The words 'winter sports' bring to mind images of people on skis or riding snowboards. But there are pleny more sports to try on the ski slopes and in alpine environments. Here is our (almost) exhaustive list:
Aerials – This traditional form of freestyle skiing involves jumping off ramps and jumps in order to get high enough into the air to be able to perform flips and twists. It’s a truly amazing thing to watch and being able to do a quadruple back flip isn’t something you learn over night.
Alpine Skiing – Your basic, tradition, strap two planks to your feet and slide down a snow-covered mountain type of skiing. Slopes are graded by colours, which help describe their difficulty. You will learn on a veyr gental slope, and can progress to the kind of steep slope that most people wouldn't even dare slide down on their bottom.
Bobsleighing - For such an odd adventure sport Bobsleigh seems to have a lot of followers. Made popular by James Bond in the film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", and by several television presenters. Apart from the tricky bit of running as fast as you can on ice and then jumping into the sled before it rockets off without you, it does look like a great deal of fun. Mind you, anyone who has watched it at the Winter Olympics has probably seen the four man bobsleigh suddenly appear into camera shot upside down. I don't imagine that would be much fun!
Curling – This medieval Scottish sport is a bit like chess on ice. Teams compete to land as many of their stones in a target 150 feet away by sliding them and brushing the ice to alter the speed and direction of the stone. It has a high profile during the Winter Olympic games, but the rest of the time you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about it. If you are lucky enough to find a place to try this sport (there is only a single dedicated curling rink in England) you are sure to fall in love with it.
Dog Sledding – Long dark nights on the trail, the frozen north, log cabins, the Yukon Trail, The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Dog sledding is a way of life in Arctic regions and has been for a very long time. Teams of dogs, usually Husky can pull heavy sleds over great distances. Dog sledding has also become a popular recreation activity with short sprint events as well as long distance races like the Iditarod Trail.
Heli-Skiing – Skiing is great fun. But one of the main drawbacks is so many people, all skiing in the same place. You see, in order to get to the top of your ski slope you need to take the chair lift. You can imagine that sooner or later, frustrated expert skiers looking at the huge expanse of untamed mountains all around them, thought, wouldn’t it be great if a helicopter dropped us off at the top of one of those mountains. No need to carry lots of climbing gear. Heli-skiing is available but it’s definitely not the cheapest form of skiing but a great way to get away from the crowded slopes.
Ice Climbing – Split into two disciplines, ice climbing is either mountain ice where negotiating a patch of ice is required in order to reach the summit, or water ice where water flowing from an outcrop has frozen. Knowing the type of ice you are climbing on is essential. If you cannot get to the Alps but would like to try this sport, there are some winter sports centres in the UK with dedicated indoor ice climbing walls.
Ice Hockey – Famed for its fast action and violent punch ups between players, this is a hugely popular sport in North America, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries. Teams of ten players try to slide the puck into the opposing goal mouth. Russia are the current world champions, with the next championships being held in May 2009 in Switzerland.
Ice Skating – There are lots of ice rinks in the UK which operate all year round, though sadly not as many as there should be for such a fantastic sport. Some countries are lucky enough to have outdoor rinks in the winter months. If you have never been ice skating you are really missing out. It may take a while to get to Olympic standard, but after a few laps of the rink holding on to the side, even a complete novice will be skating around on their own.
Luge – See Wok Racing below!
Moguls – If you have seen this event at the Winter Olympics you’re probably wondering how on earth they came up with the idea in the first place. We are too. Mogul skiing involves getting from A to B, by skiing between lots of snow mounds and doing a few tricks. I can imagine a competitive mogul skier’s knees last a couple of seasons before they have to retire – it is one of those sports that looks more painful than fun but I have never tired it so I may be wrong.
Off-Piste Skiing – Also known as back country skiing in North America, off-piste skiing allows you to break virgin snow and is the main appeal of this type of skiing. Make sure you check whether there are any restrictions on where you can ski. These are often in place for your own safety, especially in areas prone to avalanche.
