One of the more popular winter attractions in Lake Geneva is the annual snow sculpting competition held during Winterfest, which draws visitors from around the Midwest. (Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau photo)

Six Ways to Have Fun Outdoors

So what if it’s cold and icy outside? That’s half the fun! Join Paul Anthony Arco as he discovers six fun, sometimes unusual ways to enjoy cold temperatures and icy landscapes this season.

One of the more popular winter attractions in Lake Geneva is the annual snow sculpting competition held during Winterfest, which draws visitors from around the Midwest. (Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau photo)

Just because cold weather is setting in doesn’t mean outdoor fun has to stop. Thousands of local residents will escape cabin fever and head outside this winter for a variety of activities, including skiing, sledding and ice skating.

Looking for something different and unique? Try a wintertime round of golf or overnight camping trip. Or, enjoy some of the daylong festivals packed with enough music, food and activities to keep the whole family entertained. This isn’t a complete list, just a few ideas to get you started. Most events depend on the weather. Have fun this winter!

Doc Haznow Chili Open, Crystal Lake

The golf season lives on at the Crystal Lake Park District’s 42nd annual Doc Haznow Chili Open, Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Crystal Lake Main Beach, 300 Lake Shore Dr., starting at 8 a.m.

Started by Doc Haznow, a Crystal Lake resident who owned a Chinese restaurant, this event’s main attraction is a nine-hole golf course built on a frozen lake. Tee off from the lake’s main beach onto a fairway of Christmas trees, anchored into holes in the ice. Green carpet serves as the greens, and golf flags stick out of cups drilled into the ice. Shortly before the event, the park district’s maintenance crews build the elaborate setup.

The course is open to both men and women, and because alcohol is allowed, only adults 21 and older are allowed to compete. Foursomes will feast on chili and have an opportunity to win prizes including golf bags, clubs, apparel and gift cards.

“This community event brings family and friends together to enjoy a truly unique recreational opportunity,” says Connie Cooke, special event supervisor. “Where else can you play a nine-hole, par-32 course on a frozen lake, eat chili and have the chance to win great prizes?”

Dozens of golfers from across the greater McHenry County area and Wisconsin take part in this one-day event. “It’s a joy to be able to see the look in grown men’s eyes when they see the golf course for the first time,” says Cooke. “It’s such a rare opportunity to get to play golf in the middle of winter and on ice.”

There are no golf carts out on the ice, so players pull their golf clubs, equipment and coolers in a sled, which can be custom-decorated and entered into the Chili Open “Best Sled” contest. “The most unique sled I ever saw was a pirate ship,” says Cooke.

The cost to enter is $115 per foursome. In the event of mild conditions on the lake, the event will be postponed until Feb. 2 or Feb. 16.

For more information or to register, contact Cooke at (815) 459-0680, ext. 213, or [email protected].

Discovery Days, St. Charles

The St. Charles Park District hosts its second annual “Discovery Days” Jan. 27 and Feb. 10, from noon to 4 p.m., at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, 3795 Campton Hills Road.

This year’s theme is “Dress for Success,” and visitors to this family-friendly event will learn how animals survive winter.

“Humans and animals have to dress appropriately in order to survive,” says Pam Otto, nature programs manager. “This year, we’ll look at wildlife adaptations and how animals are outfitted to survive in the climate in which they live.”

The St. Charles Park District hosts “Discovery Days,” an event that gives visitors an up-close view of several critters, as well as dog sled demonstrations.
The St. Charles Park District hosts “Discovery Days,” an event that gives visitors an up-close view of several critters, as well as dog sled demonstrations.

On Jan. 27, there will be dog sled demonstrations by Free Spirit Huskies, along with a special presentation by Fox News Meteorologist Tammie Souza. On Feb. 10, the main attraction is the Northern Illinois Raptors, which shows its Birds of Prey presentations at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. There also will be projects, crafts and fun activities.

The cost is $2 per person, and no registration is required. Proceeds go to the care and maintenance of Hickory Knolls’ animal displays.

Hickory Knolls is a 10,500-square-foot, LEED-certified education center that opened in May 2011. “Discovery Days was created to draw more visibility to the center,” Otto says. “This event is a great way to learn about nature and enjoy the winter season at the same time.”

For more information, visit

Ice Fishing and Skiing, McHenry County

For the first time, the McHenry County Conservation District is offering a Frosty Fishing Fair, Saturday, Jan. 5, at the Hollows Conservation Area, Lake Atwood, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This event is perfect for beginners or expert ice anglers. For the rookies, district staff will teach tips and tricks for ice fishing.

“We want to highlight recreational opportunities that the conservation district has,” says Mary Kozub, event coordinator. “Ice fishing is a fun way to get outside. You can take the whole family and it’s an inexpensive activity. On a nice winter day with a reflecting sun, it can be quite pleasant.”

In addition, participants will learn about ice fishing safety, equipment and techniques through free instruction and live demonstrations. Vendors and representatives from local fishing clubs will be on hand, and food and hot beverages are available.

Kozub expects a good turnout for this inaugural event. No registration is required. Before the event, anglers age 16 and older will need a fishing license and inland water trout stamp. This event is weather-dependent. Check for updated information.

If fishing isn’t your thing, maybe hiking or skiing is. The district has two solar-lighted trails open after dark for hiking or cross country skiing when the conditions are right.

Pleasant Valley, 13315 Pleasant Valley Road, Woodstock, includes a half-mile looped trail, mostly on flat terrain, and is perfect for beginners. Hickory Grove Highlands, 500 Hickory Nut Grove Lane, Cary, is a 1.25-mile trail that loops through a newly restored savanna, a route perfect for intermediate skiers.

