Every year, Midwestern ski areas are winter fun destinations, but the unusually mild temperatures this winter have left many struggling.
Some resorts have been forced to close runs, or even their entire areas, because of warm temperatures.
Steve Voss, general manager of Sunburst Ski Area in Kewaskum, Wis., said the big storm that went through the Midwest early this winter gave him hope for a great season.
That was until temperatures warmed up again.
“We have the ability to make snow,” Voss said. “But in order to do that, we need cold temperatures.”
Sunburst was closed on a recent weekend because the warm weather prevented the snow guns from producing enough to cover its 11 runs, but Voss said he and the staff are working to open as many runs as possible as soon as they can.
Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park in Andalusia, Ill., near the Quad Cities, has been open only four days this season, general manager Ed Meyer said.
He said Snowstar has been in operation for 26 years, and this is the first time it has been closed so late in the season.
“We have people on standby every night, and we’re working with a skeleton crew right now,” he said. “We had to cut corners, but I have lots of hope for the rest of the season.”
“It is very disappointing, but there’s still a whole lot of January and February left,” Meyer said.
Other areas have remained open through the entire season, including Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wis.
Eve Direzan, who works the main desk at Cascade, said that while the unusually mild weather has prevented the staff from opening the tubing hill, the resort has been able to make snow several times in recent weeks.
Direzan said Cascade has a base of 20 inches of snow, but she encourages people to continue calling and visiting the area’s Web site for weather and trail information before embarking on a trip there.
“There have been lots of people calling every day,” she said. “Most of the calls we received are people asking about weather conditions.”
Although his ski area has managed to remain open, Joe Vittengl, general manager of Devil’s Head Resort, about 2 hours north of Chicago in Merrimac, Wis., said crowds have been smaller.
Devil’s Head usually greets crowds of anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 skiers on a good weekend, Vittengl said. But this season, the resort has been lucky to see half that, he said.
Devil’s Head has been able to survive through the warm period, thanks to its snow-making capacities that let the staff “blast the hill,” Vittengl said.
He said 80 percent of Devil’s Head’s runs are open, and he hoped that the colder weather expected this week would create perfect snowmaking conditions.
“We’re lucky to have made it through the warm period,” Vittengl said. “There are quite a few places south of us that were forced to close because they don’t have the snowmaking capacities we do.”
No matter what has happened so far, winter is bound to arrive at some point — unless global warming kicks in a lot sooner than predicted — so there’s no sense putting away your skis and snowboards for good yet.
Following are some of the places within a few hours’ drive of the Southland where you will be able to hit the slopes:
Chestnut Mountain, outside Galena, offers 19 trails for all skill levels. Other features include a snowboard terrain park and nine ski lifts to avoid long lines. Visitors can rent equipment from the Village Ski center Pro Shop. On-site lodging also is available. Call (800) 397-1320 or visit http://www.chestnutmtn.com.
Ski Snowstar Winter Sports Park, 10 minutes from the Quad Cities in Andalusia, offers 28 acres of terrain with 14 trails for skiers of various abilities. There also is a tubing hill with five lanes. A day lodge with two meal options is available. Call (309) 798-2666 or visit http://www.skisnowstar.com.
Villa Olivia Ski Area, 30 miles northwest of Chicago in Bartlett, features 12 lighted runs and a tube hill. Call (630) 289-1000 Ext. 740 or visit http://www.villaolivia.com.
Alpine Valley Resort, Elkhorn, north of Lake Geneva, features runs for skiers of all skill levels, as well as two terrain parks for snowboarders. A year-round, on-site resort with 123 rooms and four suites is available. Call (262) 642-7374 or visit http://www.alpinevalleyresort.com.
Cascade Mountain Ski Area, 15 to 20 minutes south of Wisconsin Dells in Portage, features 10 lifts and 34 trails, 21 of which are for beginner or intermediate skiers. Snowboarders can use the four terrain parks, regardless of their skill level. Call (608) 742-5588 or visit http://www.cascademountain.com.
Christmas Mountain Village, just west of Wisconsin Dells, offers 11 downhill runs for skiers of all skill levels and a snow tube run for day or night skiing. An on-site resort and vacation homes are available. Call (608) 254-3971 or visit http://www.christmasmountainvillage.com.
Devil’s Head Resort, in Merrimac about two hours north of Chicago, features day and night skiing on runs for skiers of all abilities. On-site lodging and terrain parks are available. Call (608) 493-2251 or visit http://www.devilsheadresort.com.
Granite Peak Ski Area, in Rib Mountain State Park, near Wausau, in central Wisconsin, features 74 runs for skiers of all skill levels. Seven new lifts have been installed over the past six years, including the longest high-speed chairlift in the Midwest. Wausau is located at the base of the mountain and offers many lodging and dining options. Call (715) 845-2846 or visit http://www.skigranitepeak.com.
Highlands of Olympia Ski Area at the Olympia Sports Center, at 205 feet above the surrounding terrain, is the highest point between Madison and Milwaukee. Olympia features two chair lifts, one rope tow and lighted runs. A terrain park and a sports pub for food and drinks are available. Call (262) 567-2577 or visit http://www.olympiasportscenter.com.
Mountain Top Ski Area at the Grand Geneva Resort, near Lake Geneva, features 18 runs, a snowboarding half-pipe, a terrain park and 10 kilometers of cross-country trails. Call (262) 248-8811 or visit http://www.grandgeneva.com.
Sunburst Ski Area, in Kewaskum, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, features 11 runs with day and night skiing. A snow-tubing hill also is available. Call (262) 626-8404 or visit http://www.skisunburst.com.
Tyrol Basin Ski Area, in Mount Horeb, west of Madison, features day and night skiing on its runs. A terrain park also is available. Call (608) 437-4135 or visit http://www.tyrolbasin.com.
Wilmot Mountain Ski Area, about one hour from the Chicago area, just across the state line north of Fox Lake, Ill., offers eight chairlifts, three rope tows and 25 runs for skiers of all skill levels by day or night. A terrain park also is available. Call (262) 862-2301 or visit http://www.wilmotmountain.com.
Bittersweet Ski Area, in Otsego, west of Kalamazoo, features 20 runs, two Wonder carpets, six chairlifts and six tow ropes. A terrain park also is available. Call (269) 694-2820.
Swiss Valley Ski Area, in Jones, offers 11 runs for day and night skiing, as well as four rope tows and three chairlifts. A terrain park also is available. Call (269) 244-5635 or visit http://www.skiswissvalley.com.
Timber Ridge Ski Area, in Gobles, 15 miles northwest of Kalamazoo, offers runs for skiers of all skills for day and night skiing. Tubing runs also are available. Call (269) 694-9449 or visit http://www.timberridgeski.com.
Perfect North Slopes, in Lawrenceburg, offers day and night skiing on its variety of runs, serviced by five chairlifts and eight lifts. A tubing hill also is available with a magic carpet lift. Call (812) 537-3754 or visit http://www.perfectnorth.com.
Sundown Mountain Ski Area, four miles west of Dubuque, offers two lodges overlooking its 21 runs and terrain park. Visitors can enjoy day or night skiing, serviced by five chairlifts and one surface lift. Call (563) 556-6676 or visit http://www.sundownmountain.com.