Last week's fresh snow on top of layers of solid packed machine-made snow was like frosting on a cake to the folks who flock to the popular Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports ski hill in Lisle each winter.
Since before the holidays, clouds of snow billowing from snow-making machines have prepared the ski hill. Four trails were operational earlier this month, but the fresh layer of natural snow opens all five trails.
One of the most important pieces of equipment on the hill is the snowcat that grooms the snow each day and readies the ski hill for use.
The downhill experiences include skiing, snowboarding and lessons for all ages starting at age 4. The phrase "for all ages" recently included an 80-plus individual who joined other beginners sliding boots into ski bindings for the first time.
The Four Lakes Ski and Snowboard School is a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America association, offering both group and private lessons.
The only requirement to be a successful student is a can-do attitude, according to snowsport director Tom Eckert.
"Our main business is to teach people how to ski and snowboard whether they are 4 or 94 years old," Eckert said about the ski school. "We teach people how to fall in love with the sport so that they can go out skiing and feel safe and comfortable wherever they go."
Looking out for safety at Four Lakes, pro patrol director Bret Duesdieker oversees the Central Division of the Southern region of National Ski Patrol, which covers all of Illinois. The nonprofit organization is the pre-eminent authority of public outdoor recreation safety. Each technician receives 100 to 120 hours of training before they may volunteer to patrol a ski hill.
"We'll start in mid-March and train until late summer to prepare for ski patrol," Duesdieker said. "We are out there for the safety and protection and any first-aid attention our skiers may need."
Four Lakes has six-member teams that volunteer weekly during a season. Every member wears a large red cross on his or her uniform and is professionally trained in CPR, AED, outdoor emergency care and transport. Each also has lots of time on the hill that improves their skiing abilities.
"We also survey the terrain and the quality of the snow for safety," Duesdieker said. "If you like helping others and the camaraderie, being on the ski patrol might be for you."
The ski patrol education programs also include search-and-rescue techniques, mountaineering and avalanche control. Its longest-living member was on the hill until the age of 92. Younger members may start training at age 16 but cannot work the hill until age 18.
"We are always willing to train more members," Duesdieker said. "My workplace is on the snow, skiing, and it doesn't get much better than that."
More information is at nsp.org and fourlakesskipatrol.com.
For 51 years, Four Lakes has cornered the market on ski convenience.
"We serve the people who can hop in a car and just take a short trip to enjoy their friends and family on the slopes," Eckert said. "We thrive on the convenience for people, saving them both time and expense."
Eckert estimates the popular winter venue gives 10,000 lessons each year. In addition to the ski hill classes, which are found at skifourlakes.com, other classes are offered through local park districts and Scouting programs.
Ski lessons fall into three categories. Little Bumper is for ages 4 to 8. Helmets are required at this age, and children advance within groups according to their abilities.
Race Program is a five-week introduction to slalom and giant slalom racing. Students do not need to be on the race team, but these classes will bring all participants to the next level of skiing. John Bendik is director of the race program.
Ski Now is lessons for beginners over the age of 9 and all adults. They may be private, semiprivate or in multiples.
Four Lakes also offers snowboarding lessons for beginners. Participants must weigh more than 40 pounds. All lesson details for times and costs are at skifourlakes.com. Four Lakes is located at 5750 Lakeside Drive in Lisle; south of I-88 and Maple Avenue and west of I-355 and Route 53.
In the coming weeks, Midnight Madness, which features a DJ and raffles, allows patrons on the slopes from 4 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10. Fabulous Fridays begin at 4 p.m. each week from Jan. 20 to March 2; admission is discounted to $15.
SnoFest 2012 for skiers and snowboarders runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, featuring racecourse activities, DJ, costume contest, raffles, torch light parade and fireworks.
Sure to make its mark to close the season, Rail Jam is from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3, with a skills competition and raffle prizes.
If both time and money nix a mountain ski resort vacation for you, check out the Four Lakes Ski Hill for all the family-and-friend-fun you can take in. If you live here in the Midwest where each season adds its own unique perspective, you might as well enjoy winter to its fullest.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle.