Top 10 Alternative Winter Sports

Expand your cold-weather repertoire with these exciting activities (if you dare).

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A snowmobiler at Turnagain Pass in Alaska

From the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel

Canada Olympic Park, Calgary, Canada
Suspended only by a fiberglass sling and two razor-sharp steel blades, zip feet-first down the icy run constructed for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Canadian Luge Association athletes coach you in the sport’s basics (such as, no brakes), before you careen through five turns reaching speeds up to 37 miles an hour (60 kilometers an hour).

Palmer, Alaska
In Alaska’s Mat-Su (Matanuska-Susitna) Valley 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Anchorage, take a guided “snow machine” tour over frozen lakes, through frosted meadows, or along a stretch of the legendary Iditarod Trail. Small group and custom itineraries can include ice fishing, wildlife photography, and viewing the northern lights. No snowmobiling experience required.

Skijoring and Dogsledding
New England Dogsledding and Telemark Inn
Mason Township, Maine
Paw power fuels the winter games at this White Mountain National Forest inn. Resident big dogs pull sleds on the multiday “Learn to Mush” excursions and Nordic skiers (intermediate and above) on exhilarating skijoring runs.

Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid, New York
Of all the Olympic experiences available at the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games’ host venue, Lake Placid, “Be a Biathlete” is arguably the most unusual. Offered from late December through early March, the ski-and-shoot session begins with an hourlong cross-country ski lesson and ends with supervised target practice at the biathlon shooting range.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club
various locations, Scotland
If every Winter Olympics leaves you wondering what’s so tough about sliding and sweeping polished rocks across a sheet of ice, find out at a free “Try Curling” session. Sponsored by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the two-hour workshops are held at rinks throughout Scotland. Wear sneakers and dress warmly.

Bobsled and Skeleton
Lillehammer Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track
Hunderfossen, Norway
Scandinavia’s only bobsled and luge track is located 9 miles (15 kilometers) north of central Lillehammer. Hop into a piloted four-person bobsled or six-person rubber bobraft to hit speeds up to 74 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour), or slide solo—and face-first—half an inch (1 centimeter) off the ice on a skeleton.

Ski Jumping
Rennsteig Outdoor Center
Steinach, Germany
Rennsteig’s “Skiflyer” delivers the thrill of soaring off a 492-foot (150-meter) ski jump while ensuring a pain- and crash-free landing. A harness-rope contraption keeps jumpers on course down the ramp and safely suspended over the Thuringian Forest for an eight- to ten-second flight. Single jumps and multi-jumps as well as lessons are available year-round.

Night Sledding
Preda to Bergün, Switzerland
In winter, the Albula Pass road between Preda to Bergün is closed, creating Europe’s longest floodlit toboggan run at 3.7 miles (6 kilometers). Wear a ski helmet and rent a sled at the Preda train station (about 30 minutes from St. Moritz via rail) to rumble down the icy path past forests, farms, and villages.

Snow Kiting
Obertauern, Austria
The big-air, big-rush sport of snow kiting is a paragliding-snowboarding hybrid requiring wind, snow, and a heavy dose of courage. Spend the morning at the aptly named Hang on! Snow Kite School at Obertauern resort to rent equipment and take a lesson, before attempting takeoff from the high plateau.

Speed Skating
Nagano Olympic Memorial Arena
Nagano, Japan
From October through March, public skating and lessons are offered under the Olympic Memorial Arena’s iconic ridgeline roof. Known as M-Wave, the world-class speed skating venue has hosted numerous Olympic events. Learn speed skating basics on the oval or ride a lap on the ice resurfacing machine.

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