Zipping down the slopes is fine – but how about ice diving, speed riding or husky sledding? We seek out some alternative winter sports
In the early 1970s, British children would gather around the TV to stare, goggle-eyed, at the antics of a city-dwelling gentleman called Mr Benn. The bowler-hatted character had a mate who ran a fancy-dress shop, and whenever Mr Benn tried on a new outfit and slipped out of the changing room’s side door, he was instantly transformed into a world befitting his current attire.
If he was wearing a loincloth, he would suddenly find himself in a jungle. Is that an astronaut suit?
Then welcome to space. Luckily, the episode where Mr Benn tried on some pantyhose was never aired, but who among us hasn’t wished that we, too, could pop on some cold-weather gear, say, and step right into our own wintry adventure.
Well actually, we can. – maybe not in Mr Benn’s blink of an eye, but with Ryanair you’re never more than a few sweet hours away from sub-zero paradise.
Check out www.footloosetours.com for some great winter holiday packages.
If you really want to push up the adrenalin factor, try this one in the nude.
Just kidding – you’d die quicker than a prairie dog on a Mexican highway. For this insane adventure, you’re properly suited up and covered in waterproof kit from head to toe, which is vital when you’re slipping into water that’s just a fraction above freezing.
Assorted holes have been poked into the ice on a frozen lake, where you enter a world that dive instructor Alban Michon describes as “extraordinary”. He starts off by telling us all about the mind-blowing sights created by the light and ice, then scares the pants off us by telling us we can also have a go at night!
€75 a day, or €95 for night dive.
For more details, visit www.tignesplongee.com
We had to triple check this to make sure we weren’t dreaming, but it’s true – you really can go dog-sledding in the Pyrenees, the Alps’ less-famous French cousin. On the magnificent Plateau de Beille, one of the top crosscountry ski regions for miles around, a company called Angaka runs an adventure base from which its husky packs can take you on the sort of adventure we thought you had to be in Lapland to do.
You’ll find Angaka in the Ariège region, neighbouring Andorra, and once you’ve done the doggy bit they’ll also lead you out to build your own igloo, should your inner eskimo so demand it.
From €53 for a 45-minute Sledge Ride (with about 12 dogs).
For more details, visit www.angaka.free.fr
Perhaps best described as falling down a hill with style, speed riding is barely four years old and was born in the Alps at this very resort. Frenchman François Bon, a cheerful speed-freak who conceived the sport with a few like-minded mates, reckons it is more exhilarating than both skiing and paragliding – the two activities it combines.
This is thanks to the incredible amount of freedom it gives you as you shoot down the slopes. “When you start out, there is a lot more snow than air,” says François. “But when you get better you can really experience something totally new.” Which is basically the chance to hurtle down a mountain, skiing on the fluffiest, whitest bits, then flying over the nasty parts such as rocks, trees and wandering St Bernards. To see how François does it, type “Eiger speed ride” into YouTube when you get home.
About €190 for a two-day course.
For more details, visit www.speedriding-school.com
While the thought of hurtling down a 5km toboggan run may bring to mind images of lost teeth, hospitals and a sorry shake of the head from the man at the insurance company, this is actually one for all the family.
That’s not to say this out-in-themiddle- of-nowhere adventure is a gentle descent that would bore Grandma – far from it – but the way the 5m-wide run has been cut means you’re unlikely to do yourself serious mischief if (sorry, when) you come off. Preda sits at the peak of the Albula Pass, 1,800m above sea level, so expect a little dizziness as you set off – and a lot more when you see a sign that says “Warning: fast run for 300m”.
You’ll do about 40km/h here, but you’ll still probably be going slower than most of the kids!
Sledge hire in town, chf8 (€5); single run, chf14 (€9); one-day pass, chf34 (€22).
It’s not often that your tutor on an adventure holiday is a national champion – usually, it’s a chirpy Australian with a worrying set of scars – but in this case two-time International Snowmobile Champion Pawel Maslanka could be the man with the clipboard.
Either way, your instructor will be a top Polish snowmobile pro when you turn up at Mount Radziejowa to let rip on a petrol-powered beast that will make you weak at the knees. You’re not just monkeying about on your machine though, you’ll be soaking up the sights and sounds of the wondrous Carpathian Mountains, along the border with Slovakia.
The mountains are a bit remote, so the organisers, a company called Wierchy, advise a two-night stopover. Wierchy provides tailor-made trips (minimum 10 people).
Tel: +48 124 291 482, www.wierchy.pt
You may be wondering what on earth sitting around a little hole on a frozen lake has to do with high-octane kicks – what we neglected to include in our headline were two very important words: “for salmon”.
As Doug Steele at www.arcticdiscovery.com explains: “Fishing for salmon is often seen as pretty exclusive, but up in northern Sweden, Lapland, call it what you will, anyone can do it and there’s some wonderful fishing.” The chap who’ll escort you, Rob, has rights to a frozen stretch of the river Lule, right where it meets a dam.
What that means to the fisherman is that the salmon have gone as far as they can go, they’re usually pretty mature, and there are plenty of them. “A fish of 15kg is not uncommon,” says Doug. And thanks to your comically titchy ice rod, you’ll feel every ounce of fishy fury.
SEK500 (€50), including tackle, rod and one-day licence.
For more details, visit www.arcticdiscovery.com
Rumour has it that Rudyard Kipling first came up with the idea of playing golf on ice when he was living in Vermont in the 1890s – we’d have been more convinced had he somehow written a Mowgli adventure around it in The Jungle Book.
Still, ice golf is surging in popularity in cold spots, and here on Lake Weissensee – which famously freezes over on 25 November every year – you can even compete in the annual ice-golf competition. Nine holes will hold your attention for a happy hour or two, and according to Arno Kronhofer at the Weissensee tourist office: “Before and after the competition, the ice-golf is completely free.” Nice, that… Competition entry,
€92. Visit www.weissensee.com