Winter Adventure Guide: Ice escapades

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It might be too late to parlay a new winter hobby into a skill worthy of the Winter Olympics, starting Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Still, January is National Learn a Snow Sport Month (yes, really!), so it's a great time to head into the cold and enjoy yourself. Here are five ways to do so.

Activity: Snow tubing

Difficulty: *

Recommended for: Young families, the uncoordinated

Where to go: Because it's one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities, all four Ohio ski resorts offer tubing parks. Vertical Descent at Snow Trails, located in Mansfield, is the best place to start. The tubing park holds numerous undulating chutes groomed daily. They drop a good 100 feet and run out 1,100 feet.

What you'll need: Tubing is about as low-impact as it gets outside in January, so whatever you'd wear for a winter hike is sufficient. Tubes are provided. A nifty carpet lift takes you and your ride to the top, so don't worry about overheating on tough climbs.

Cost: $22 on Monday-Thursday, $22-$25 on weekends and holidays

Tip: Bring goggles if you've got 'em to avoid snow spray to the face.

Activity: Ice skating

Difficulty: **

Recommended for: Lunchtime workouts, memorable first dates

Where to go: There are five Chiller locations in Central Ohio, but the Columbus Blue Jackets only practice at one - the Dispatch Ice Haus at Nationwide Arena. Downtown workers can carry the flag and get their ice legs during weekday afternoon sessions. Tied to the desk? Opt for after-school skates 3:45-5 p.m. Friday or adults-only sessions 10-11:45 p.m. Saturday.

What you'll need: Skates are available for rent. Everyone needs long pants, a hat and gloves, and first-timers should wear knee and elbow pads to avoid bruising. If you want to buy or sharpen skates, check the nice pro shop at the Ohio State Ice Rink on Campus.

Cost: Skate rental: $2. Admission: $4 on weekdays, $8 on Saturdays

Tip: Skating schedules change regularly, so call ahead.

Activity: Cross-country skiing

Difficulty: ***

Recommended for: Active nature-lovers, cardio fans

Where to go: Almost anywhere you can walk can become a cross-country track with the right conditions. One of the most popular places to go is the Olentangy Greenway Trail, running along the river from Downtown to Worthington. The paved multiuse path treks into numerous city parks, including Clinton-Como, Whetstone and Antrim.

What you'll need: Only poles transfer from your downhill gear. Always check your local thrift store and classifieds for second-hand boots and skis, which are fairly common. (I recently compiled a used set-up for $70.) Or, Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, a North Side nonprofit, rents equipment to members for cheap.

Cost: Annual membership: $25. Rental: $8 a day, $15 a weekend

Tip: You'll get warm quickly, so dress in layers and avoid cotton at all costs.

Activity: Ice fishing

Difficulty: ****

Recommended for: Experienced anglers, those impervious to cold

Where to go: One of the state's best ice-fishing spots lies just 20 miles east of Columbus at Buckeye Lake, which averages only five feet deep and freezes relatively quickly. Anglers most often target saugeye and crappie, the water's specialties year-round, in small huts dragged from shore.

What you'll need: Apart from a valid fishing license, warm clothing and reliable ice reports, anglers differ slightly on tackle, bait and approach. Most use a special auger to drill through, smaller rods for quick hits and live bait, usually minnows or wax worms. These and other supplies are available at Vance's Buckeye Outdoors.

Cost: Fishing license: $19. Basic gear: $50. Bait: $5 a day

Tip: Ice fishers are notoriously friendly. Don't hesitate to ask for advice.

Activity: Skiing and snowboarding

Difficulty: *****

Recommended for: More dedicated outdoor adventurers

Where to go: In Ohio at least, Mad River Mountain's credentials are rock solid: six chair lifts, 23 runs, three terrain parks, a 300-foot vertical drop and 144 rideable acres. The Zanesfield resort is also known for college discounts, big-air competitions and product demos - added reasons to make the trip.

What you'll need: Sledding's more advanced cousins require specialized equipment, training, practice and a special location. Rental hardware is offered at all Ohio resorts, but you're responsible for the waterproof outer layers, thick wool socks and sturdy gloves to withstand tow ropes in most beginner areas.

Cost: Lift ticket: $17-$30 on weekdays, $35-$42 on weekends and holidays. Rental: $25 for skis, $29 for snowboards. Lesson: $15 group, $43 private

Tip: For late-night skiers, the park stays open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Outdoor links

Buckeye Lake State Park

2905 Liebs Island Rd., Millersport



Columbus Outdoor Pursuits

1525 Bethel Rd., North Side



Dispatch Ice Haus

200 W. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District



Mad River Mountain

1000 Snow Valley Rd., Zanesfield



Ohio State University Ice Rink

390 Woody Hayes Dr., Campus



Olentangy Greenway Trail

3923 N. High St., Clintonville



Snow Trails Winter Resort

3100 Possum Run Rd., Mansfield



Vance's Buckeye Outdoors

150 Arrowhead Dr., Hebron