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Winter’s cold getting old? Find a slice of summer

The cold days of winter outside are forgotten amid the balmy temperatures inside the Discovery Barn at the Kansas City Zoo. Here visitors watched the macaws during the zoo’s annual Tropical Weekend in mid-January.
The cold days of winter outside are forgotten amid the balmy temperatures inside the Discovery Barn at the Kansas City Zoo. Here visitors watched the macaws during the zoo’s annual Tropical Weekend in mid-January. Special to the Star

When Colby Butcher moved to Kansas City from Florida, he missed his outside sports. There, the sea, wind and waters were available year-round. Here, the terrain and weather seemed to make outside play out of bounds in the middle of winter.

That is when Butcher discovered indoor rock climbing. It allowed him to learn the sport in the off season and then take to the real rocks when the sun started shining.

Like others in Kansas City, he found ways to prepare for and enjoy those summer activities, even when the weather was foul.

Butcher is not the only metro resident who has mastered the art of pretending it’s warmer than the temperatures February generally deliver. Others decide to take an inexpensive day trip to tropical wonderlands, or refuse to let their golf skills dry up when the temps are freezing.

If you’re looking for a taste of summer fun in the metro area, here are some places that may help you burn through the chill of winter before the area is once again blessed by Mother Nature’s warm touch. Warning: Some imagination may be necessary to truly complete the trip to a warm wonderland.

Take a swing

No matter how cold the temperature outside, the heated bays at Overland Park’s Top Golf are about 25 degrees warmer. The three-story, 102-bay golf-entertainment venue allows visitors to take a swing in year-round comfort. To understand this experience, envision combining a driving range with bowling and darts.

Each group has a lane that holds up to six players. Players take turns swinging balls onto a targeted field, gaining points for how close they come to the target.

While Top Golf offers league play and advice from trained golf pros on swing technique, marketing manager Jack Sheehan says the golfing experience also appeals to people who have never swung a club.

“A lot of people come to learn the game,” Sheehan said. “Although there might be snow on the ground and golf might not be on your mind, you can still come to Top Golf and have a fantastic time.”

Also, like many bowling alleys, the venue offers food and adult beverages as well as entertainment, but the experience is open to any age. Games are sold by the hour.

Stroll under a warm blue sky

On a gloomy midwinter day, the idea of a walk under the clear blue sky may seem out of reach.

But a step inside the Ameristar Casino proves different. The casino offers traditional gaming options for the over 21 crowd, but those not into gaming can enjoy a stroll down the venue’s bright, temperature-controlled streetscape for anyone, any time 24 hours a day. It has a ceiling painted like the blue sky, which, with a little imagination, gives the feeling you are outside on a beautiful day.

The streetscape features a historic train clock, train station and Pullman car which the building was literally constructed around. Several restaurants offer “outside” seating under the blue painted ceiling. The facility also has a kid zone and movie theater on site as well as a live entertainment venue.

Ameristar director of public relations Roxann Kinkade says many visitors come with families and use the facility as a staycation site because once they are inside, it doesn’t matter what the weather is outside. Kinkade says the blue sky often surprises people.

“I’ve worked at the property for 13 years and I never get tired of the look on people’s faces when they come to the facility for the first time and look up to that ceiling. It is unique, and it is beautiful. There is no place else in Kansas City that looks like it,” Kinkade said.

Hang with tropical creatures

The Kansas City Zoo is trained in helping tropical natives feel comfortable in the winter weather of the Midwest. The zoo has several indoor viewing areas for watching those natives in their element. The tropics house, which might seem unappealing in July, can provide a taste of warmer climates year-round.

The building features 12 species of animals from three continents. Most of the animals are more active in the day.

Senior director of zoological operations Sean Putney explains that the zoo keeps temperatures in the building in the mid-70s to low 80s all of the time.

“Even in the summertime we try to keep it bearable. It is definitely popular in the wintertime, so people can retreat from the cold outside,” Putney said.

Putney says the zoo is not an exclusively fair weather venue. Visitors can spend three to five hours at the zoo without having to be outside. There are inside viewing areas in the penguin exhibit, the polar bear exhibit and the Discovery Barn. The lions and chimpanzees can also be viewed from an interior area.

Take a scuba walk

If peering at the wonders of the ocean appeal to your summer senses, try weaving around the fish tanks at Picasso Exotic Aquatics in Leawood. Owners John and Karen Young have built a space there intended to feel like a living art gallery. The store has thousands of gallons of aquariums with about 400 species of coral and fish.

Service department manager Jason Livella says they encourage people to come in and just experience the fish. They often have school groups and are more than willing to take people on tours of the store.

“We’re kind of like Leawood’s small little public aquarium, where people can come in and familiarize themselves with aquariums and fresh water fish. People can discover they can actually do this,” Livella said.

Of course, if you want to bring that piece of summer into your own living room, the store also sells aquariums, which range in price from just under $30 to over $60,000.

Grab your mitt

The boys of summer are able to play year-round at several indoor baseball facilities in the Kansas City area.

Gold Glove Baseball Academy in North Kansas City is the newest. The facility is run by former pro baseball player and Overland Park native Ray Chang. He says the indoor practice field, batting cages and pitching lanes at his 13,000-square-foot facility allow baseball to happen, no matter what the weather.

