Learn to ski at Chestnut Mountain. Photo by Joey Wallis
Learn to ski at Chestnut Mountain. Photo by Joey Wallis

The Best Ski and Snowboard Destinations for Families Near Chicago

Ok, we admit it—the terrain in the Chicago area is mostly flat. But that doesn’t mean local kids are destined to grow up not knowing how to ski or shred until that family getaway to Vail or Jackson Hole materializes. There are several slopes, hills, and even mountains within a two hour drive, where families can spend the day skiing or snowboarding together. All of them have a family-friendly atmosphere and ski (and snowboard) lessons for kids of all ages.

If you’re dying to get out of the house this winter and the kids are ready for a winter sport beyond ice skating in the city, check out this list of slopes within an easy drive from Chicago. Most of these winter sports havens make their own snow, so Chicagoans don’t have to wait for Mother Nature to cooperate to hit the slopes.

Due to current Covid protocols, most resorts have reduced capacity and require advance purchase of tickets. We’ve included every spot’s safety measures and anything else you should know before you go.

The National Ski Association has published the Ski Well Be Well guide to set industry standards for all resorts and as a handy reference for what families can expect on the slopes this year.

If you are traveling to an activity outside of your state or local area, check if COVID cases are on the rise in the area, as well as any travel restrictions, advisories, or quarantine orders.

Even little ones can master the snowboard.

Little shredders hit the slopes at Chestnut Mountain. Photo by Joey Wallis

Skiing and Snowboarding Spots in Illinois

Four Lakes Snowsports

5750 Lakeside Dr.
Lisle, IL 60532
45 minute drive from Chicago

Families can enjoy five different ski or snowboard trails with six tow ropes (no chairs) at this West Suburban winter sports complex that’s been around since 1960. The Alley Terrain Park challenges more advanced skiers and snowboarders, and lessons are available for beginners on the bunny hill.

For little ones looking to learn to ski, lessons are available 7 days a week, but due to Covid guidelines, some changes have been made this year. Kids must be 6 and up to take a lesson, and must be able to ride the tow rope on their own (instructors are not allowed to help this year). Snowboard lessons are available for ages 8 and up.

Covid-19 safety measures: Four Lakes requires that face coverings be worn both inside and outside whenever social distancing is not possible (except when eating). Physical distancing markers are in place, and there have been some changes to rental locations. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

Villa Olivia

1401 W Lake St.
Bartlett, IL 60103
60 minute drive from Chicago

Downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing are all available for some serious winter family fun, and all just a short drive from the city. Villa Olivia makes its own snow and has seven ski runs, a chair lift, six tow ropes, and even a tubing hill. In 2020 the snow is late in coming, and Villa Olivia opens on December 26.

Ski lessons are available for kids as young as 4 (and snowboarding lessons for kids ages 6 and up) through the Snow Kids program, a class that meets 3 times for 1 ½ hours each day and includes equipment rental and a slope ticket. Individual private and semi-private lessons are offered as well. Sunday Family Fun night packages are available for the whole family.

Covid-19 safety measures: Villa Olivia requires that face masks be worn at all times. They are also managing the number of people allowed in the Ski Lodge. Advance purchase of tickets and booking of lessons online is highly recommended. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

Chestnut Mountain

8700 W Chestnut Rd.
Galena, IL 61036
150 minute drive from Chicago

With beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes and a terrain park, this western Illinois ski resort overlooking the Mississippi River has a variety of options for families. Packages enable families to ski just once, stay at the resort for a ski weekend, or run the slopes all winter. Lessons are available for all levels, but due to Covid guidelines, Powder Pups Children’s program is not available, and only private lessons are available for kids ages 4-6. Bigger kids can take the $10 beginner group lessons, and snowboard lessons are also available.

Chestnut Mountain is open year round, and in non-snowy months offers biking, hiking, Mississippi cruises, an Alpine slide, zipline, and more.

Covid-19 safety measures: Chestnut Mountain requires that face masks be worn at all times, and no indoor seating is available. The resort suggests using your car as base camp! Restaurants are open, but serve take out food only, which must be consumed outside or in vehicles. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

RELATED: Best Ice Skating Spots in Chicago

See? There are mountains you can ski on near Chicago.

Skiing by the shores of Lake Geneva. Photo courtesy of Grand Geneva Resort and Spa

Where to Ski and Snowboard in Wisconsin

Wilmot Mountain

11931 Fox River Rd.
Wilmot, WI 53192
75 minute drive from Chicago

Halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, this mountain offers 25 ski trails, 7 lifts and 2 surface conveyors for families to explore. It’s a great place for beginners to learn how to ski or snowboard, and lessons are available for kids as young as 3. Lessons look a little different this year, and only private sessions are available for kids ages 3-4. Older kids may take small group classes, and everyone can participate in a family private lesson. If not everyone loves to ski, or you visit for multiple days, there’s also a snow tubing area with 22 lanes and two surface conveyors.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face masks be worn at all times, and no indoor seating is available. A new reservation system is in place to limit the number of guests allowed and reservations are required. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

Alpine Valley

W2501 County Road D
Elkhorn, WI 53121
95 minute drive from Chicago

Just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, this ski and snowboarding resort has one of the largest beginner areas in the Midwest, so for newbies and rusty parents, this is a perfect choice. The two bunny hills are magic carpet tows—little ones don’t even have to figure out a rope tow. A new trail has even been opened for the 2020/21 season. They also have some of the best snow making equipment in the area, so trails opened early in the season. Due to Covid -19, the lessons for 3-4 year olds will not be offered this season, but limited-space ski and snowboard lessons for ages 5 and up are available at very reasonable rates.