Ski Jumping – This is definitely up there with all the big adrenaline sports. The best jumpers in the world are usually from the Scandinavian counties, where the sport has a strong tradition and the youngsters are brought up jumping from progressively bigger slopes. This is a definite advantage when it comes to the fear factor. There aren’t many people who would get to the top of a ski jump and have the nerve to launch themselves down it.
Sledding – This is one that sticks in anybody’s mind as a childhood memory. My own personal experience being slightly traumatic as I rocketed past my parents, straight out onto a frozen pond, which although not frozen enough, wasn’t very deep. Ideal for young children and you don’t need much snow or much of a slope to have a go.
Snowboarding – Once seen as the young upstart on the ski slopes, snowboarding is now pretty mainstream and you are as likely to see as many people zipping down the Alpine slopes without ski poles as with. A clear descendent from the skateboard, the age range of snowboarders tends to be much younger than skiers. In recent years snowboarding has hit the Winter Olympic stage and attracted a big following.
Snow Chains – Driving on snow is not usually a great idea as you’ll spend as much time going sideways as forwards. However, in parts of the world where driving on snow and ice is a necessary part of life, they often employ snow chains. There are studded chains that wrap around the car tires allowing them to grip. Snow driving events are popular and are essentially a form of rally driving.
Snow Kiting – Essentially kite surfing on snow. The only problem with snowboarding is that you need gravity and so as soon as you get to a flat section or the bottom of the ski run, you’ll not be able to go anywhere. However if you attach yourself to a large kite you will be able to travel much further – even back up the mountain if you really want to confuse people! Whether you want to drift slowly across a frozen lake or go flying off a mountain, there are snow kiting courses to suit everyone.
Snowmobile – A snowmobile is to snow what a motorbike is to land and a jetski is to water. Early 20th century snow mobiles were literally cars on skis. Designed to allow people to drive in parts of the world where snow cover lasts for most of the year they have also developed into a leisure and sports vehicle with Canada being one of the most popular places to see people riding around on snowmobiles.
Snowshoeing – Also known as snow hiking, snow shoes can look a bit like high tech clown shoes, but are designed to spread your weight over a large surface area, preventing you from falling through the snow. It is popular with skiers and snowboarders as a means of reaching untouched snow.
Speed Skating – Comes in either short track or long track versions. Short track is the more entertaining from an observer’s point of view while long track is one of the more graceful winter sports. Speed skaters tend to dress from head to toe in skin tight lycra in order to reduce wind resistance. Speed skating tracks are oval in shape with the short course tracks being smaller. Obviously. Anyone who can skate can try their hand at speed skating at their local rink. Dodging in and out of small children will probably help improve your technique for short course, but for endurance events you may need to skate at times when the general public has gone home.
Tube Sliding – Usually the domain of younger children, tube sliding is where you sit in a giant inflatable tube and slide down a snow covered slope. That’s not to say that adults who should know better cannot be found sliding down stupidly steep slopes at breakneck speeds!
Under Ice Diving – If you are one of those brave/crazy people who enjoy cave diving, then you'll probably be interested in a spot of ice diving. Conditions permitting, some places cut holes in the ice and with plenty of safety equipment, supervise dives below frozen lakes. The way the ice filters the sunlight is supposed to be spectacular, but it gives you a shiver just thinking about it. Let us know if you have had a go at this.
Wok Racing - I love watching the luge during the Winter Olympics in the same way I love watching that scene from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold greases a wok and sets off down the slope with flames coming from the back. I’m sure there is a lot of skill involved in the luge, but I cannot help picturing a big queue of people at the top waiting for their turn, like a water slide at a theme park. Believe it or not there really is a recognised winter sport called Wok Racing. This is sledging for grown ups.
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So what are the options if there is no snow on the ground, or if you need a quick fix during the summer months, between trips to Les Deux Alpes. Outdoor dry ski slopes have been around for years and have always been very popular, and more recently indoor winter sports centres have been springing up and they can now be found in most regions.