Free skis, renovated rooms and longer hours: What’s new at Midwest ski resorts this season

Chicago Tribune

Freshly cut trails, novel learn-to-turn programs, remodeled lodging and reconfigured terrain parks are some of the new offerings being rolled out at ski and snowboard resorts in Illinois, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this winter.

Here’s a sampling of what’s happening at seven worthwhile destinations, most of which are within a four-hour drive of the Loop. Tack on a few more hours to get to the UP.

Wilmot Mountain

Wilmot, Wis.

Situated just over the Wisconsin border not too far from Lake Geneva, Wilmot got snapped up and then spiffed up by Colorado-based Vail Resorts in 2016. Wilmot has added a new children’s ski and snowboard rental facility, which officials say should improve the flow for youngsters on their way to the slopes.


Wilmot, which has seven lifts, 23 trails and a vertical descent of 220 feet, also has a new ski school program called Bunny Hill Basics. For $49, participants ages 7 and older will get a lift ticket, rental gear and an hour of instruction. It will be offered 7 p.m. Wednesdays Jan. 9 through the end of the season.

The best new deal at Wilmot is the Ready to Ski/Ready to Ride program designed for first-time adult skiers or snowboarders, and those ready to get back into the sport after a long break. Each four-lesson course costs $389 and includes lift tickets. Participants also will receive a free pair of Elan skis or a Burton snowboard at their final lesson, after which they’ll also be treated to a celebratory party, said spokeswoman Carolyn Pelissero.

Chestnut Mountain

Galena, Ill.

The destination resort recently finished remodeling the last of its 120-plus lodge rooms. The mountain has nine lifts, 19 runs and a vertical drop of nearly 500 feet. Its ski center and hotel are perched on a bluff high above the Mississippi, offering sweeping views of the river and rolling Iowa farmlands to the west. And it’s conveniently close to the restaurants, shops and bars clustered in historic Galena.


Skiers and snowboarders enjoy a sunny afternoon at Chestnut Mountain, a destination resort not far from historic downtown Galena.
(Chestnut Mountain)

Tyrol Basin

Mount Horeb, Wis.

Wisconsin’s longtime winter playground near Madison boasts 18 trails, five lifts, a vertical drop of 300 feet and a rustic ski lodge in an old dairy barn, and has been a popular draw for snowboarders and skiers from northern Illinois. Managing partner Nathan McGree said Tyrol is installing a new cable tow in the beginners learning area and is making other upgrades. Tyrol also has plans to add a snow tubing area, though that won’t occur until the 2019 season, he said.

Devil’s Head

Merrimac, Wis.

Tucked away in the Baraboo Bluffs roughly 40 miles northwest of Madison, Devil’s Head has a dozen lifts, 30 runs and a vertical drop of 500 feet. Like Chestnut, it’s a ski-in, ski-out destination resort with 250 lodge rooms, a swimming pool, restaurants and other facilities. Manager Joe Vittengl said the resort moved its main terrain park from Sidewinder to the Serpent run, and the former will be transformed — once enough snow falls — into a new terrain park with banks, rolls, berms, spines and other features sculpted from snow that should appeal to skiers and snowboarders alike.

Skiers rip through fresh powder at Devil’s Head Resort, a ski-in, ski-out destination resort with 250 lodge rooms, a swimming pool, restaurants and other facilities.
(Devil’s Head Resort)

Cascade Mountain

Portage, Wis.

This spot around 20 minutes from Wisconsin Dells added two shorter intermediate runs on the far east side of the resort, a change that spokesman Evan Walz said will make it easier to access some of the newer slopes, such as the “Beat Up” cruiser run, that debuted over the past three years. He said Cascade, which has 12 lifts, 45 trails, a vertical drop of 400 feet and 15 snow tubing lanes, has added a cookout area at the base of the resort near the Mountaintop Express four-person, high-speed lift, and it’s created some new beginner and intermediate trails and other features for its terrain parks.


Granite Peak

Wausau, Wis.

Nestled in Rib Mountain State Park, Granite Peak has a hefty (by Midwest standards) vertical drop of 700 feet, 74 trails, several terrain parks and seven lifts. It’s a popular place to hit the slopes after the sun goes down, which will be easier than ever now that it’s open until 9 p.m. nightly.

Pine Mountain

Iron Mountain, Mich.

New owners have taken over this Upper Peninsula property that opened in 1939, and they’re in the process of spending more than $4 million to upgrade all aspects of the resort, starting with a complete renovation of its tired slope-side condos, said spokesman Dave Nyquist. The ski and snowboard area features a 500-foot vertical drop, 27 trails and six lifts. Nyquist said the resort also relocated the beginner section, moving it away from an area that was too steep for many novices to enjoy.

Brian E. Clark is a freelance writer.

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