Come February in Chicago, city patrons are usually in knee length coats, gloves, scarves, dressed in full winter gear trekking through mounds of snow on the streets just to get from point A to point B. Interestingly enough, this winter has been a little different; the thermometer has been above 32 degrees more often than not and snowflakes are just something seen flying through the air not a frozen inconvenience piled up on street corners.
The mildness of the season should motivate Chicagoans to get up, go out and have fun on the town. And with a city that is constantly moving, there are many places to get the full winter experience, with or without the flurries.
For city goers looking to stay warm and enjoy endless lake and skyline views, the John Hancock building offers an inexpensive way to have a day of fun with Skating in the Sky. Skating in the Sky leaves skaters of any level feeling like they may skate right off the edge with floor to ceiling windows surrounding them. Not only can you enjoy all that the Hancock has to offer but with a snowless ground and unfrozen lake, viewers and skaters get to look at the skyscrapers and bright blue waters of the lake as far as the eye can see. The exhibit, on the buildings 96th floor, goes on from January through April and renting skates is only $1. The rink, made of synthetic ice, makes for a different kind of skating experience and, according to employee Jake Smiley, is a “great way to learn if you have never skated before.” The rink is not only popular among Chicagoans and tourists but has been set up for commercials and is used by the Blackhawks coach to give lessons to kids once a week. With 25 minutes to skate around the rink, when visitors are done, lunch can be enjoyed in the building’s café and a photographer is on site to take scenic photos to continue enjoying the skyline even after you have left.
For the full winter effect and for those afraid of heights, another popular skating rink is the one on Michigan Avenue in Millennium Park. Open from November through March, skaters can get the chance to go earlier or later in the season when the weather may be a little warmer. The city lights and decorated trees make for a magical ambiance just an added plus to already great attraction that is right in front of the Bean. Bringing in more than 100,000 people yearly, according to explorechicago.com, the rink is in its 11th season and gives winter lovers a chilly but fun evening for only $10 and all of the skating and hot chocolate one could possibly want.
If you are not too cold after skating, Millennium Park has a newer addition called Luminous Field by Luftwork. It is a highly enjoyable light and music show that is displayed around Cloud Gate for a colorful winter evening. Only offered for the 10 days, from Feb. 10-20, Luminous Field makes an already bright skyline fun for anyone. Free to the public and complete with a warming tent that includes performances and concerts, Luminous Field reminds Chicagoans that not everything is dark and gloomy during the winter season. Lauren Rosenberg, program manager at the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, says, “The idea was to create something light and bright that would bring people to Millennium Park in Chicago in an off peak tourism season and letting people know that there are fun things to do all year round.” Luminous Field is a fun and quick activity for anyone who is looking to take an evening stroll through the park.
People who can really handle the cold can support a good cause by stripping down and jumping into Lake Michigan, which is “34 degrees at this time of year, one degree above solid ice,” says president of Special Children’s Charities, Jim Sheahan. The Polar Plunge, an annual event which takes place at North Avenue Beach, raises money for Special Olympics, is a fun way to be a little risky during the winter and get involved in something enjoyed by 2,000 Chicagoans. “The Special Olympics started in Chicago in 1968 and now takes place in over 170 countries around the world with 5 thousand athletes,” says Sheahan. Forming teams of at least three and with awards for best costume, people are encouraged to get creative and have fun with the plunge and possible prizes are at stake for things like best team costume and top fundraisers. Held on March 4th, plungers jump into waves and go completely under or just go knee deep and come out to a free t-shirt and warm towel. Teams are asked to raise a $125 minimum. The Polar Plunge is an extreme way to indulge in the winter season but is all in good fun.
Whether Chicagoans decide to skate inside atop a building or take a quick dip in the Lake, the fun in the city does not subside when winter takes over, or in this case, when winter takes a vacation from itself. Activities are sprouting up anywhere people go and seems like lots will venture out to take part in the good times and make some good memories along the way.