A terrain park and mountain biking paths give families a reason to come back when the snow melts.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face masks be worn at all times indoors, unless eating or drinking, and must be worn outdoors when social distancing is not possible. An outdoor ticket window is open and rentals may be more limited. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

The Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa

7036 Grand Geneva Way
Lake Geneva , WI 53147
100 minute drive from Chicago

Looking for all the winter sports in one easy spot? Stay and play (and play and play) at the Grand Geneva Resort with downhill or cross country skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, sledding, and ice skating. Packages are available through the resort to include several activities at one price. The 20 runs are designed for a range of ages and abilities, and snow making equipment all combine to make this a good starting place, no matter the forecast or ski prowess of everyone in the family.

The new Burton Riglet Park was built with young children in mind and is perfect for a first time experience. Snow Cub lessons are offered for kids 3-6 years old, and kids ages 7 and up can take ski or snowboarding lessons. Private lessons are also available.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face masks be worn at all times indoors, and must be worn outdoors when social distancing is not possible. All tickets must be purchased online in advance, and are available in limited quantities per day. Check the website for the most current information before you go.

Sunburst Winter Sports Park 

8355 Prospect Drive
Kewaskum, WI 53040
120 minute drive from Chicago

Ski, snowboard, and even learn how to ski moguls at this winter sports haven with 11 runs (including 2 terrain parks) in southeast Wisconsin. Kids ages 3-5 can join the Snowman Adventure Club, which is a ski lesson in a separate area. Kids 5 and up can take private lessons, or ages 6 and up can take group lessons in either skiing or snowboarding. You can even sign up for a family lesson. Want to see how the slopes look before the drive? Check out the live cams to see exactly what’s happening at three spots on the mountain.

Side perk: with more than 45 tubing chutes, Sunburst Winter Sports Park claims to be the largest tubing park in the world.

Covid-19 safety measures: Sunburst has a three part approach to safety this winter: masks, social distancing, and frequent disinfecting.

Masks up and jackets zipped! Make sure kids have proper layers for skiing.

Bundle up and stay warm to enjoy winter sports! Photo by Ally Noel

Places for Families to Hit the Slopes in Michigan

Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area

13421 Mann St.
Jones, MI 49061
135 minute drive from Chicago

At press time, the opening of Swiss Valley is currently on hold as they work to make and maintain snow in what has been a warm winter. But they hope to open soon, and you can sign up for a text alert to be notified as soon as the mountain opens.

This Southwest Michigan ski resort boasts four tow ropes and three ski lifts, as well as the ability to make snow. Valley Kids is Swiss Valley’s award winning learn to ski and snowboard program. This year, due to Covid restrictions, only kids 8 and up are allowed to participate (usually children 4 and up can learn to ski, and kids 7 and up can start snowboarding). Be sure to check the website for an array of special deals, like Sunday Funday, Scout Days, Two For One Nights and more. Night skiing and a terrain park with a beginners area for skiers and snowboarders are also available. With a great beginners area, a Black Diamond Hill for the experts, and loads of special promotions, Swiss Valley has enough options to keep the whole family happy.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face Coverings are required everywhere at Swiss Valley Ski & Snowboard Area.

Timber Ridge Ski Area

07500 23 ½ Street
Gobles, MI 49055
145 minute drive from Chicago

This family-friendly Southwest Michigan ski slope, terrain park, and snow tubing area has something for outdoor winter sports enthusiasts of all ages and ability levels. Most ski lifts are less than 60 seconds long, giving kids more time to spend on the slopes. Two bunny hills makes this mountain a good one for beginners

Lessons for kids ages 5 and up are available, and instructors here strongly recommend you call in advance to book those lessons, as availability is limited for the 2020-2021 season.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face coverings are required in most locations, and social distancing must be maintained in all lines and indoors. No indoor eating or drinking is allowed and there are several locations for grab and go food. Check the website for the current policy.

Bittersweet Ski and Snowboard Resort

600 River Road
Ostego, MI 49078
150 minute drive from Chicago

Featuring 20 different runs and a terrain park with 17 features, this ski and snowboard resort will keep families moving all day. Well maintained equipment, trails, and a speed lift helps keep everything running smoothly. Ski and snowboard lessons are available daily for all different abilities, and due to Covid guidelines, the lessons at Bittersweet look a little different this year. Lesson reservations are required 24 hours in advance, and all kids 3–5 years old who are skiing for the first time must take a private lesson. As instructors are maintaining social distance, parents must stay with the class and be available to help their kids. Kids 7 and up can take snowboard lessons.

Covid-19 safety measures: Face coverings are required indoors, in lessons, and in line. No indoor eating is allowed, but outdoor food, seating and takeout will be available.

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