The district holds ski events by candlelight on two Friday and Saturday evenings, from 5 to 9 p.m. – one in January and one in February – following a snowfall of 4 inches or more. The January event will be held after the first significant snowfall at the Hollows, 3804 U.S. Hwy. 14, Cary. The February event will be held at Marengo Ridge, 13100 N. Ill. Route 23, Marengo. Skiers of all ages and levels are invited to ski and enjoy refreshments around a roaring fire, before heading home for the night.

“Candlelight skiing is a great way to hit the slopes after dark,” says Wendy Kummerer, communications manager. “There are no steep hills and the trails are groomed well ahead of time.”

Another great way to enjoy the season is to sleep under the stars. Winter camping opens Dec. 1 at Marengo Ridge; all other campgrounds are closed until spring.

“Winter camping is ideal for people who are looking for a chance to get away for a few days,” says Kummerer. “The woods can be very silent, peaceful and calming during the winter.”

Group campgrounds are available for reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a site, call (815) 338-6223.

Winter Fest, Hoffman Estates

Make plans to attend the Hoffman Estates Park District’s inaugural Winter Fest, Saturday, Jan. 19, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Pine Park, 750 Charleston Lane, Hoffman Estates. There will be sledding, a family snowman-making contest, snow painting, crafts, refreshments and more at this free event.

“Winter Fest is designed to encourage families to embrace the winter weather, to demonstrate that they can enjoy the outdoors, and to be physically active in the winter months,” says Sandy Manisco, communications and marketing superintendent. “It’s part of an overall initiative called HEALTH – Helping Everyone Achieve a Lifestyle That’s Healthy – our effort to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity in our community.”

In addition to Winter Fest, outdoor sledding, ice skating and skiing are available from sunrise to sunset throughout the season. Both Pine Park and Seascape Family Aquatic Center, 1300 Moon Lake Blvd., offer sledding and skiing; ice skating on the ponds and lakes is available at South Ridge, High Point and Evergreen parks.

Even if it’s a mild winter, indoor skating takes place all year at the ice arena inside the Triphahn Community Center, 1685 W. Higgins Road. Open to the public throughout the week, these two NHL-sized ice rinks are also the practice home for the Chicago Wolves hockey team.

For current conditions and public skating times, call the park district hotline at (847) 885-7500, or check the calendar of events at

Crunching Snow, Aurora

There’s plenty to do outside this winter at the Fox Valley Park District.

Start with sledding at Lincoln Park, located at Russell Avenue and Lakewood Place in Aurora. This gentle hill is perfect for young children and beginners. Enjoy Fox River views on the way down the slopes at McCullough Park, 150 W. Illinois Ave.

A steeper, intermediate trek is available at Waubonsie Lake Park, located on Montgomery and Kautz roads. And there’s a big hill for fast and steep sledding at Oakhurst Forest Preserve, on Fifth Avenue west of Kautz Road.

The park district maintains two outdoor skating areas: Wheatlands Park pond, located at Barrington and Spinnaker drives, and Splash Country Water Park Pond, 195 S. Barnes Road, next to the water park.
Snowshoeing makes it possible to walk on top of the snow without falling through. It’s permitted in any of the District’s 159 parks and throughout the 44-mile network of trails. Snowshoe and pole rentals are available at Red Oak Nature Center for $5.

Go cross-country skiing at Fox River Trail in North Aurora; Virgil Gilman Trail starting at Prairie Street or Galena Boulevard; and Waubonsie Creek Trail, which can be accessed from either Waubonsie Lake Park, off Kautz Road, or the parking lot at the Eola Community Center.

“We encourage people to come out, whether there’s snow or not,” says Jeff Long, public relations director. “Winter is a great time to get off the StairMaster and enjoy the trails and nature. The trails are not groomed, so the more skiers who use the trails, the better the tracks will be.”

For more information, visit

Winterfest, Lake Geneva, Wis.

Nearly 30,000 people come together for four days of fun and snow sculpting at the annual Lake Geneva Winterfest, Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, at Riviera Park.

The winter celebration includes food, music and helicopter rides, and caps off with the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition. State champions compete in what has become the highlight of the winter season.

“There’s a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding Winterfest,” says George Hennerley, president of the Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “The community really embraces the event. It’s an exciting time of the year, one that everyone looks forward to.”

Over the years, sculptors have worked in a variety of temperatures. One year, participants froze in 6-below-zero temperatures; another year they wore shorts and T-shirts during balmy 60-degree temps. “The ideal conditions are overcast and between 20 and 30 degrees,” Hennerley says. The manmade snow is produced at nearby Grand Geneva Ski Resort. Each block of snow weighs 3 tons.

“The people who come to watch the competition can’t believe what these sculptors can make out of snow,” Hennerley says. “I’ve seen sculptors carve a broccoli and cauliflower display out of snow, as well as a 17-foot giraffe. This event has become a cult following.”

The snow sculpting event wraps up in plenty of time for guests to head over to the Grand Geneva Resort’s annual winter carnival, which takes place Saturday, Feb. 4, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The carnival is held at The Mountain Top and includes ski school and ski patrol demonstrations, snowboarding and downhill ski competitions, children’s games, and other snow-related activities. The celebration concludes with a torchlight parade and a grand fireworks display at 8 p.m.
For more information, visit lakegenevawi.comi.

Bundle Up

Sure it’s cold, but winter is as good a time as any to have fun outside. Whether you’re skiing, sledding, skating, fishing or finding other outdoor activities, there’s no reason to stay cooped up inside. Grab some gear and enjoy all that winter has to offer.