistening trees and snow covered trails, warming lodge, water fountains and tables. Both parking and trail passes are free; we’ll bring our own lunch. Call ahead, 630-257-2045 to check on snow conditions. This is part of Cook County’s excellent Forest Preserve District, http://fpdcc.com/recreation/cross-county-skiing/
The Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL Route 53, in west suburban Lisle, is our next stop; here we can also rent skis, but perhaps we’ll give the snowshoes a try. The Arboretum has miles of trails and rents both skis and snowshoes. See how spectacularly beautiful the trees and meticulous plantings are in winter, with their coverings of snow. Afterwards we can indulge ourselves in the restaurant, inside the Visitor’s Center. 630-968-0074 http://www.mortonarb.org/events/cross-country-ski-snowshoe-rental
Even the shores of mighty Lake Michigan are a haven for us winter lovers. Northerly Island, that gem of the original Burnham Plan, is open year-round. Of course we’ll be there for Polar Adventure Days, http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/polar-adventure-days/ when we’ll get to see huskies with their sleds, wolves, hawks and eagles, and explore the island on snowshoes. The park has many acres of wildlife preserve, and of course we’ll take in the spectacular views of the city’s skyline, as well as look out over the endless ice and water expanse of the Lake. It’s at 1521 S. Linn White Dr., Chicago, right on the Museum Campus, south of the Adler Planetarium, 312-742-7529.
To the north of Chicago, in Wilmette, The Wilmette Golf Club at 3900 Fairway Drive, is free, with plenty of parking and a well-groomed 5K trail looping through 106 acres. Begin at the golf starter’s hut, and remember to bring your own skis as they do not rent. North and a bit west, the Sportsman’s Country Club, in Northbrook, is open for skiing and snowshoeing every day except Monday. http://www.nbparks.org/Facilities-Parks/winter-facilities.htm 847·291·2351 ext. 3. The course features well-groomed trails, a few small hills, and rental and lessons are available, on-site and reasonably priced. For a fun, very different kind of romantic date, how about candlelight skiing? Friday, January 20 and again on Saturday, February 18, from 5-8pm (conditions permitting) we’ll ski for a few hours beneath the dark winter sky, on a groomed trail, following the enticing candlelight through the snow covered night.
Afterwards, we’ll say good bye, and I’ll take my romantic companion out for a candlelight dinner, at some restaurant with a big fireplace, where we will eat slowly, converse easily, flirt just a bit, and finish it all off with a big mug of hot chocolate or perhaps apple cider. I hope you can make it. In the meantime, enjoy Chicago.