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Activity Guide: Skiing Alternatives
So you think taking to the piste on skis is a bit passé? We’ve found the best heart-pumping alternatives for this snow season
Huddling around a roaring fire holding a steaming cup of hot chocolate is absolutely not, we repeat, not, the best way to make the most of the winter – unless you’ve really earned it.
So before you start hibernating, get out there to make the most of misty lakes, glittering ice rinks, white-tipped mountains and snowy forests.
Don’t be afraid of the cold – you can always cuddle a husky, sip some vin chaud or bring a hip flask wherever you go to warm yourself up.
And if that doesn’t work, then getting the blood pumping with some healthy winter sports certainly will – try out some of these and you’ll soon be as warm as a freshly run bubble bath.
Ice skating, Hungary
You couldn’t ask for a prettier place to skate than the City Park Ice Rink, which sits between Budapest’s Vajdahunyad Castle and the Heroes’ Square.
Ice skating in Budapest is a very, very big deal and the rink is a real place of pride for the city, particularly since its £13m facelift was completed last year.
The reception building was restored to its original, 19th-century appearance, and the skating area expanded to a whopping 12,000sqm, with an ice hockey rink added, too.
The ice rink is actually a boating lake in the summer, but is frozen over and opened for skating in November.
From then until February you’ll find the rink crammed with couples on romantic dates, wobbly kids finding their balance, show-off speed skaters and many more Hungarians who visit the park every year for a spin on the ice.
If you’d rather avoid the crowds choose a cool, crisp afternoon to go during the week, but for the best atmosphere it’s better to visit after dark, when the rink is floodlit and the surrounding buildings are illuminated to great effect.
Do it: City Park Ice Rink is open daily 10am-2pm and 4pm-8pm. Entrance is quite cheap at £3.60 per person and you
can rent your skates there too at an additional cost.
Perhaps skiing or snowboarding isn’t really working out for you, and you’re spending nine-tenths of your time on your butt anyway.
Do yourself a favour and turn to tobogganing, a dream sport for anyone who wants to get some speedy thrills on the slopes but hasn’t quite got the skills to manage this upright.
There are some great tobogganing options in the French Alps.
Meribel, Courchivel and Les Arcs all have popular places to slide, but the longest tobogganing run of all is the epic 6km slide at Val Thorens – and you don’t even need any prior experience before hurtling down it.
What can you expect? Well, you start by grabbing your plastic sled and a helmet from the Chalet de Toboggan.
You might experience a little tingle of regression at the point you get your thin plastic ride, but embrace it.
Then you’re swept 3000m up the mountain in a gondola that takes you to the foot of the Glacier de Péclet, where the run starts.
The first part of the descent is on the piste, but very soon you’ll find yourself sliding onto the toboggan run proper.
This has banked walls for most of the distance, meaning you can’t go too wrong if you lose control of the sled – which is fairly likely for first timers.
As long as you don’t crash too often, the slide down the whole run usually takes about 10 minutes, at a zippy speed of around 22mph.
Anyone feeling particularly daring can also take on the toboggan run in the dark, when all you’ll have to illuminate your path is a helmet with a torchlight affixed to it.
You’ll be rewarded afterwards with a cup of nerve-soothing vin chaud, which is included in the ticket price.
Do it: The toboggan run is open daily 10am-3pm and also Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings.
A pass which includes rental of the sled and helmet costs £10 (or £15 if you don’t already have a Val Thorens ski pass).
A nighttime tobogganing session costs £15.30.
Is there any way to conquer Russia’s freezing, unforgiving terrain in winter?
Yep, you can take it on with a snowmobile. Karelia, in the northeast of the country, is a popular destination for those keen to look like a badass KGB agent as they tear through the snowy wilderness, and take in the picturesque vista of rural Russia.
A day’s snowmobile tour can take you to the shores of the shimmering Lake Syamozero, skimming over the snow through traditional Karelian villages that look like something out of an old fairy tale book, and deep into the nearby snow-covered forests.
