Short days, frigid nights, and a surfeit of family togetherness: If ever there was a time to get outdoors and chill, winter is it. Luckily, northern Ohio has plenty of unique and fun outdoor destinations that can divert your attention from the season's more suffocating aspects. Don't fear the winter. Suck up a real breath of fresh air with these outdoor adventures ...
Hit the Slopes!
You don't need to head to Vail to enjoy some family slope time. Less than 30 minutes south of downtown, you'll find Boston Mills and Brandywine ski centers. Nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the dual ski spots are linked by shuttle and lift tickets, and together offer more than 19 trails on 70 skiable acres. Brandywine even has a nice half-pipe for snowboarders, as well as a unique tubing area. "This year we have boosted the fun at Polar Blast Snow Tubing, with more tubes and extended hours of operation," says Kim Laubenthal, ski resort marketing manager. "It's a great option for those who enjoy the snow but don't necessarily want to take the time to learn a new sport." Hey, that sounds like us! Adult lift tickets are $41, and snow tubing is $25 for three hours. Visit bmbw.com or call 800-875-4241 for more info.
Field of Dreams
Surely you're not the only person who has sat through an Indians game dreaming about sliding down the outfield bleachers and running onto Progressive Field. Now you can live the dream at Snow Days, where the Indians' home field is transformed into a winter sports wonderland. From November 26 through January 2, adults and children can brave the 10-lane tubing hill that starts at the top of the bleachers and plunges 60 feet to the field below. Crews will haul in snow as needed — up to 150 tons each day! — to build the Batterhorn (snow tubing), Slider's Snow Zone (a kids play area), and Winter Haven (a walking tour through the outfield featuring winter lights). A cool quarter-mile ice-skating rink, giant fire pit, and tasty concessions top it all off. General admission is $5, but it costs an additional $20 for two hours on the Batterhorn and $10 for ice skating. Go to Indians.com for details.
Winter is truly cold for those with no warm memories. So turn up the romance with a trip to Ma & Pa's famous antique sleigh rides in Burton, Ohio. "Remember the days of old? Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh?" asks Tammy Puleo, co-owner of Ma & Pa's. "It's a similar winter adventure you won't forget." Pulled by horse, you'll ride through the Geauga County woods, splitting fresh snow with the brisk wind at your back. Even night rides are available. Afterwards, visit Ma & Pa's 1820s log cabin and pick out a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The weekends-only sleigh escapes are $40 per couple and continue all winter long, weather permitting. For details, call 440-548-5521 or visit maandpas.com.
Flying down a sledding hill at Mach 3 is a classic winter memory. And each winter, the Cleveland Metroparks' Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville helps rekindle those memories with its Chalet toboggan chutes. The dual refrigerated chutes give kids of all ages a chance to zoom down two 700-ft. slopes at speeds approaching 50 mph. We can think of no quicker way to boost your endorphins than these sheer 70-foot drops. The Chalet's other amenities include fireplaces, a gathering room with TV, a snack bar, and a loft with videogames. The toboggans are open from November 26 to the first weekend in March. All-day passes are $6 for children and $8 for adults. Call 440-572-9990 or visit clevelandmetroparks.com.
Skating the Circle
Global warming or not, you can enjoy the outdoor ice-skating rink at University Circle's Wade Oval. Thanks to its high-tech polymer surface, ice is superfluous; as a result, the rink operates daily from November 20 through February 21. Happily, you'll find the plastic skates just like real ice, even when you're attempting your patented triple Lutz. The best part: Admission is free, and skate rentals are only $3, so it's great budget-friendly fun. "Since it opened in 2008, the rink has hosted a hockey game, private parties, and even a surprise wedding proposal," says Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc. That means it's also open for special occasions. Call 216-707-5033 or visit universitycircle.org.
Perhaps your kids could use a little perspective for the holiday season? Take them back in time with Hale Farm & Village's Lantern Days, an historic-themed stroll through this Cuyahoga Valley village on Christmas Eve, 1864. It's a great way to see, hear, and smell the holidays as experienced in the 19th century. Enter decorated homes clustered around the village green, gain insight into holiday celebrations from residents, and enjoy the Christmas holiday despite the country's Civil War plight. There's nothing like an up-close look at gritty life as it used to be to keep your own Yuletide spirit intact. Admission is $18 for non-members. Lantern Tours take place November 26 and 27 and December 3 and 4, 10 and 11, 17 through 19, and 21 through 23. Reservations are required. For more information, call 330-666-3711 or visit www.wrhs.org
Take a Hike
The best cure for a short temper is a long walk, and nothing clears the head like a couple miles on snowshoes. At the Kendall Lake Winter Sports Center, part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, hikers can tackle fresh blankets of snow in cross-country skis ($15 rental) or snow shoes ($5 rental), finding peace of mind on trails surrounding beautiful Kendall Lake. The lodge, built from native chestnut and sandstone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, provides a rustic setting to warm up with a hot drink after a day of outdoor fun. During the 2010-'11 season, the Winter Sports Center will be open most Saturdays and Sundays from December to February when snow depth is at least four inches. Call 330-657-2752 to confirm hours.
A sure cure for winter doldrums, outdoor festivals abound in communities throughout Northeast Ohio. On Sunday December 5, start off the season at University Circle's 17th annual Holiday CircleFest, where you can enjoy the outstanding collection of museums, gardens, galleries, and free horse-drawn carriage rides (Go to universitycircle.org for details). The Medina Ice Festival takes over Medina Public Square from February 18 to 21, with an ice-carving contest, live music, and hearty food and drink; find details at medinaoh.org. Then wind up the season on Saturday, February 19, with the Brite Winter Festival at Hart Crane Memorial Park in the Flats, with bands, drinks, food, fires, and games. Go to britewintercleveland.com for details.
There's no better way to avoid life's responsibilities than with a set of golf clubs. And if you're willing to brave 18 holes in December, you shall be rewarded: Cold weather means lower fees at all seven Cleveland Metroparks courses. So grab some spikes, a parka, gloves, and a flask of brandy, and take advantage of fall discount rates at Manakiki, Sleepy Hollow, Shawnee Hills, Big Met, Little Met, Mastick Woods, and Washington. The courses are open daily, dawn to dusk, through December, weather permitting. A typical fall discount is $10.50 per nine holes or $18 per 18 holes, but it does vary. Tee times can be made by calling the 24/7 reservation system at 216-625-3673 (FORE) or online at clevelandmetroparks.com.
Fun fact: There is no better place in the country to angle for steelhead. They live in Lake Erie in the summer, but return to local rivers in the fall, making them easy prey for crafty fishermen. "Steelhead range from 2 to 20 pounds," says Dan Pribanic, owner of Chagrin River Outfitters (a steelhead fishing guide in Chagrin Falls). "October to mid-December is best for fall and winter, while mid-March through April is hard to beat for springtime." There are about 10 or 12 of these steelhead guides in the area (priced at around $250 for a four-hour outing), but you can also explore these winter streams yourself. Just remember: The bag limit is two per day. Visit dnr.state.oh.us.com for more information.