By Philip Vidal
With theaters and museums closed, and restaurants closed to indoor dining, we’ve been encouraged to get creative with our time. With this good advice, I was transported back my childhood, when I was too young to go to museums and theaters on my own, and certainly too young to be welcome alone at any restaurant or bar.
Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, in the aptly named Lakeview neighborhood near Belmont Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, my sisters and I were fortunate there were two places nearby where we could enjoy outdoor activities. We could walk about five blocks north to Waveland Park and skate on the baseball diamonds that were flooded and turned into ice-skating rinks. I also recall informal ice-hockey games with friends. The cold air seemed to amplify the whoosh of traffic on the Outer Drive.
Or we could walk south about five blocks and enjoy sledding on the hill just north of Lincoln Park’s North Pond. We could also ice skate on the North Pond and take a break in the warming house that is now the critically acclaimed eponymous restaurant North Pond. We’d skate with the newly completed John Hancock Tower visible to the south. The John Hancock Center had its own outdoor ice-skating rink in the lower concourse level. Chicago’s answer to Rockefeller Center’s ice-skating rink?
Donate to the Lincoln Park Conservancy to help with their North Pond Restoration Project. Photo by Lincoln Park Conservancy.
I’ve read recently that the North Pond is drying up and requires restoration. Donate to the Lincoln Park Conservancy to restore and preserve this oasis. Lincoln Park’s North Pond Nature Sanctuary, along with the South Shore and Little Village neighborhoods, are the first three self-guided tours with interactive maps in Chicago Children’s Theatre’s “Walkie Talkie” audio series, which I hope will eventually include all of Chicago’s neighborhoods. It’s a fun way for families to explore Chicago’s neighborhoods safely outdoors.
One winter, I must have gotten tired of walking south past Diversey or north past Addison, so I created my own ice-skating rink in our backyard by flooding it with the garden hose. My parents were not pleased, nor was our very territorial family dog.
My personal adventures on the ice are nothing new to Chicago — ice skating has been popular in Chicago for more than a century. Tens of thousands of spectators would attend the annual Chicago Tribune Silver Skates speed skating competition. Supper clubs and nightclubs had shows with skaters on indoor rinks. I have a vague recollection of seeing the Ice Follies or Ice Capades when they came to Chicago, but don’t recall where…perhaps the International Amphitheater or the (old) Chicago Stadium?
The Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon is one of six citywide outdoor ice-skating rinks open, reservations required. Photo by Chicago Park District.
Chicago at one point boasted that it had more outdoor ice-skating rinks than any other city in the United States. In past years, I’ve met a good friend downtown to watch her, and her young niece and nephews, ice skate at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. It’s a beautiful spot under the city’s Christmas Tree, the Cloud Gate aka “The Bean” sculpture, and the wall of office buildings along Michigan Avenue to the west. The rink is closed for the 2020/2021 season, but the Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon just to the east is open, with reservations required. The Chicago Park District’s website says that another six of its citywide outdoor rinks are also open.
We also had options if we wanted to go sledding. In addition to the hill near what is now North Pond restaurant, my parents would drive to Cricket Hill just north of Montrose in Lincoln Park. We had a family toboggan, in addition to our individual sleds and tubes. I remember seeing the tall wooden toboggan slide in Caldwell Woods at Devon and Nagle on the Northwest Side, which reminded me of the Shoot-the-Chutes ride at Riverview, but I never ventured down that slide. Nor did we go to another slide located in Palos Park. The toboggan slides are long gone, but Cricket Hill is still a popular spot for sledding.
This also brings to mind the movies I watched in the ‘60s that depict the super-chic European ski and après-ski scene. “Charade” (1963), starring Audrey Hepburn (in Givenchy) and Gary Grant, opens in the French ski resort Megève. Most of Blake Edward’s “The Pink Panther” (1963) is set in Cortina d’Ampezzo, the jet-set Italian ski resort that hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics.
One of the first films to showcase a winter resort was the 1941 movie “Sun Valley Serenade,” featuring Olympic figure skating champion Sonja Henie, band leader Glen Miller, and comedian Milton Berle. Railroad magnate W. Averell Harriman wanted to increase ridership on his Union Pacific Railroad so he turned Sun Valley into the United States’ first destination winter resort in ‘30s. In the ‘50s, Chicago’s Walter and Elizabeth ‘Pussy’ Paepcke transformed a sleepy Colorado town called Aspen into an international ski resort and cultural center. As an aside, they also helped Laszlo Moholy-Nagy found the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937.
Looking for a winter experience? Visit Wilmot Mountain in Wilmot, Wisconsin. Photo by Wilmot Mountain.
