Winter Getaways: Northeast Ohio
Sledding on Steroids
Hit highway speeds on Cleveland's toboggan chutes.
As a kid there was no greater wintertime thrill than hopping on a saucer sled and shooting down a hill blanketed in a thick layer of compacted snow.
The good news for adults: there is a way to relive this childhood memory, and at speeds that would rival Clark Griswold's nonstick spray-coated sled. At Cleveland Metroparks toboggan chutes, old-school sledding meets the tummy-turning thrill of a rollercoaster in the only public tobogganing chutes in the state.
"It's definitely a thrill ride," says Amy McRitchie, concessions managers at the Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville, where the chutes are located. "You're going down the chute at up to 50 miles per hour. It's definitely not for the faint of heart."
The twin toboggan chutes tower 70 feet tall in a clearing of trees. It's an intimidating sight standing at the bottom as groups-adults and kids alike with cheesy smiles and squinty eyes-whiz down the 66-foot vertical drop.
There are 108 steps to to the top of the chute, where you'll be ushered into an awaiting toboggan (thankfully there's a lift for the heavy-duty sleds). Like the fall of a rollercoaster, it's over in a matter of seconds, cold air whipping against your face while your stomach does a happy summersault during the quick drop.
At the end of the 700-foot track, all that's left is the tingle of adrenaline-rush mixed with relief-that'll force you to jump up and say, "Let's go again!" But if you need to warm up first, head into the chalet, where you'll find a roaring fire, hot beverages and a loft overloking the toboggan chutes.
And while winter cold is almost always guaranteed in Northeast Ohio, snow is not. That's why the chutes are refrigerated to roughly 18 degrees, so they're iced up and ready to cascade riders down the hill, even if it's in the low 50s. "If it's really cold, or if it's too warm, we don't see too many people," McRitchie says, adding these can be good days to come by and avoid a wait.
Like most coasters, riders must be at least 42 inches tall and gloves are also required. Rides range from $6 for one trip to $12 for an all-day adult pass, or $10 for kids 11 and under.Mill Stream Run Reservation off Valley Parkway between state routes 42 and 82 in Strongsville
Relive a Cult Classic
You'll know it by the leg lamp in the window.
In 1983, moviegoers were introduced to Ralphie Parker, a 9-year-old who desperately wanted only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. "A Christmas Story" has since become a holiday cult classic and a point of pride for Clevelanders whose beloved Higbee's department store and Tremont neighborhood were captured in the film.
While Higbee's and its holiday window displays are long gone, the 1940s-style yellow house with green trim, aka the Parker's home, still stands on West 11th Street. For nearly a decade, it's been open as A Christmas Story House, an interactive movie-set replica, complete with details big and small, from the leg lamp to Ralphie's decoder ring. (While exterior shots were filmed in Cleveland, most of the movie actually was shot in Canada.)
Go ahead and lie in the boys' beds, don pink bunny ears at the top of the stairs and, if you're up for it, hide under the sink as Randy did. Then head across the street to the museum for movie memorabilia under glass, including movie stills and costumes from Randy's snowsuit to the Old Man's coat. Before you leave, hit the gift shop for your own life-size Major Award, um, we mean leg lamp.
Just be ready for a crowd this time of year, says executive director Steve Siedlecki, when the house attracts half of its 40,000 annual visitors. Guided tours run every 30 minutes from 10:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.achristmasstoryhouse.com
While You're Here
No doubt you'll be in the mood for Chinese after spending a day in the Parker's house. Take your ticket stub toBac, a noteworthy Asian-American bistro in Tremont, and get 10 percent off your order. Pro tip: order the Avocado Green Curry. 2661 West 14th St., Tremont, 216-938-8960, bactremont.com
Take a Train Ride
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a long, linear stretch of public green space and woodland that covers 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron. If you're the outdoorsy type, this is the spot for biking and hiking on the multipurpose trail or watery activities like rowing and boating along the Cuyahoga River, which runs the length. But when the temps fall, you can immerse yourself in nature from the warmth of a roaring train. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a vintage train line that runs between Akron and the southern Cleveland suburb Independence. Catch the train during the day for scenic views, or hop aboard for one of their special winter events, including wine and beer tastings. The wine excursion, Grape Escape, includes five wine samples with paired hors d'oeuvres. The beer tastings, Ales on the Rails, follows a similar format, with five brews, ranging in theme from hoppy to strong ales, and a complimenting bite. Dates, prices and railway stations vary.cvsr.com
Every holiday season, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway plans a nighttime ride for kids based on "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg. Children, dressed in their PJs, ride the train to the North Pole for a visit with Santa Claus. The popular event sells out fast, so mark your calendars for the 2016 season.