Wild Winter Sports (and Where to Try Them)

Pull on your fleece, your scarf and your gloves; these five adventures will make you want to book a winter trip.

There’s more to winter sports than traditional alpine skiing and snowboarding. In fact, some powder aficionados say your options are only limited by your imagination. This season, why not embrace winter travel with a little creativity and unbridled enthusiasm? Here are five new ways to enjoy the season with reckless abandon: 

Formed from converted mountain bikes, or purpose built for the slopes, ski bikes have had a following since the 1960s. (©Michelle Theall)

Ski Biking

Cyclists have no fear. The start of flying flakes doesn’t mean the end to your season—as long as you’re game for a slight equipment adjustment. Ski biking is just that: riding down the slopes on a hybrid contraption that’s a bike without pedals outfitted with a front and back ski instead of wheels. The sport, sometimes called skibobbing, started in Europe and gained popularity in the 1960s. Now many North American resorts rent the equipment and even give lessons.

Kristy Holland, an outdoor enthusiast new to the sport, described her first experience by saying, “It was easy to pick up, and ski biking was a totally new way to experience the mountain. I was able to ‘ride’ moguls and handle pretty steep terrain with relative ease after just an hour or two on the bike. I even sought out jumps, which isn't something I normally do on skis.” You can rent equipment at many ski resorts, or if you prefer, you can alter your own bike (BMX, mountain bikes, cruisers, etc.) with conversion kits offered by manufacturers like Alpine Skibikes.

Get there: Head to Winter Park Resort in Winter Park, Colorado where you can sign up for lessons, take a ski bike tour, and even try ski biking at night. On the east coast, try Pat’s Peak in Henniker, N.H. A helpful nationwide listing is also available

 dog plus skis (©Baevskiy Dmitry/Shutterstock)

Skijoring

Put on a pair of cross-country or skate skis, slip on a harness, and attach yourself to one end of a length of rope. On the other end, secure a pair of enthusiastic dogs. Then, hold on tight. In essence, that’s the sport of skijoring. Skijoring, meaning “ski driving” in Norwegian, originated in Scandinavia but has become fairly common across the globe with numerous competitions, including a world championship event.

Zoe Katsulos, an avid skijorer and the owner of Inside/Out Adventures got into the sport because it allowed her the opportunity to see beautiful scenery while spending quality time with her dogs. She also notes, “You can cover a lot of territory on backcountry skis with a little dog power. And, because you are skiing and being self-propelled, the dogs don’t need to be strong pullers like sled dogs.” For beginners who don’t want to be seen in public trying this, check out the Mari Hoe-Raitto’s book “Skijor with Your Dog.” It covers training (for you and the dog), equipment, and all the practical knowledge you need to get started.

Get there: Travel to a Nordic ski center like the Breckenridge, Colo.-based Gold Run Nordic Center for a skijoring clinic, or attend a small clinic like ones hosted by Inside/Out Adventures. You can also book lessons through a dog sledding operator, like New England Dogsledding in Mason Township, Maine.

Tour operators can get you the training and then whisk you away behind the pack for half-day (and multi-day) excursions. (©gillmar/Shutterstock)

Dog Sledding

The keen blue eyes and boundless energy of a Siberian husky bring out the playfulness in most people. Harness a team of them to a sled while yelling out “hike,” the musher’s word for “go,” and you’ve got adrenaline-fueled transportation, complete with the cuddly-cute factor as a bonus. Before motorized transportation, sled dogs were the primary way to deliver supplies and mail across remote areas of Alaska and northern Canada, and the renowned Iditarod race remains a celebration of that part of Alaska’s heritage. These days, mushing is less about practicality and more about adventure. Unless you own six pups bred to pull, you’ll want to find an outfitter and book an hour tour with a trained team of dogs who know the key commands of “gee” (right), “haw” (left), and the all-important “whoa.”

At Good Times Adventures in Frisco, Colorado, clients take turns mushing or riding in the sleigh as its being pulled over a six-mile route through the Swan River Valley. Good Times Adventures guest, Amy Thompson, hit the trails with a group of friends and found the trip exhilarating. “I wouldn’t think they’d be so fast, but on the downhill, the dogs can really move. They know their way and seem to bring such joy to it that I was smiling ear to ear the entire time.” That said, the dogs don’t do all the work. Be prepared to walk and run behind the sled to navigate obstacles and make it up hills and even mild inclines. And remember, tipping over is part of the fun.

