A Family-Friendly Winter Wonderland

A Family-Friendly Winter Wonderland
Skip the black diamond runs and head to the kinder, gentler Lake Geneva
Words by Rebecca Deurlein

The soft crunch of newly fallen snow under your feet. A gentle slope where you and your kids can learn to ski together. A hot toddy for you and s’mores for them by a fire pit. Dinner in your own igloo. An ice castle where the little ones squeal with delight as they squirm through tunnels and slip down icy slides. 

It sounds like something out of a Hallmark movie, and it feels just as good. If your Southern heart is in need of a winter getaway, you may want to check out Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Known primarily as a summer lake destination for Midwesterners, Lake Geneva is a winter hidden gem that you can enjoy without crowds and without the exorbitant costs you’ll find in ski towns. It’s a great place to dip your frozen toes into a new sport without the intimidation of expert skiers whizzing by as you try to stay vertical. 

As a first-time skier, I wanted thorough lessons and manageable hills, and I got both at the Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, where I stayed in total comfort during my trip. The resort is all-encompassing, with on-site gourmet restaurants, bars, and too many amenities to count. My favorite aspect of my stay was that everything I wanted and needed was right there on property or within close proximity–including the skiing.

The resort’s shuttle service took me just up the hill to the slopes. As a Southern girl who knew absolutely nothing about skiing, I counted on the staff to teach me everything from how to hang my ski pass on my jacket to how to put on–and walk in!--ski boots. My instructor, who has taught skiing for over 20 years, worked patiently with me and the little kids in my beginner’s class. She monitored our form, gauged our comfort levels, and gently prodded us to progress. After a couple of hours, I was exhilarated taking the ski lift to a gentle slope and swooshing down the hill without a single tumble.

If downhill skiing is too daunting, other winter sports such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating will keep you busy and help you commune with nature. Or, if you prefer to observe the snow without actually getting your feet wet, visit the Dan Patch Stables, right on property. A Belgian horse named Doc will pull you along in a carriage or a sleigh, a tartan blanket keeping you warm. 

And speaking of staying warm, there’s no lack of options when it comes to indoor activities. When I needed to escape the elements, I warmed myself in the indoor pool and sauna. They are just two offerings within the enormous Grand Geneva fitness center and gym where you can take a Pilates class, play pickleball, or scale the rock-climbing wall. Afterward, work out your muscle aches and pamper yourself with a massage or body wrap at the tranquil spa. Or just relax by the fireplace with a good book and a glass of wine. 

At mealtime, there’s nothing quite like dining in your own private igloo, an experience available in various locations around Lake Geneva. The transparent dome gives you a 360-degree view of your surroundings – snow curled around the icy lake, an azure sky filled with twinkling stars, the glow of lights strung through trees. Mulled wine and special winter cocktails complete your feast for the senses.  

Lake Geneva is home to Winterfest, a yearly event that draws more than 60,000 people from all over the world. Take the family on an ice sculpture walk, enjoy a bonfire on the beach, or rent a luxe lakefront igloo stocked with s’mores and hot chocolate. The annual United States National Snow Sculpting Championship brings in teams of cold-weather carvers who transform massive blocks of packed snow into mind-blowing works of art. Watch them work their magic as you visit food trucks and warm up in quaint shops.

And the quick-to-sell-out Ice Castles wows with hundreds of thousands of icicles forming cavernous rooms, snaking tunnels, slippery slides, and regal thrones. At night, colorful lights dance and reflect off the ice.

If you want to experience the best of winter, this truly is a magical place. Whether it is your first foray into winter sports, or you are looking for a getaway that is fun for the whole family, Lake Geneva will leave you snow-kissed and happy.