Walking (and lots more) in a winter wonderland

Fancy a frosty escape? Leave your skis at home. From festivals to snow-shoeing, ice hotels to sleigh safaris, there's plenty of excitement away from the pistes this season

What's the attraction?

Who needs to strap on skis to enjoy the snow? There are plenty more ways to experience the white stuff, from a night at a hotel made of ice, to mushing huskies through a silvery forest. Alternatives to skiing have been available for years through snowsports and adventure travel companies.

However, according to Amanda Ceraolo, winter activities product manager at tour operator Exodus (0845 287 7606; exodus.co.uk), this year has seen a spike in interest because the Northern Lights are due to give their best show in half a century. "We have seen a 50 per cent increase in mixed-activity holidays to the Arctic Circle," she says. "But as this spectacle cannot be guaranteed, we make sure there are other activities on offer, too."

Sky lights

This year many travel companies are chasing the Northern Lights. Regent Holidays (020-7666 1290; regent-holidays.co.uk) has organised an eight-day group tour in Iceland that mixes the major sights with a "Northern Lights Academy", six nights of lectures and guided trips to hotspots for viewing the phenomena. From £1,245 per person, including flights from Heathrow or Glasgow to Reykjavik, B&B and activities. Back home, Wilderness Scotland (01479 420 020; wildernessscotland.com) is laying on an expert guide for a four-night walking break in the Highlands around Gairloch, which features an evening trek above the tree line to seek out the spectacle. From £595 per person, including B&B and guiding.

Body booster

St Moritz was once better known for its health-promoting benefits than skiing. The tradition lives on at the resort's newest spa, just opened at the Kulm Hotel (00 41 81 836 80 00; kulmhotel-stmoritz.ch). Around £8m has been spent on the huge space, which overlooks the Alpine resort's lake and Engadine Valley. It has indoor and outdoor pools, salt grottos, Finnish sauna, and 13 treatment rooms, where therapists use Swiss products made from local plants. Three nights from £935 per person, based on two sharing, including flights from Heathrow to Zurich, train transfers and B&B, with Elegant Resorts (01244 897331; elegantresorts.co.uk).

Animal magnetism

Kids, big and small, can help newborn huskies learn to socialise and feed at Guesthouse Husky, near Ivalo in Finland. There are husky safaris into the forests, where you might spot wild reindeer. A week costs from £595 per person, including flights from Heathrow to Ivalo via Helsinki, and B&B, with Hostelling International (01707 324170; hihostels.com). In Finland's Mounio National Park, learn to herd reindeer on a new six-night "White Footprint" trip from Taber Holidays (01274 875199; taber hols.co.uk), price £1,885 per person, including flights from Heathrow to Kittila via Helsinki, transfers and full-board accommodation.

Cool cuisine

Get a taste for the Dolomites at the Audi Chef's Cup Südtirol (chefscup.it), which runs from 20-25 January in Alta Badia, Italy. This unique get-together of chefs from around the world began as a friendly talking shop about haute cuisine, with a bit of skiing thrown in. Now in its eighth year, it's almost a festival these days – and the public are invited too. Expect ski competitions alongside a full programme of culinary appreciation, from cookery lessons to gala dinners, gourmet safaris to pasta parties. Stay at the Rosa Alpina (00 39 0471 849 500; rosalpina.it) and get six days' accommodation and the programme of gourmet events for £1,614 per person, based on two sharing.

Festive spirit

Igloofest (igloofest.ca), Montreal's nine-day electro music festival, kicks off on 12 January on the Jacques-Cartier Pier. Wrap up warm to see performances from the cream of the electro scene, including British DJ Andrew Weatherall, with tickets on sale soon. Tickets are now available for Snowbombing (snow bombing.com; 1-6 April). This Alpine music festival transforms the Austrian resort of Mayrhofen into a giant al fresco venue. Kasabian headline in 2013. Accommodation and entertainment from £329 per person, based on four sharing, and return coach travel from various points around the UK from £124.

Alternative activities

Snow-shoe on Lake Ladoga in Russia on an eight-day trip with Exodus (0845 287 7606; exodus.co.uk), from £1,699 per person. Go ice-driving in France with Powder White Extreme (020-8877 8888; powderwhite.com), staying in Val d'Isére or Verbier from £679 per person. Watch the annual Klosters Snow Polo in Switzerland, 16-20 January, from £655 per person, with Ski Safari (01273 224060; skisafari.com). Toboggan in Romania's Transylvanian Alps with Explore (0845 291 4541; explore.co.uk), from £693 per person. Or jump on a véloski at Le Grand Bornand near Lake Annecy, with the French Ski School (00 33 4 50 02 79 10; esf-grand-bo.com).

Cold comfort

The Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, Swedish Lapland takes on a different look each winter. Sixty-five rooms will be constructed this year by 15 artists from across the globe. Discover the World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers three nights from £1,099, including flights from Heathrow to Kiruna, transfers and B&B.

In Italy's South Tyrol, sample the life of the mountaineer with a night at the Salewa Base Camp near Merano. A cable car takes you to Piffinger Köpfl, 2,000 metres up, a short walk to the tents, which will be pitched from 10 to 23 December. The experience costs from €110 per person (00 39 04 73 272000; meran.eu), including tour and meals.

Insider Information

"Use the new ski-train service to get to the Swiss Alps this winter. Now you can travel to the scenic Valais region on a relaxing journey by Eurostar and TGV Lyria, simply changing platforms at Lille." Daniel Elkan, co-founder of independent ski-rail website Snowcarbon (snowcarbon.co.uk)

Who said that?

"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" – John Steinbeck, novelist

"Since both [Switzerland's] national products – snow and chocolate – melt, the cuckoo clock was invented solely in order to give tourists something solid to remember it by." – Alan Coren, writer, broadcaster and satirist

"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event." – J B Priestley, novelist, playwright and broadcaster

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