Alternatives adventures on the slopes
From bobsledding to ice fishing, you're missing out if you stick to skis, says Matt Carroll
Saturday 14 October 2006
As we spend the next few weeks flicking through brochures and clicking on to websites in search of the season's best deals, most of us will overlook one important thing: there's a lot more to ski resorts than skiing. While we spend our winter holiday racking up maximum mileage on the pistes, we're missing out on everything else that the snow has to offer. Contrary to popular belief, it's perfectly acceptable to take a day off from the slopes. So why not try something different this year?
PARAGLIDING: VERBIER, SWITZERLAND
If Verbier's slopes get a little too crowded for comfort, you could always take to the skies instead. Despite its high-adrenaline image, paragliding can be an incredibly relaxing sport, and will give you a whole new perspective on one of Europe's best-known resorts. With qualified instructors - and identical twins, Stu and Mike Belbas - you'll take off from Les Ruinettes, at 2,200m, and soar above the Verbier valley. They'll take care of the complicated stuff, such as steering and landing, while you sit back and enjoy the view. On a good day, you'll be surrounded by up to 20 other paragliders, who spend the afternoon circling on the thermals and soaking up the sun. Flights last about half an hour and cost around Sfr80 (£34). Call 00 41 79 31 35 677 or visit www.verbier-summits.com.
SNOWSHOEING: WHISTLER, CANADA
While you spend your time speeding down as many runs as possible, you're missing out on some spectacular views. So leave the skis at home and strap on some snowshoes instead. Outdoor Adventures ( www.adventures whistler.com), based in Whistler Village, runs daily trips up the mountain. After meeting at the Whistler Gondola and riding up to Olympic station, you quickly head away from the slope-side crowds and into pristine wilderness. As you hike through untracked snow (a rarity in Whistler these days), you'll be accompanied by birds such as whiskyjacks - who will eat out of your hand if you let them. The "winter wonderland" route takes you back down to the village, taking in spectacular views over Whistler Valley, and out to Green Lake and Alta Lake. Snowshoe walks last two or three hours and cost C$79 (£38).
DOG-SLEDDING: JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING US
Aside from being home to the best backcountry skiing in North America, Jackson is a fantastic place to go dog-sledding. It may sound tame, but with a team of eight Alaskan racing sled dogs on a mission to get from A to B as fast as possible, you quickly reach speeds of around 32km/h. Hanging on for dear life, just inches from the snow-packed ground, you thread your way through the Big Country as moose and elk casually wander across your path. If that's not enough to give you sweaty palms, dog-sled racing champion Frank Teasely will hand you the reins. The five-hour trip, starting at 8am, ends with a relaxing swim at the Granite hot springs. See www.jhsleddog.com.
ICE-SKATING: TIGNES, FRANCE
Ice-skating was one of the original winter sports, and it is now making a comeback at various resorts around the world. One of the most beautiful places to try it in Europe is Tignes ( www.tignes.net), where each season the west side of the frozen lake gets turned into a hugely popular rink. Rather than gliding (or shuffling embarrassingly) round in circles until you get bored, the 500m-long circuit allows you to explore the lake's nooks and crannies, surrounded by huge peaks. It's a great way to round off a day on the slopes - especially if you're looking for something romantic.
SNOWMOBILIN: NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA
Snowmobiling is one of the most exciting ways to see the breathtaking countryside outside Humber Valley Resort (0800 404 9251; www.experiencehumbervalley.co.uk). Ensconced in a cosy all-in-one suit, you head out on a leisurely ride into unspoilt terrain. There are around 1,200 groomed trails that wind through wooded areas, open snowfields and deep mountain ravines. Keep your eyes peeled for the elk that wander around as they please. Tours start from C$150 (£71).
BOBSLEDDING: PARK CITY, UTAH, US
If you want something to brag about at the dinner table, this is it. Imagine the most extreme roller coaster you've ever ridden, multiply it by five, and you'll get an idea how exciting this is. Having packed yourself like sardines into the plastic sled, you'll be pushed along the ice to the point of no return. From then on, there's no stopping, as you hurtle downhill on sheet ice, reaching speeds of up to 130km/h. You'll be terrified, but as soon as you emerge (jelly-legged) at the bottom, you'll want to do it all over again. Rides with an experienced driver cost around $200 (£108). Visit www.parkcityinfo.com/skiing/uop.
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: SUNDANCE, UTAH, US
Ok, so you're still on skis - but this is different. Instead of going downhill the whole time, you cruise along through beautiful scenery at a relaxed pace, and actually get to see things. Cross-country - or Nordic - skis are much skinnier than the Alpine planks used on the pistes, and your feet are only joined at the front, allowing you to lift your heel as you glide. Once you get the hang of it, it's extremely addictive - even if you're used to snowboarding. Sundance, owned by actor Robert Redford ( www.sundanceresort.com), has some of the loveliest trails of them all, which are graded according to ability. As you pass clusters of silver birch trees, all you can hear is the sound of your skis shooshing through the snow. It's also a great workout. An afternoon pass and equipment costs around $25 (£13).
ICE-CLIMBING: SOLDA, SOUTH TYROL
The South Tyrol region in Italy is famous for spawning legendary climber Reinhold Messner, who pioneered solo ascents of the Himalayas without oxygen. Solda is home to some awesome and uncrowded backcountry snowboarding terrain, but there's also an ice-climb here that will give you a taste of this challenging sport. Located just below the middle station of the cable car, above the village itself, is a frozen waterfall that's a favourite with local climbers. The English-speaking guides at Alpinschule Ortler (00 39 04 73 61 30 04) run a two-day course. As you take your first steps up the mountain, you'll have jaw-droppingly beautiful views of the valley - and a constant supply of admiring onlookers in the cable cars passing by. A two-day ice-climbing course costs €270 (£182), including half-board accommodation.
ICE FISHING: FERNIE, CANADA
More and more people are coming to Fernie each season on the promise of huge dumps of snow - and they're not disappointed. However, aside from its legendary powder, one of the great things about this place is the fact that it's still a town first and a ski resort second. For a true taste of traditional Canadian life, head out on an ice fishing trip. Local expert Kim Sedrovic will pick you up from your hotel, and escort you by 4x4 (or snowmobile if you're lucky) to one of the nearby lakes. He'll cut you a hole and show you how to drop a line, but the rest is up to you. If you're fortunate, you'll be having fresh Eastern Brook trout for supper. A full day's ice fishing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures (00 1 25 04 23 67 04; www.fernieadventures.com) costs around C$180 (£85).
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