Perhaps the last thing you want to do when it’s cold outside is …go outside. But these fun and funky cold-weather sports and activities are sure to get your heart racing, your blood pumping – and maybe even freeze a smile on your face.
River kayaking, meet high-octane sledding. In this wintry version of the popular hobby, instead of the force of the water flow powering you forward, gravity does the work. It’s your job to steer the kayak much like you would on the water, using a paddle to avoid obstacles like trees and the occasional rock. Beginners will want to stick with wide pistes, but once you’ve honed your skills, take to wild slopes that offer challenging tree slaloms and opportunities to catch some big air. While few ski resorts allow this rather extreme winter sport at the moment, it’s most commonly seen in mountainous regions of Europe and North America – think Austria, Estonia, Colorado and the like.
Like water skiing but on snow with cross-country skis and propelled by dogs, this sport is said to have originated in Norway (derived from the Norwegian term skikjøring meaning “ski driving”). It’s practiced as both a recreational pastime and a competitive sport, sometimes using one dog, sometimes several; more speed-hungry skijorers might even use horses, with or without a rider. Try it in just about any snowbound wintry destination, from Scandinavia to Alaska and Ontario.
When the golf course is covered in snow and ice, Canadians don’t pack up their clubs and head home – they say “Challenge accepted.” A variation of the beloved summer sport, snow golf is much like regular golf, with a few differences: White balls are traded for colourful ones, so as not to blend in with the “whites” (snow golf speak for “greens”); players often wear snowshoes or skis; and, obviously, the course is blanketed in ice or snow – packed down to create a hard surface – altering the overall physics of the game. Usually played at high altitudes, the ball flies better in the thin air and doesn’t bounce on landing, so even seasoned summer players need to adjust to the different dynamics. Snow golf is a popular winter activity in Canada, and is also played in the US and Europe, most notably in Switzerland and the French Alps.
Kite surfing is all the rage right now – and this is its lesser-known cold-blooded cousin. Adrenaline junkies bored of the usual snow sports on offer just need to grab their snowboard (or skis), add a power kite and hit the snow. The principles are similar to those of kite surfing, with surfers using the kite to execute impressive jumps, propel themselves up and across slopes, or cover long distances. However, the sport can take a turn for the hazardous very quickly, so even the most experienced power kite user should exercise caution. Quickly gaining in popularity, snowkiting can be done in many traditional winter sports regions across Europe, Canada and the US.
Traditionally a summer activity, rafting takes on a more enchanting quality in the peaceful still of winter. It might sound hardcore, but oftentimes rafting companies offering winter excursions stick to Class III waters or slower to give rafters a bit of thrill, but also a leisurely gaze at the winter wonderland surrounding them – and to ensure no one tips overboard into icy waters. Try Hokkaido Experience in Niseko, Japan; Big Bear Adventures in Michigan, USA; and Rafting New Zealand on the Tongariro River during a southern hemisphere winter.
Epic Snowball Battle
This is not always for the faint of heart – or the easily bruised – but can be a fun bonding experience between friends and family. When the snow starts to fall, organise a giant snowball fight with your friends or neighbours, or with the family who’s gathered for the holidays, setting up ground rules (no rocks in snowballs, obviously, but also no throwing hard at close range, no hand-to-body contact, etc.) and allowing each side to accumulate an arsenal of snowballs. To really up your game, build igloo forts beforehand – great for carrying out missile strikes on the enemy without taking any hits yourself. And don’t forget to delegate someone to hot chocolate duty: You’ll want a warm mug to help you thaw out after the battle.
There is in fact a world championship for shovel racing (there’s a world championship for everything), but you don’t have to be a pro to take part in this impromptu sport – all you need is a snowy hill and a shovel big enough for your bum. Can also be done with a wok.
No snow? Just grab some ice! Ice blocking approximates the experience of sledding for those who live in places with little or no snow to speak of. Just hit the ground running with your ice block under your belly or bum, hang on tight and enjoy the ride! Ice blocks will spin more than a sled or other downhill equipment, so you’ll want to get the hang of steering it. Find more tips and safety advice here.
Polar Bear Swim
Your winter bucket list doesn’t have to be restricted to land. So-called Polar Bear Swims – usually organised events in which hundreds of people jump into a large body of water in the dead of winter – have gained popularity the world over. From Busan, Korea to Vancouver, Dublin and New York, you can take a breathless dip with fellow daredevils just about anywhere in the world, often to raise funds for a good cause. Eat your heart out, ice bucket challenge.
For more family-friendly frozen fun, with less potential injuries, why not take the kids to the local ice-skating rink? Whether you’re a triple-axel-turning ice whizz or a complete rookie who can barely stay on your feet, ice skating is a classic pastime that guarantees laughs for the whole family. Novices who are nervous to hit the ice can take some pointers from the video below.
Article by Jessica Keller
Are you up to try some fun winter activities?