If you’re lucky, you might get to see some native wildlife such as reindeer, elk, wolves, lynx and wolverine – although snowmobiles make quite a racket, so it’s just as likely you’ll only be catching a glimpse as they scoot off into hiding.
It’s easy to get the hang of driving a snowmobile – any tour company should give you full instructions before you set off, but most tourists feel confident after a few minutes.
Just squeeze that accelerator and your snowy adventure begins.
Do it: A one-day Winter Lakes of Russian Karelia tour with Russian Karelia Trails costs from £169pp, including transfers, two meals and all snowmobile equipment.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. That’s the general consensus about the complexity of this sport, so it’s not one to take on if you like to take a more macho, thrill-seeking approach to snowsports.
But there’s a lot more to be gained from snowshoeing than just setting out for a stroll in a pair of wellies.
For a start, you get to go a hell of a lot farther than you would normally, thanks to the fantastic contraptions you wear on your feet.
Traditional snowshoes looked a bit like wooden tennis rackets, but the new kind are very sophisticated.
They work by distributing your weight widely so you don’t sink too deep into the slush, and stop the snow from building up at the sides of your feet, which would ordinarily slow you down.
The result? You can actually trek a good distance, even in deep snowfall.
Snowshoeing is certainly a fairly exhausting activity – beginners often complain that they have aching leg muscles the next day, but it’s also excellent exercise, burning almost twice as many calories as if you were walking or running at the same speed.
There’s a fast-growing snowshoeing scene in Boston, Massachusetts – casual snowshoers in the area like to visit Weston Ski Track where there are 15km of scenic trails along the Charles River, pre-mapped for exploring.
You can also hire a pair of snowshoes and take a lesson before you set off. Keep an eye on the website below for free demo days.
Do it: £20 buys you a beginners’ lesson and a trail pass at Weston Ski Track.
Ice fishing, Finland
You’ve got to really be willing to embrace the subzero temperatures to go on an ice fishing trip, as, obviously, there’s a lot of sitting around in the chilly air, hoping for a bite.
We’d strongly recommend bringing along a decent-sized hip flask to warm your cockles on this trip (unless you’re responsible for drilling the hole through the ice, of course, then you should definitely stay off the sauce).
Once the ice is broken you just drop your line through the hole and into the water.
Sure, it would be possible to venture out to the lakes around Helsinki by yourself, but unless you’re experienced it’s a far better idea to go with a reputable company with experienced guides to avoid the risk of falling through thin ice, or, potentially just as bad, getting lost.
Perch, trout and rainbow trout are the most common catches in this part of the world, and you can hot smoke them on site after your fishing lesson. Delicious.
Time to head back home for a hot bath and change of clothes? Don’t count on it.
As if the whole experience isn’t quite cold enough already, the Finns have a crazy tradition of jumping into the ice fishing hole for a blood-freezing swim. They’re convinced it’s good for you. As reasonably sane people, we’re not so sure.
Do it: A trip with Fishing Lords costs £311 for up to five people, and includes the loan of all the fishing gear you need, rubber boots and hot drinks.
Dog sledding, Sweden
If you really want to get a feel for a traditional way to journey through the snow, forget fancy shoes and the noisy snowmobiles.
Instead, arrange a session learning how to drive a team of huskies – there’s a bit more to it than yelling, “Mush, mush,” at the dogs and hoping for the best.
In Idre Fjäll, near the Swedish border with Norway, you get to drive teams that include a range of dogs bred specifically for this job, such as tough Alaskan huskies, Siberian huskies known for their stamina and Greenland dogs, which are as strong as they are cute.
A typical dog sledding trip includes an introductory session, where you get to pet the dogs and become familiar with them, after which you get a quick lesson in how to drive and harness the team.
Then it’s time to race through the snowy forests and slopes behind your furry friends, before bringing them back to the base camp for a well-deserved feed and a goodbye cuddle.
Do it: Adventure Dreams runs reasonably priced husky driving tours that range from a few hours’ introductory session to full-blown week-long trips that also include camping out in the snow (go on, be brave).
Prices start from £51pp for a two-hour dog sled tour.