WISCONSIN DELLS (above)
Price: Ranges from free to $40 for an eight-hour pass
We all know that we should get off the couch and spend more time outside. But the great outdoors can be, well, unpredictable. Storms hit. Or you paddle out on a surfboard and the sea becalms. Mountain climbing, white-water kayaking, and skydiving are scary. Never fear. From an indoor black-diamond ski run (the world’s first) in sweltering Dubai to Ocean Dome, the world’s only indoor beach, in Miyazaki, Japan, experiences that once could be had only in the embrace of capricious Mother Nature are being created by entrepreneurs around the planet. These North American options will get you started.
Take the plunge at this year-round destination in the community of Wisconsin Dells, which is about 200 miles from Chicago and Minneapolis and in a region that gets almost three feet of snow each winter. At this self-dubbed Waterpark Capital of the World, you can careen down more than 200 waterslides, some as high as three stories. Be sure to try out the wave tanks, surfing slides, spas, cruise boats, and deck chairs. Who needs Florida or California when Wisconsin offers all this?
RAY’S MTB INDOOR PARK
Price: $16 to $18 per visit
Ray Petro, a local contractor, built this 88,000-square-foot indoor mountain-biking pavilion with his life savings, a credit line, and the help of volunteers carb-loaded on $3,000 worth of pizza. Now in the dead of winter, Ray and other spoke junkies can curb, grind, and practice flips in the foam pit.
U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER
Charlotte, North Carolina
Price: Rafts, $33 per person; kayaks, $15 for 90 minutes
Inspired by the white-water stadium built for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Jeff Wise, a software entrepreneur, developed this 307-acre complex along the Catawba River. Similar parks have opened in Paris, Athens, and Nanjing, but this $35 million extravaganza may be the world’s only multiple-channel, customized, recirculating white-water river. A 180-foot conveyor belt carries paddlers from the lower pond to the upper in under two minutes. No sweat-inducing portage necessary.
Price: $20 for one hour in Flowrider’s perpetual wave; SkyVenture wind tunnel is TBD
Hoping to build on Utah’s reputation for adventure, the city of Ogden backed an $18 million renovation of a shopping center. Now sponsored by outdoor-gear company Salomon, the complex will soon offer visitors the chance to “skydive” in a SkyVenture wind tunnel, scale Utah’s largest indoor climbing wall, and hang ten in the Flowrider, which creates a perfect perpetual wave.
New York City
Price: Varies, depending on sport and activity, but $45 for one hour of simulated golf
Just about any sport imaginable (baseball, basketball, bowling, ice hockey, swimming, and soccer, to name a few) is offered at this $120 million indoor sports complex that’s spread over four abandoned piers on Manhattan’s far West Side. For the latest in virtual-golf technology, tee up at the full-swing golf simulators, which are capable of re-creating 51 world-famous courses. The price here sure beats the $500 or more you’ll pay in greens fees at Pebble Beach.
Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Price: $67 for park admission, $56 for ages three to nine
Thinking about climbing Everest? You might want to consider taking baby steps and trying the Disney version of climbing the world’s tallest mountain first: Walk through a park that re-creates the Himalayan lowlands, poke around the rammed-earth and stacked-stone buildings of Serka Zong village, and then board out-of-control rail cars that go backward and forward as they dodge an animatronic yeti. Recover by buying a prayer flag in the bazaar, er, gift shop.