Welcome to winter wonderland

It's cold out there but that's no excuse for becoming a couch potato. HELEN FOSTER reviews the best sports on snow and ice
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Exercise and winter are not words that go together too well. You have to be pretty dedicated to want to strip off down to a leotard and do sit-ups in a draughty gym at this time of year. The alternative is to ditch the sports centre in favour of winter sports: skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating and new disciplines like ice-biking. If the weather men aren't forecasting snow and you're not in the market for an alpine holiday, don't despair. Britain has nearly 70 dry ski slopes nationwide and most towns have an ice rink. As for the fitness benefits, Vanessa Haines from the Ski Club of Great Britain says: "Winter sports can give your fitness regime a physical and mental shake-up. Not least because most of the activities are fun yet don't feel like exercise." Add to this the fact that most snowsports offer a high level of fitness benefits and it's clear that winter is a workout wonderland. But which sport is best for you?

ICE-SKATING

If you want a workout that'll give you a flat stomach and improve your posture then ice-skating is it. While most people think the focal point of skating is your legs, the actual area that holds your power is your torso. This supports your body and keeps you balanced. As a result, skating works areas that most other winter sports don't touch and burns 400-500 calories an hour. It's also exceptionally easy to learn. "If you believe you can skate you can," says Andre Bourgeois from the National Ice Skating Association.

Pros

5 Not weather sensitive: most rinks are inside or artificially frozen.

5 It's urban: most towns have an ice rink. And cheap - around pounds 20 including hire of skates.

Cons

5 Hired equipment: most skates hired in rinks are pretty blunt and may not fit brilliantly, which can make learning tougher. Make sure your skates are tight round your ankles and wear a couple of pairs of socks.

5 Skaters butt: "Most skaters have a very pronounced gluteus maximus," says Andre. In plain English this means they have a bottom that sticks out.

For more information contact Nisa (tel: 0171 613 1188).

ICE-BIKING

The idea of this sport is simple - to cycle across tricky terrains like ice or deep snow. It's not an adrenalin sport - you don't jump drifts, you just cycle at an even pace. It sounds easy, but ice-biking takes a lot of physical effort. "The type of people who like it are those contrarians who like to do things people tell them are impossible," says ice-biker Joe Clarke. "Everything about a bike becomes less efficient in winter." The result is buns of steel and a calorie burn of 600 700 an hour.

Pros

5 Solitude: isolation is in the very nature of the sport.

5 Easy to equip yourself: all you need is a good mountain bike and a helmet.

5 It's safe - just so long as you obey the rules. Fewer than 1 per cent of ice-bikers have had injuries requiring a trip to hospital.

Cons

5 It's freezing out there: the wind-chill on a bike is high. If it's four degrees outside, it'll feel like a hellish minus eight on the bike.

5 Car snot: most UK ice-bikers have to ride along roads and one of the hardest textures to bike on is snow that's been driven on by cars and left brown and mushy (aka car snot).

For more information, visit www.enteract.com/ice-bike/

ALPINE SKIING

ALPINE SKIING

For a muscular workout, there's not a snow sport to beat this. You'll work your upper arms, back, waist, inner and outer thighs, calves - oh you name it, it'll hurt in the morning. Once up and running you'll burn 350 calories an hour, but you'll need a moderate level of fitness before you start. The best training sports for skiers are those that incorporate balance, short bursts of energy and edge-to-edge movements. Try in-line skating, mountain biking, skateboarding and ice-skating.

Pros

5 Fresh air factor: "Mountain air is exceptionally clean which improves breathing and fitness," says Vanessa Haines of the Ski Club of Great Britain.

5 Confidence booster: "It's really common for introverts to leave lessons as extroverts," says Kevin Taylor from Tamworth Snowdome.

5 New friends: no other winter sport has a social life like it.

Cons

5 Injuries: knee problems are most common but head injuries can also occur - and in 4 per cent of cases they're fatal. Many resorts are now making helmets compulsory.

5 Price: you can't alpine ski without lessons (it takes four to eight hours to learn the basics) and they start at about pounds 45. Equipment costs also mount up.

For more information contact the Ski Club of Great Britain (tel: 0181 410 2009). Tamworth Snowdome offers learn-to-ski-in-a-day classes on a real snow surface (tel: 01827 67905).

NORDIC SKIING

While downhill may be more glamorous, when it comes to calorie burning and ease of learning, nordic skiing (also known as cross-country) is best. On this you propel yourself primarily along flat trails using a forward-based gliding motion. It's an exceptionally intensive cardiovascular workout, burning up to 750 calories an hour (the same as running an eight- minute mile). As a result cross-country skiers often score higher on fitness tests than any other athlete. "Cross-country is often much easier to learn than downhill skiing and so it's great for beginners or the nervous," says Kevin Taylor from Tamworth Snowdome.

Pros

5 No vertigo: many trails are at the base of resorts which means no chairlifts.

5 Easy entry: you can start after a half-hour lesson.

5 Low impact: if you were going to run as fast as you can ski, your foot would hit the ground about 70 times a minute sending shocks through your joints. You don't get that with cross-country.

Cons

5 Dehydration: with a highly intensive workout like cross-country skiing, dehydration can lead to poor performance and headaches. Drink something at least every hour.

For more information contact the Ski Club of Great Britain (tel: 0181 410 2009)

SNOWBOARDING

Developed just 20 years ago, snowboarding is the hip new kid on the winter sports block. Standing sideways on what looks like a short, thick ski, you push and turn against the snow to swish down hills, around bumps and if you're really swanky, over jumps. It'll suit you if you hate the cliquiness and formality of skiing. "It's just not as middle class and structured," says Martin Robinson from the British Snowboarding Association. You'll burn around 600 calories an hour (more than skiing as you don't coast at any point) and develop your inner thighs and buttocks. The average person takes 10 hours to get to a level when they master turns well enough to hit the snow.

Pros

5 Portability: "The only specialist equipment you need to carry is your board," says Robinson. "The clothes and boots look and feel fine for everyday wear."

5 It's widely available: there are 65 centres in the UK including five of the Scottish ski resorts.

Cons

5 Bruising: you fall a lot when learning. Injury rates generally are the same as skiing, but boarders are usually hurt less severely.

5 It can be too easy: many over-confident snowboarders go off-piste and get into trouble. Don't do it.

For more information contact the British Snowboard Association (tel: 01492 872540).

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