Get there: Good Times Adventures in Frisco, Colo., will give you lessons and lend you their team of dogs for a 6-mile, one-hour tour.  For an immersion experience, take a trip to Ely, Minnesota to the Wintergreen Lodge for lodge-to-lodge excursions and dogsled camping vacations.

More: 8 Thrilling Dog Sled Adventures in Alaska

Snowshoe racers tromp through Quebec City (with their dogs). (©Maridav/Shutterstock)

Snowshoe Racing

If you can walk, you can snowshoe. So it follows that if you can run, you can snowshoe race. Snowshoe racing takes place in almost all parts of the country with the exception of the south and southeast regions. Much like running on a beach, running on snowshoes is tougher than road running because the surface is soft and there’s less traction. A strong base of fitness helps. According to the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA), snowshoeing began about 6,000 years ago in present-day central Asia as a means to an end: survival. Most snowshoeing today takes place on packed trails by people of all ages and levels of ability, and the racing scene grew from the 1980s popularity of road-running competitions. Aside from warm, waterproof, breathable apparel (including gloves and gaiters), all a participant needs is a good pair of snowshoes (which can be owned or rented) and a strong set of lungs. Unlike the antique wooden planks you’ll see decorating fireplace mantles at ski lodges, today’s snowshoes are light, made from aluminum, and have easy-to-use bindings. Every weekend from December through March, you’ll find 5K to 10K length races on public trails, Nordic ski networks, and even golf courses. Getting used to running in snowshoes requires some practice. In particular, beginners tend to drag the toe of their snowshoe instead of picking their foot straight up after making contact with the snow (poor technique can result in an awkward face plant). For the most part though, the motion is intuitive and easy to learn.

Mike Bucek from the USSSA gives the following advice: “Start slowly because the weight of the snowshoes will impact your endurance. Serious snowshoe hiking and running requires training.  But the training isn’t markedly different than that done for summer outdoor activities.  A mixture of running, biking, lunges, squats and other similar activities should get the avid snowshoer into fine shape.”

Get there: A great way to race for a cause in a non-competitive environment is to join one of the four Tubbs Romp to Stomp, 3-kilometer snowshoe races. Take your pick: Jan. 25 at Stratton Mountain Resort in Stratton, Vt.; Feb. 8 at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center in Skykomish, Wash.; Feb. 8 at the Scenic Caves in Town of the Blue Mountains, near Collingwood, Ontario; or March 1 at the Frisco Nordic Center in Frisco, Colo. You'll find more events on Snowshoe magazine's calendar and at Snowshoe racing's website.

High in Italy's Dolomites, you'll find cozy huts with gourmet food—and amazing skiing right out the front door. (©Michelle Theall)

Hut-to-Hut Skiing

Forget winter camping or staying at a ski resort with hundreds of tourists. Hut-to-hut skiing allows you to enjoy several days nestled in a backcountry blanket while enjoying the conveniences of a cabin shared with good friends. Hut systems (lodges with varying amenities connected by trails) proliferate wilderness areas across the globe and allow skiers and snowshoers the safety of overnight accommodations. This makes it easy for skiers to go deeper into the backcountry by linking daily routes from one hut to another.

Former Ski magazine editor Tracy Ross says, “You get all of the amenities—bed, hot food, sometimes a sauna—and more often than not, fresh lines right out the door. Basically, it’s ideal for anyone who can stand on two skis and move around on them, who has good cardio and endurance, and who has a sense of adventure, but hates winter camping—like I do.”

Get there: Friends will enjoy organizing their own routes and booking space as a group along the popular 10th Mountain Division hut system in Colorado or perhaps by taking a bit more exotic, eight-day guided tour offered in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy by a tour provider of the same name.

About the author: Adventure travel writer Michelle Theall founded and served as and editor-in-chief of Women's Adventure magazine and is currently serving as interim editor of Alaska magazine. Find her online at www.michelletheall.com.

Michelle Theall
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