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I always tell my friends looking to see the city that the best time to come is during holiday season. The Lights Festival, Christkindlmarket in Daily Plaza, the storefront window’s at Macy’s, the smells of Garrett’s Popcorn, the list could go on with what makes Chicago during the holidays a must see. One thing I learned in my time spent here is that the excitement of the city doesn’t end when the holidays are over; the city continues to embrace winter no matter how cold it may get. Snow Days Chicago is a three day snow sculpting competition and festival held in Grant Park across from the Essex Inn. This free event began in2009 and since I had never been to the festival, I decided to grab a

few friends and check it out.

On my way to the festival I saw someone with a snowboard and thought it would be best to let him know that there were no mountains in Chicago. After sharing that with him, he informed me that there was a snowboarding rail grind competition at the Snow Days festival. Sure enough,  when we arrived, I saw a makeshift snowboarding hill with a few grind rails and a line of anxious snowboarders ready to give the ramp their best shot. I never in a million years would have thought I would witness this sport in downtown Chicago, this city is truly full of surprises.

I had a chance to catch up with one of the snowboarders in the competition. Tyler Miller, 19, was a first time participant and ended up making it to the finals. “I had a lot of fun at the Snow Days Rail Jam competition. It’s not often you find events like this in the city, especially at night under the lights, so it was sick to compete,” Miller said.

Another major even at Snow Days was the snow sculpting competition. There more than 20 entries and the sculptures were extravagant,  the artists even took some time to talk to the audience and explain their art. My favorites were Spongebob Squarepants pineapple house and the Chicago souvenir replica, very creative ideas and very well done.

For me, the highlight of Snow Days was seeing the ice sculptures lined up on Michigan Avenue. Chicago always has something new to see and experience. The way the ice glistened against the city lights brought a certain magic to the festival, and it can only be found in the Windy City.

– Jaclyn Howard

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9 A Night at the Ballet

Harris Theater, photo by Liz

I read an Archie comic once where the Riverdale High football team was losing every game and, to solve this, Archie and his teammates started taking secret ballet classes at night. Others laughed, but when game-time came, panel after panel revealed jumps and turns that confounded the rival team, and ultimately won the game for Riverdale High.

I couldn’t help thinking about this last week at Millennium Park’s Harris Theater for the showing of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male ballet troupe that parodies famous works. Ballerinas’ light and nimble steps are transformed into powerful yet graceful footfalls.

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10 Black and White Photo Contest Starts Today

Photo by Jim Deane

The Seven Wonders of Illinois photo contest was such a hit last fall that we’ve decided to begin monthly seasonal photo contests. To kick off the series, we’re going to start with a black and white winter photo contest. Black and white photos are especially striking and dramatic when taken in the winter months and there is so much beautiful winter scenery in Illinois.

It’s incredibly simple to participate. From February 1 through February 28, we’re accepting photo submissions of your best black and white winter image to enjoyillinois@gmail.com. At the close of the submission period, a panel including three of our great photo bloggers here on the Enjoy blog will narrow down to the best three photos. Then we want all of YOU to vote for the best overall photo.

What will be the grand prize??? Hop over to the contest page to learn more details.

Good luck everyone!

– Katie

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11 Winter at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

In my last post, I provided information on some of the great indoor things to do during Chicago’s winter months. While I’d generally advise tourists and Illinois residents alike to avoid outdoor activities in freezing temperatures, there is one spot that should be enjoyed outside, year-round.

The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is a 385-acre living plant museum featuring 24 distinct display gardens surrounded by lakes, as well as a prairie and woodlands. It’s my favorite place to visit when I need to get out of the city and enjoy a natural and peaceful environment. (I often go with my mom for long walks or with girlfriends on bike rides.) And while one might think the only suitable time to visit the Garden is in spring, summer, or fall, I strongly suggest a visit during winter months as well.

“Even though the branches are bare and there is snow on the ground, the Garden is a beautiful place in winter,” says Jodi Zombolo, Director of Visitor Events & Programs. “From the warmth of the tropical greenhouse to the exhilarating rush of snowshoeing on fresh fallen snow to the introspective exploration of an art exhibition, the Garden is a destination worth visiting.”

Throughout the year, the Chicago Botanic Garden holds events, programs, and activities for all ages. Whether you’re interested in plant science, gardening, cooking, exercise, or art, there is definitely something for you.

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12 Explore Chi Indoors

Chicago Skyline

When you plan your vacations for the winter, I’m guessing most of you think of going south. Think twice before fleeing the Midwest when planning your next winter getaway. Did you know that Chicago is actually one of the best places to be in the winter? The lights, the snow, the partially frozen lake – it’s all very beautiful.

Besides the loveliness, winter is an ideal time to visit Chicago, or any other area of Illinois. Here’s why:

  1. Travel deals are incredible in the winter months.
  2. Fewer tourists = more room for you = less waiting in line.
  3. You can brag to your friends that you had a true Chicago experience by braving the winter weather.

Harris Theater

Still don’t believe me? A few weeks ago, I saw a performance of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater. Visiting the Harris Theater was an experience of its own. Its modern architecture and design is unlike any other theater I’ve been to, with neon lights running throughout the building, and an auditorium that actually sits underground. It was the perfect setting for Hubbard Street’s modern and abstract performance. As a former recreational dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the show; but my rhythmically-challenged mother (Mom, I apologize if you’re reading this) enjoyed it just as much as I did, if not more.  It was a perfect and warm way to enjoy a piece of Chicago arts and culture.

If you plan on visiting during winter season, I can assure you that your options are endless. Here are some other great (indoor) things to do in Chicago during the winter months:

Art Institute of Chicago

Buddy Guy’s Legends

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago Children’s Museum

Water Tower Place

Chicago History Museum

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Theater

Willis Tower Sky deck

Hancock Observatory

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

House of Blues

American Girl Place

Second City

Museum of Science and Industry

Goodman Theater

Museum of Contemporary Art

Harris Theater for Performance and Dance

Field Museum

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Adler Planetarium & Museum

United Center

– Claire Prendergast

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