“Your everyday dad and son who want to take some ground balls and do some batting practice can come in and rent an open field or the batting cages or the pitching lanes,” Chang said.

The recently opened academy works with several “house teams” throughout the winter months. The facility is available to anyone who wants to take on a temperature-controlled practice time.

Take the field: It’s a kick

Love soccer? Plenty of indoor leagues can help soccer lovers keep their kicks going when the weather gets rough.

All American Indoor Sports in Lenexa has been in the business of indoor soccer for over 30 years. They host leagues year-round for adults and in the bad weather months for kids. League manager Xochitl Saldivar says the facility is very popular for people who just can’t give up soccer in the middle of winter.

“There are teams that come seasonally, both youth and adults. When they can’t play outside, they come here for a couple of sessions, which run eight weeks, and then they go outside again,” Saldivar said.

The facility has three full fields and two 3V3/4v4 fields available for use. The organization also runs an Overland Park facility at 9063 Bond Street, which also has both full field and 3v3/4v4 options. The fields can also be rented for practice and play, as well as for birthday parties.

Get your climb on

Colby Butcher says indoor climbing was the best way for him to learn the outdoor sport.

“It’s the only way to get started,” Butcher said. “It would be tough to just start outside unless you had a guide. I started in a gym and now I climb big. We just did a thousand-foot climb in Las Vegas before the weather changed.”

ROKC, which opened in April in North Kansas City, is one of many climbing centers in the Kansas City area. It offers bouldering and tall climbing. The facility has an auto-belay system for climbers available for people who do not have a climbing partner. Each climbing wall has colored routes re-set every 10 weeks to keep the climbing interesting.

Manager Jon Feder says the center helps climbers stay in shape, and brings together the community, particularly those who like to climb outside in Missouri. It is also set up to be friendly for people who think they would like to get started in the sport. ROKC has an after-school climbing club for kids.

“Anyone can climb. We get a lot of kids even under the ages of 2, 3, 4,” Fedder said. “We have weight restrictions for our auto-belay devices. People can come in without a partner, or if they’ve never climbed before or don’t have a ton of experience and be able to access just about all the space on our wall.”

Feder said ROKC is considering offering classes for people who want to start inside and take their sport outside.

Grab your suit and towel!

Nothing makes it feel like summer more than grabbing your suit and heading for the pool. There are plenty of places in the metro area to get your splash going. Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park is open to anyone. The center has a lap pool, spa pool and a leisure pool which includes a lazy river, a kids’ area with fountains, zero-depth entry and a couple of water slides.

Meg Ralph, communications assistant for the city of Overland Park, says they often get an uptick in visitors and members during the winter months.

“I think people get tired of holing up in their houses,” Ralph said. “They want to get out of their homes and stretch out.”

Matt Ross also offers an indoor play area. It has open gym options for little kids during the week. Once a month on Sunday, the community center opens the pool area an hour early for families with children with special needs to come in for free. For everyone else, there is a day rate which gives access to all amenities.

ROKC

Where: 1501 Howell St., North Kansas City

Hours: Hours: Monday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Wednesday to Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cost: Day rate $15. Rentals for required climbing harnesses and shoes are available. ROKC also offers monthly memberships.

All American Indoors Sports

Where: 8875 Rosehill Road, Lenexa

(Also 9063 Bond St., Overland Park)

Information: Phone: 913-888-5425, www.aaiskc.com

Gold Glove Baseball Academy

Where: 1812 Jasper St., North Kansas City

Hours: Monday to Friday 3:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Price: Hourly rentals vary by space

Information: goldglovebaseballkc.com

Picasso Exotic Aquatics

Where: 11560 Ash St., Leawood

Hours: Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Contact: 913-338-3900

http://www.picassoexoticaquatics.com/

Price: Free to view

Another place to try a “scuba walk”:

Sea Life Kansas City

Where: 2475 Grand Blvd., Kansas City

Hours: Monday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entry 4 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., last entry 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., last entry at 6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., last entry at 5 p.m.

Price: $16 per child, $20 per adult, under 3 free.

Information: www2.visitsealife.com/kansas-city/

Top Golf

Where: 10611 Nall Ave., Overland Park

Hours: Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Price: $20 - $40 an hour for up to six people

Phone: 913-562-9713

http://topgolf.com/us/overland-park/

Ameristar Casino Streetscape

Where: 3200 N. Ameristar Drive

Info: 816-414-7000

Price: Walking through is free!

Matt Ross Community Center

Where: 8101 Marty St., Overland Park

Hours: Varies monthly, check web site for details

Price: Day Rate $7

Information: http://www.opkansas.org/things-to-see-and-do/community-centers/matt-ross-community-center/

Pools abound:

There are many indoor pool options in the metro area. Look at gyms and YMCAs around your community. Here’s one other gem with a little extra fun:

YMCA North Kansas City: 1999 Iron St., includes a lazy river, water slide and playground in the water. Hours vary: day rate for non-members $15, children $8

Kansas City Zoo

Where: 6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City

Hours: Through February daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours extend as the weather warms.

Price: Price: $14.50 adults age 12 and older; $13.50 seniors age 55 and older; $11.50 children age 3-11; free admission for children age 2 and under

Contact: 816-595-1234, www.kansascityzoo.org

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