Unless you plan to hibernate until spring, you basically have two options when it comes to a Midwestern winter: escape it or embrace it.
Escaping, of course, means a plane ticket to somewhere warm -- not an option for many of us.
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Embracing winter is a whole other matter. We've had a fairly mild winter thus far, but there's still time to enjoy a day at a local ski slope, a spin around an outdoor ice rink or a trek downtown to see snow sculpted into chilly works of art.
Here are a number of ideas for enjoying winter while it's here:
• When Mother Nature won't provide the snow, let ski resorts do it for you. There are a number of ski/snowboarding resorts in and around the suburbs that can make their own snow. Just call ahead to check conditions and hours. Among the closest options are Villa Olivia in Bartlett and Four Lakes in Lisle. Rates and hours vary by day and whether you need to rent equipment. Check info for Villa Olivia at (630) 289-3000 or villaolivia.com and Four Lakes at (630) 964-2551 or skifourlakes.com.
And if you are interested in snowboarding only, check out Raging Buffalo Snowboard Ski Park in Algonquin. Call (847) 836-7243 or go to ragingbuffalo.com.
• Fests aren't just for sunny summer afternoons. Gurnee hosts Frosty Fest from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, at Viking Park, 4374 Old Grand Ave. The evening features horse-drawn carriage rides, ice sculpting, crafts, a visit from Frosty and -- weather permitting -- a snowman building contest. Free. gurneeparkdistrict.com.
• Trek out to Chicago's Northerly Island Saturday, Jan. 21, for one of the city's Polar Adventure Days. Plans for the day call for ice sculpture demonstrations, winter-themed crafts and the chance to see some animals.
Admission is free. The fun runs noon to 4 p.m. at Northerly Island, 1400 S. Linn White Drive, Chicago. (312) 745-2910.
• Bundle up and take a snowy stroll at a Japanese Garden Winter Walk at the Fabyan West Forest Preserve in Geneva. Learn the history of the Japanese garden, and bring a camera to snap winter photos. Hot drinks will be served.
Upcoming walks, which begin at the west garden gate, run from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, Wednesday, Feb. 8, or Saturday, Feb. 18. A donation of $2 per person is requested. A snow-covered ground is necessary for the walk, so call (630) 377-6424 on the day of the event to confirm. The Fabyan West Forest Preserve is at Route 31 at Fabyan Parkway in Geneva. For information, visit ppfv.org.
• See massive snow blocks measuring 10 feet tall and 6 feet across become intricate works of art at the Snow Days Chicago festival at Navy Pier's Gateway Park, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. Snow sculptors from as far away as Russia, Austria and Spain will go head to head with Midwestern artists to compete for cash prizes, while high school students also take part in a special school-division contest.
Though the city of Chicago is no longer involved in Snow Days because of budgetary cutbacks, the festival this year is set to feature even more attractions. According to Fran Volz, president of Arlington Heights-based Snow Visions Inc. which partners with Navy Pier to produce Snow Days, new attractions include ice bowling, snow painting and live penguins on top of the snowboarding and dog sled demonstrations from previous editions. Admission is free for Snow Days which runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29. For more information, visit navypier.com.
• The Morton Arboretum at 4100 Route 53 in Lisle is known for being open year round, so there are always outdoor activities for kiddies and grown-ups alike.
Husky Heroes is one of the arboretum's signature events, and it runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 28 and 29. Cheer on dog-sled pulling and speed demonstrations, see a documentary on the husky dog's role in Alaskan history or learn how you can adopt your own husky.
Kids with inquiring minds might like the arboretum's Snowmen at Night scientific examinations of snow at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays, Jan. 21 and 28, or they might just want to participate in the daily Gnome Hunt in the Children's Garden through Wednesday, Feb. 29. For more information, call (630) 968-0074 or visit mortonarb.org.
• The area boasts lots of outdoor ice rinks, and one of the newest is The Park in Rosemont, which has a couple of nice amenities. First, it's free ($8 skate rental). And the ice is temperature controlled, so you can skate even on warmer winter days. The rink is just west of River Road, between Bryn Mawr and Balmoral avenues. Hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 11 Friday, 11 to 11 Saturday and noon to 8 on Sunday. For info, check out rosemont.com.
• Head to the Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook on Saturday, Feb. 4, for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's Wonders of Winter celebration. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., visitors can learn about reeling in fish through the lake's ice, watch a dog-sled team and try walking in snowshoes. Guests can also learn about ice cutting and see birds of prey from the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Other highlights include games and crafts inside the historic Mayslake Hall. For a treat, sample s'mores cooked over an open fire.
Admission and parking are free. The Mayslake Forest Preserve is at 1717 W. 31st St in Oak Brook. Call (630) 933-7248, or visit dupageforest.org.
• Mark your calendars for Sunday, Feb. 19, -- "FREEze Day" at Brookfield Zoo. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the zoo's west mall area, guests can watch dog-sledding demonstrations by the Green Valley Dog Drivers group and take part in games and "musher talks." Free admission to the zoo on this day. Parking is $9. Brookfield Zoo is at First Avenue and 31st St., Brookfield. (708) 688-8000 or czs.org.
• Cantigny Park in Wheaton is officially closed in January, but the grounds at 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, reopen in February. For young kids, there a Snowman Party at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 3 ($10), while adults may enjoy a winter bird walk at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 (no admission charge). For more information, call (630) 668-5161 or visit cantigny.org.
• The Volo Bog State Natural Area in Ingleside offers its guests five miles of paths for walking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. While on the trails, guests can stop in the visitors centers to warm up along the way. Walking paths are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in January, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in February. Bird watchers are welcome to grab their binoculars and head out to Volo Bog's winter Bird Walks.
Upcoming Bird Walks begin at 8 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, Saturday, Feb. 25, and Sunday, March 11. Free. Registration is required. The Volo Bog State Natural Area is at 28478 W. Brandenburg Road, west off U.S. Highway 12, between state highways 120 and 134, Ingleside. (815) 344-1294.