Neither Clay nor I grew up skiing with our families. We both learned to ski as teenagers – me with the French Club and Clay with his Youth Group and aside from the occasional visit to Dry Hill when stationed at Fort Drum, New York way back when, skiing wasn’t something on our yearly activity log. But as our children got older, we felt the pull to ski as a family and have them learn but we always managed to talk ourselves out of it – mainly because it felt like an ordeal to get started and it isn’t exactly the cheapest activity for a family of four. But when Epic Pass announced the acquisition of Peak Resorts in 2019 while we were stationed in the Washington DC area, we bit the bullet and purchased the Military Epic Pass because Liberty Mountain Resort and a handful of resorts in the Poconos were included. We were determined to finally have the kids learn to ski and to see if we enjoyed skiing as a family activity. The four of us rented skis for the season from Sun & Ski Sports in Falls Church (highly recommend) and by the time the pandemic-shortened season ended, we had spent many weekends skiing in Pennsylvania at Roundtop Mountain, Jack Frost Big Boulder, and Liberty Mountain (our favorite).
The kids were quick learners and we discovered that we love to ski as a family and having an active hobby during the winter months beyond hiking in the snow. So when we found out that the Army was sending us to the Chicago area, we were thrilled to see that an Epic Pass resort, Wilmot Ski Resort in Wisconsin, was less than an hour away. So after moving to the North Shore this summer, we secured the Military Epic Pass again and bit the bullet and purchased our own set of skis and boots. We were hopeful that we’d be able to travel to Colorado or Vermont to ski this season but the pandemic restrictions and advisories have tabled such a trip until next season for our family, which we’re bummed about. That being said, it is hard to complain when we have a ski resort so close to our house that we’re able to do 10-12 runs on a weekend morning and then leave before it gets too busy.
Does Wilmot Ski Resort have a picturesque lodge nestled between mountains with multi-mile trails? No. But we’re currently stationed in the second-flattest state (Florida is first) so beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to local skiing. Wilmot Ski Resort is located on an ancient glacial moraine and has been open since 1939. It was sold to Vail Resorts in 2016 and currently has 25 trails and 11 lifts (including two beginner carpets). Wilmot Ski Resort has an extensive learn-to-ski program for young children up to adults (there are even family lessons available) and ski rentals. There is also snow tubing that is located at a separate entrance, if skiing isn’t your jam.
Due to the pandemic, reservations are required this season (with our Military Epic Pass, we are able to book up to 7 reservations at a time). Since we have our own skis and don’t need a lift ticket, we don’t have experience with the lift ticket and ski rental windows but the lines haven’t looked too bad the times we’ve been. Admittedly, we haven’t spent much time in the lodge (we only entered to purchase stickers for the kids’ helmets) because we’re still trying to keep our distance. While some of the restaurants and bars are currently closed, there are a handful of indoor dining options available and they have a Time to Dine program that allows you to reserve a dining time ahead of time.
We live in Fort Sheridan military housing (can you see Lake Michigan?) – we can get from our door to the Wilmot Ski Resort parking lot in 50 minutes. It opens at 9:00am so we don’t have to wake up ridiculously early to be one of the first ones on the slopes. We put on our boots and ski accessories at our car and then it is just a short walk with our skis to the lifts. Yes – it is a small ski resort but we choose to look at it as an advantage….in fact, yesterday we were on a ski lift only 15 minutes after pulling into the parking lot!
We’re so happy that we finally had the kids learn to ski last year. We consider ourselves an active family and since neither Clay nor I grew up skiing, it was important to us that our kids learned to ski when they were young so we can take full advantage of all the places the Army will send us in the coming years. And if mountains and cold weather aren’t in the cards for us (fingers-crossed), we can at the very least take some cool vacations like skiing in the Italian Alps or late summer skiing in Chile. While Wisconsin isn’t necessarily known for skiing, we are happy that we have a local option during our time in Chicagoland.