Hit the slopes in Illinois

Skis, snowboards and fun

When the snow flies or the temperature hits the magic number of 28 degrees, Chestnut Mountain Resort transforms into a winter playground. Sited on the bluffs above the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, the resort has spectacular vistas and variety of terrain for skiing and snowboarding.

“Our terrain comes down to the best in the Midwest – beginner, intermediate and advanced so we can cater to all levels,” said Stewart Stoffregen, Chestnut’s marketing director. “It’s our best drawing point. Even if you’re a first timer coming out to the hill or an expert skier, there’s something here at Chestnut for you.”

While Chestnut Mountain offers some of the best terrain, what it doesn’t have is as much natural snow as resorts located in the East or West. That means as soon as the temperatures dip to the magic number of 28 degrees, the resort gets to work making snow.

“Once we hit that magic number, we can make a lot of snow in a hurry to cover the ground and make all the different features,” Stoffregen said.

Snow making crews are armed with 70 snowmaking guns, both stationary and moveable, and five pumps that at full throttle pump 5,000 gallons per minute through the guns.

“The only thing is here at Chestnut, our runs are a little shorter, so you’ll have a little more chair time,” Stoffregen said. “Half the time though, that’s great. You meet new people; you get to see everything else. Another selling point here at Chestnut is the beautiful three-state view overlooking the Mississippi – across is Iowa, up north is Wisconsin and, of course, we’re in Illinois.”

Downhill Skiier
Photo courtesy of Chestnut Mountain Resort

Chestnut has 220 acres of terrain, 59 of which are skiable, and feature 19 ski and snowboard runs and trails cut through rock bluffs that range up to 3,500 feet in length. Ski season is from Thanksgiving weekend through St. Patrick’s Day. The ski runs range from novice to black diamond. Two quad chairs, four triple lift chairs and three surface lifts take skiers back to the top of the hill.

The seven-acre Farside Terrain Park, rated as one of the top terrain parks by TransWorld snowboarding magazine, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The largest of its kind in the Midwest, the Farside has more than 25 rails and an array of features including a quarter-pipe and two half-pipes. The Farside is served by its own triple chair lift and surface lift.

Somewhat unique, Chestnut’s lodge and ski center are located at the top of the hill. The Alpine-inspired lodge, originally built in 1959, was extensively remodeled in the last three years. The facility offers three eateries and a variety of menu options. The Sunset Grille offers a fine-dining experience with steaks and seafood, while the Summit has more of a traditional sports bar atmosphere. Open only in the winter, the Mountain Top Cafe offers cafeteria style dining for those who want to grab a quick bite and get back out on the slopes.

A 20,000-square foot ski center features equipment rental and is home to Mountainside Outfitters with ski and snowboard clothing, goggles, hats, souvenirs and clothing rental.

With a mix of skiers and snowboarders, Chestnut attracts visitors from throughout the Midwest. Because the resort caters to all levels and teaches a lot of beginners, that’s a big draw for families. Ski instructors are on staff at the resort, and the winter sports school offers all levels from beginner to expert. For first timers, Stoffregen’s recommendation is to “definitely take a lesson. Our group lessons run daily, and they’re only about an hour long. You’ll have a lot more fun on the snow once they teach you a little of the basics instead of just trying to go out there by yourself. The first time for some people is going to be a little bumpy ride. Like anything in life, you learn to adjust.”

And, if someone is worried about the lesson, Stoffregen suggests going out mid-week because the activity is a little slower compared to the weekends. Weekends will see anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 people per day. “It’s like our own little city out here once it gets going,” he said.

Stoffregen also recommends that if families have young children that they put them in the Powder Pups program for ages 4 to 12. “It gets them on the snow if they’re first timers and used to sliding around,” he said. “It’s a three-hour lesson but enough time so they can get comfortable on the snow.”

If you don’t ski at all, there’s accommodations for off-slope interests. “We have a lot of grandparents who come out here, and they’ll sit in the lodge where they can still watch the grandkids on the slopes and be nice and warm inside,” Stoffregen said.

In addition to the lodge’s three restaurants on site, there’s also an indoor pool and sauna. And there’s also Chestnut’s proximity to Galena, Elizabeth and all the small towns around the area to explore. Whether its shopping, visiting museums or wine tours, there’s a lot more to do than just hit the slopes. As Stoffregen says, “It’s the whole Jo Daviess County experience.”

While the winter activities are Chestnut’s biggest claim to fame, it is a year-round resort, open all four seasons. “People always think when winter is over we shut the doors,” Stoffregen said. “They come out to ski with us, but don’t realize we’re open year-round. We are a true resort.”

You can explore some of the resorts 220 acres of rolling terrain on four miles of hiking and biking trails and enjoy a round of mini or disc golf.

In the summertime, you can take a Segway tour or race down 2,050 feet of tailored track on the Alpine slide. Explore the Mississippi River on a one-and-a-half-hour cruise where you’ll have a chance to see wildlife and learn about the area’s history and geography. Year-round, visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of the Mississippi River Valley on the Soaring Eagle Zipline.

You can learn more about Chestnut Mountain Resort at www.chestnutmtn.com. For year-round activities in Jo Daviess County, go to www.visitgalena.org.