During high school in the ‘70s, friends would take the short drive up to Wisconsin to ski at the Playboy Club (now the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa) and Wilmot Mountain. I’m afraid of heights so even the bunny hills would seem daunting, which is ironic because my family comes from Lorenzago di Cadore, not far from the famous ski runs at Cortina d’Ampezzo. Should I reconsider, Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports in Lisle and Villa Olivia in Bartlett are nearby.
More to my taste, Chicago’s flat terrain lends itself to cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Chicago’s parks and the outlying forest preserves are great spots to enjoy these sports. Our forest preserves were the first of their kind in the world when they were created in the early 20th century.
I was a Boy Scout, and we went winter camping one year – wisely never to be repeated by me. It’s difficult to pitch a tent when the ground is frozen! The camping trip was part of a sled race where boy scouts assumed the role of sled dogs. Winter camping has come a long way since then, with glamping and yurts.
Try ice-fishing without paying for a license, Wisconsin’s Winter Free Fishing Weekend is held on January 16 and 17. Photo by Travel Wisconsin.
If you’re really good at snowmobiling, enter the 58th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, Wisconsin, January 14 to 17. If you’d like to try ice-fishing in Wisconsin, but don’t want to pay for a license, then head up January 16 and 17 for Wisconsin’s Winter Free Fishing Weekend, when residents and non-residents can fish in Wisconsin without a fishing license. Closer to home, the Cook County Forest Preserves permit ice-fishing on many of the ponds and reservoirs under their jurisdiction. The forest preserves also are a terrific place for snowmobiling – but only on designated trails.
Don’t miss Chicago Architecture Center’s year-in-review online program ”Hindsight 2020: Chicago Design and Development in a Turbulent Year,“ January 21. Photo by Chicago Architecture Center.
Virtual events are an alternative in January to outdoor activities. The Auditorium Theatre’s “National Geo Live” series of six events goes virtual, beginning on January 19 with “Life on Other Worlds” that poses the question “How close are we to discovering life on other planets?” “What role will design play in getting our city back on track?” is the question posed by the online program ”Hindsight 2020: Chicago Design and Development in a Turbulent Year,“ hosted by Chicago Architecture Center President and CEO Lynn Osmond on January 21.
Learn about Chicago’s magnificent collection of Tiffany art-glass and mosaics, one of the largest in the country, from Chicago Architecture Center docent Susan Jacobson by registering for her January 27 online program entitled “Tiffany in Chicago.”
Scott Silberstein, multi-Emmy® Award winner, receives the inaugural Maurice Seymour Award at the Chicago Dance History Project’s digital Interview Marathon. Photo by HMS Media.
Learn about the world of dance in Chicago by watching Chicago Dance History Project’s digital Interview Marathon on January 31. Interviewees include luminaries like Frank Chaves, Lou Conte, Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp and Ashley Wheater. Emmy® Award winner Scott Silberstein receives the inaugural Maurice Seymour Award at the Interview Marathon.
Paramount Theatre’s new “The Inception Project” kicks off with two new plays by Chicago playwrights. The online reading of Lanise Antoine Shelley’s “Pretended” is January 14, and the online reading of Nancy García Loza’s “Bull: a love story” is January 28. Tickets to both are free; reservations are required.
The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert “Wind Melodies by Coleman and Mozart,” featuring Grammy® Award-nominated composer Valerie Coleman’s “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta and Mozart’s “Gran Partita,” goes virtual from January 23 to February 12. The Chicago Sinfonietta’s annual MLK Tribute Concert will be virtual this year, on January 18, Martin Luther King Day.
Restaurants have gotten creative with takeout, delivery, pop-ups, tents, huts, and geodesic domes, but even during ‘normal’ times, January is a tough month for restaurants, so please patronize your local restaurants.
Watch “History of the Grands Châteaux: Loire Valley and Ile-de-France” hosted by Russell Kelley on Thursdays starting January 14. Photo by Alliance Française Chicago.
International travel is tough right now too, but armchair travel is easy and a creative way to visit places around the world. Ten Grands Châteaux of the Loire Valley and Île-de-France are featured in Russell Kelley series of lectures (in English) every Thursday at noon from January 14 to March 25 through the Alliance Française de Chicago.
“Masterpiece: All Creatures Great and Small” debuts on WTTW on January 10. Photo by WTTW.
I’m looking forward to sitting in a comfy chair on Sunday evenings and being transported back to Yorkshire in the 1930s. WTTW debuts “Masterpiece: All Creatures Great and Small” on Sunday, January 10. This latest series is based on James Herriot’s books about the life of a veterinarian. I am an avowed dog-lover, and this British series brings to mind Queen Elizabeth and her corgis… and her statement in 1992 that it was, for her and her family, an annus horribilis. I’ve heard 2020 described in similar terms. May 2021 be better!
Dates, times, locations, and availability are subject to change. Please stay healthy and safe and keep up with the latest COVID-19 information and guidelines.