Top Winter Activities: More Than Skiing
When we think about winter activities, skiing and snowboarding are inevitably the first things that spring to mind. But for those who don’t ski, there’s lots more to look forward to in winter. Here are some top off-piste things to do when the snow falls and the nights get longer.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com
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There is something so very festive about al fresco ice skating – maybe it’s the rosy cheeks of the skaters or the promise of mulled wine to follow. Perhaps it’s the romance of holding hands (even if your motive is purely to stay upright).
During December, temporary ice rinks pop up all over the place in cities throughout the UK and Europe, featuring Christmas trees, sparkling lights and music. Somerset House’s aptly named ice rink, Skate, is one of the most popular and picturesque in London and Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens ice rink is set right next to the annual German Market.
Once the Christmas season has passed, head to some countries that take their skating more seriously: Finland floods its outdoor areas to create thousands of rinks throughout the country, whilst Moscow has 11 outdoor rinks in the city, including one of the largest in Europe at Gorky Park.
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Dogsledding is one of the most fun things to do in winter. Hop on your sled and let your excitable team of huskies whisk you through a wintery world – whether that’s in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland or even the US or Canada.
You can embark on either a one-day dogsledding trip to get a flavour of the traditional mode of transport and hunting, or choose a longer trip. A tour lasting three days or so will allow you to learn about the interactions between the pack, get to know the dogs, and give you the chance to feed and look after the animals.
If you don’t fancy taking the reins, there are dogsledding races you can watch. Norway holds two such events, including the world’s largest race, Femundløpet, which is held in the town of Røros and takes place in February.
Northern Lights Chasing
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One of the upsides of the nights getting darker and longer is the visibility of one of nature’s greatest spectacles: the Northern Lights. This unearthly phenomenon is in its final stage of strong and frequent activity, with the Aurora due to start fading over the next decade – so there has never been a better time to head north over the winter.
Although you can see the Northern Lights in all the Arctic regions, it’s also possible to see them in Scotland and even further south in Europe during particularly strong displays and on clear nights. However, these dancing ribbons that illuminate dark and icy nights can be elusive – cloud cover can occur at any time, when even the strongest activity will be shielded from view.
Top tip: stay at a remote hotel that has an ‘Aurora alarm’. They will call your room when the Northern Lights are out, which means you can avoid a long and cold wait through the night for a display that might only last a couple of minutes.
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Snowmobiling is particularly popular in the United States and Canada, where there are countless options for the sport. These places have proper trails with maps and signposts, so you can easily enjoy the winter landscape.
Like a quad bike with skis, there are several types of snowmobiles, from a beginners’ model to mountain snowmobiles. You don’t need a licence to ride, but it is usually recommended that you take a safety lesson first and always wear a helmet.
The northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland are popular European destinations for snowmobiling ‘safaris’ or tours: proving to be an adventurous and thrilling experience.
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Something that will suit most fitness levels and ages, snowshoeing brings hiking to the winter agenda. Many ski resorts offer snowshoeing for non-skiers or those seeking a break from the slopes, but you can also go on specific snowshoeing tours.
Snowshoes are large, flat shoes that distribute the weight of a person across a larger area, meaning you don’t sink straight into the snow when walking. The heel is loose, which makes it easier to move, and the only other equipment you’ll need is a pair of walking poles for balance; one of the attractions of snowshoeing is the lack of skill required.
Some slightly off-the-beaten-track destinations, such as Romania, Albania and Bulgaria, are interesting places to go snowshoeing. Alternatively, you could stick to the more popular areas such as the Alps and the Pyrenees – because you don’t need to ski to enjoy the après-ski fun.