Olympian activities: It's game on for winter-sports fans
The Olympics are drawing close – and if you feel inspired by the events on show in Russia, Aaron Millar explains how to experience them for yourself
Saturday 16 November 2013
The Olympic torch has returned to Earth after its spacewalk with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, heralding the build up to the XXII Winter Olympics and Paralympics on 7 February in Sochi, Russia. For two weeks, 7,650 athletes will compete in 15 different snow and ice events. You can watch in awe, or you could have a go yourself. From shooting down a bobsleigh track to gliding on ice, it's possible to try nearly all the Winter Olympic sports.
At the Hunderfossen Olympic Park, in Lillehammer, Norway – the venue for the bobsleigh and luge events of the 1994 Games – the public can test the former Olympic track for themselves either on a piloted luge or "bob-rafting" and "taxi-bob" rides. Exodus (0845 863 9601; exodus.co.uk) offers a four-day Lillehammer Olympic Bobsled Weekend from £999pp, including B&B, flights from Heathrow on 21 February or 7 March, transfers and most activities.
Cross-country skiing, Finland
Ski from chalet to chalet through the deep powder over the Finnish-Russian border on a new seven-day trip from Baltic Holidays (0845 070 5711; balticholidays.com). Expect up to 12 miles of skiing a day; some previous cross-country experience is advised. The price of £1,042pp includes full board, equipment, guide and luggage transfers, but not flights. Departs 22 February, 9 and 23 March.
Figure skating, USA
Learn to dance on ice at Park City in Utah, venue for the 2002 Winter Games. Visitors to the Olympic Oval can learn everything from basic skating to triple axels and toe loops. Utah Olympic Legacy (001 801 968 6825; utaholympiclegacy.com) has a four-day summer figure skating camp for $90pp (£60), including daily lessons and workshops. Learn to skate programmes are also available; a six-lesson pass is $30 (£20).
The surprisingly tense sport of curling – in which players slide polished circular stones across the ice towards a target area – is thought to have been invented in medieval Scotland. Guests at the North West Castle Hotel (01776 704 413; mcmillanhotels.co.uk) in Stranraer, can have a go at the in-house curling rink. Curling weekends cost from £140pp including two nights' full board and a minimum three games of curling. There are also free curling taster sessions on 18 and 26 November.
The biathlon is one of the most demanding Winter Olympic events, combining high-intensity cross-country skiing with precision target shooting. The resort of Antholz in the South Tyrol will host next year's Biathlon World Cup (16-19 Jan; biathlon-antholz.it) but also teaches the sport. Choose from daily lessons (€110/£93pp) or week-long courses which cost €790 (£665), including half-board accommodation (00 39 0474 492446; langlauf-antholz.it). Flights extra.
Ski jump, Germany
Defy gravity in Germany's Thuringian Forest on the Skiflyer: claimed to be the only place in the world where it's possible to experience the thrill of ski jumping with the safety of a harness. You are harnessed to a steel safety cable, strapped into special jump skis and let loose down a take-off ramp, soaring 150ft through the air. Expert tuition and safety equipment is provided. Rennsteig Outdoor Centre (00 49 700 7700 7711; roc-team.de) offers a Skiflyer Winner package for €96pp (£80) with four jumps, tuition and a tour of the ski jumping world cup centre in Lauscha. Flights and accommodation not included.
Freestyle skiing, England
If the tricks, jumps and twists of freestyle skiing are your thing then Chill Factore (0843 596 2233; chillfactore.com) in Manchester is the place to go. It has the UK's longest indoor, real snow, freestyle park. Freestyle sessions are available bi-weekly on Wednesday and Friday evenings; a four-hour pass costs £36pp. Lessons start at £35pp.
Downhill skiing, Russia
Ski this year's Olympic courses and soak up the post-games atmosphere, on a trip to Sochi. The venue for the Games is made up of three separate resorts. Rosa Khutor has the most challenging runs and will host the main alpine events; Mountain Carousel has good intermediate skiing and Gazprom is best for beginners. Crystal Ski (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk) has an eight-day trip based in Rosa Khutor for £1,099pp with flights, transfers and half board. Lift passes cost £27 per day. Recommended departures from late March.
Ice hockey, Canada
Ice hockey is one of the toughest and fastest sports around. For Canadians it's a national obsession. Soak up the atmosphere and tradition in Toronto, with a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame (001 416 360 7735; hhof.com; C$17.50/£12.50) and a night out watching the Toronto Maple Leafs (001 416 703 5323; mapleleafs.nhl.com). Tickets from C$128 (£85). In Ottawa, the annual Winterlude Festival (bit.ly/RideauWinter; 31 Jan - 17 Feb) takes place when the Rideau Canal freezes over to create a 4.8-mile skating track. It doubles as the setting for the Great Canadian Beaver Cup Pond Hockey Championship.
Snowboarders should head to Avoriaz to master one of the most spectacular Olympic events: the gravity-defying flips and spins of the halfpipe. The resort features eight freestyle parks and two halfpipes. One is a "superpipe," with 18ft near-vertical walls that propel riders to Olympic heights. Neilson (0844 879 8155; neilson.co.uk) has a week in Avoriaz from £409pp, including flights and a self-catering studio. A week's lift pass for the Portes du Soleil region, comprising Avoriaz, Morzine and 11 other resorts, costs from €268 (£225).
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