Then there's always snowboarding...

SKI-ING ... and parapenting and dog-sledding and snowmobiling. By Victoria Pybus
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The Independent Travel
Gone, it seems, are the days when winter-sports holidays meant shussing down a mountain with a ski on each foot and a pole dangling from each wrist. The stillness of the snowscapes of Europe and beyond has been disturbed by the whooshing of snowboarders, the mush-mushing of dog sledders, the soaring of parapenters, the throbbing of snowmobiles and the ecstatic whooping of heli-skiers.

Snowboarding's basics can be learnt in three hours. From then on, the usually baggy-clad boarder rides the pistes in wide zigzags, carving up skiers to the extent that many ski resorts separate skiers and snowboarders. Snowboarding has, however, modified its hell-raising image to some extent. Its popularity is such that pundits predict it will soon have equal status with downhill skiing.

North America tends to be more sympathetic to snowboarders, with many resorts providing snowboard parks. The board comes into its own off the beaten slopes, particularly in powder; cliff jumping and somersaults are standard stunts.

Surprisingly few companies offer snowboarding holidays. Chalet Snowboard (01235 767182) offers snowboarding weeks in Avoriaz and Morzine from pounds 300. Skibound (01273 696960) offers tuition in the Alps from pounds 39 per person for a three-day course, and Poles Apart (01752 257752) is the agent for the new Snowboarding Academy in Argentiere, which can also be contacted direct on 00 33 50 54 16 88. Ski Independence (0131 557 8555) can arrange snowboard hire (about $20 per board) and lessons (about $50 for four hours) in North American resorts.

Parapente (alpine hang-gliding) needs a few weeks' practice before you learn to spiral gracefully skywards and use the thermals to stay aloft. Beginners have a tendency to go with gravity, and landing takes a bit of mastering. The Centre Delta-Parapente in Verbier (00 41 26 316 818) offers parapente tuition for about 180 Swiss francs (pounds 100) a day, and a trial passenger flight from Sfr120.

Ski touring is where you follow a circuit, staying in mountain refuges. The good thing about it is that you don't have to be an expert skier: intermediates can cope. Poles Apart has a three-day introduction to ski touring in Chamonix and offers the six-day Haute Route tour, complete with guide, for pounds 550. Waymark has a 13-night tour in the Canadian Rockies, staying at back-country lodges. The Ski Club of Great Britain (0171-245 1033) has an extensive safari and touring programme.

Cross-country skiing, or ski-walking, can be done on almost-level or undulating terrain. Most resorts have a few kilometres of cross-country tracks, but for the best touring circuits Austria and Scandinavia are recommended. Cross-country skis are up to two-thirds lighter than downhill skis and have bindings that leave the heel free. The technique can be picked up quickly, but non-skiers should practise before embarking on a hut-to-hut tour. Waymark Holidays (01753 516477) offers a week in France for pounds 450 with half-board, or a week in Norway in January for pounds 460 all- inclusive.

Answering the call of the wild means husky dogs, and mushing (driving) a team of three to eight dogs has its dangers. Huskies are not cuddly pets. There is a selection of tours on offer, from Lapland to Alaska. The Finlandia Travel Agency (0171-409 7334) offers a seven-day husky tour across the fells of Lapland for pounds 1,015 all-inclusive. It's back to nature at the accommodation, too: wilderness huts have few facilities, but some may have saunas. Arctic Experience (01737 218800) offers husky-sledding holidays or a two-week sledding course in Swedish Lapland from pounds 1,254, or 10 days in the Yukon from pounds 1,895.

Frequently described as the ultimate skiing experience, heli-skiing provides an unbeatable opportunity to striate virgin powder. The Canadian Rockies are ideal for heli-skiing, because there is relatively little development compared with the number of mountains. Thanks to the invention of fat (double-width) powder skis, the transition to powder skiing is relatively simple for competent piste skiers.

Ski Independence (0131 557 8555), specialising in tailor-made holidays in North America, offers a day's heli-skiing from Whistler that includes three ascents, 8,000-10,000ft of vertical, food and refreshments for pounds 209. Any extra ascents on the same day are at the bargain rate of pounds 23.

Snowmobiling is offered at many North American resorts. The vehicles can reach 50mph or more on the flat, but when touring 25-30mph is more usual. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is the base for snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Tours of two to five days, staying in mountain refuges in the park, can be arranged through Ski Independence. Arctic Experience offers four days of snowmobiling on its Discover Spitsbergen tour.

If you can't make up your mind, you can always combine activities. Finlandia's three-day, pounds 333 "ice-breaker adventure" includes a snowmobile safari over frozen sea, a cruise on an ice-breaker and a try at reindeer driving. A dip in the Arctic Ocean wearing insulated gear is, thankfully, optional.

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