15 winter sports you need to try (that aren’t skiing)
Look, we get it. The weather outside is frightful; hot choc and Netflix’s autoplay feature are so delightful. But you don’t have to spend the entire cosy season curled up indoors. There’s a whole weird and wonderful world of winter sports out there just waiting to be explored.
So, grab your thermos, start limbering up and check out our ultimate winter sports list, with the best travel destinations to try them out for yourself…
When everything is blanketed in thick snow you’d usually rule out hiking. But, grab a pair of snowshoes and you can step into a world of wintry possibilities. Once a crucial form of transportation, snowshoeing is now an increasingly popular way to traverse snowy landscapes. The best part is: you don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive equipment. Snowshoeing gear is pretty affordable. A $50 pair of shoes, some warm clothing and a dash of determination are all you need to get stuck in.
There are plenty of snowshoe packages that let you explore landscapes in groups before bunking down in a cosy lodge. But for us, the best place for a snowshoeing vacation is the majestic Austrian Tyrol – particularly Hohe Tauern National Park – where snowshoe trails wind through alpine hills and mountain huts up to Austria’s tallest peak, Grossglockner. Bring your binoculars and you’ll be able to spot ibex and even eagles if you’re lucky. Plus, you can leave enormous footprints in the snow and pretend you’re Bigfoot.
14. Snow polo
What is snow polo? Well, it’s essentially the Swiss take on regular polo, which means the added sprinkle of natural beauty, lots of cold weather and even more cold, hard cash. The sport was born in the affluent town of St Moritz in Switzerland, which hosted the first snow polo tournament in 1985. Taking place on a frozen lake, the St Moritz Snow Polo World Cup attracts the upper crust from across the world, who wear flamboyant furs, sleep in VIP tents and sip champagne as they watch riders compete on the sweeping snowfields. Dreamy.
Biathlons are arguably the most gruelling of winter adventure sports. The Olympic Biathlon mixes cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. This requires a mix of physical endurance and psychological precision. It’s essentially a long-distance race, where missed shots result in time added on to the contestant’s clock. The real challenge is keeping your thumping heart rate steady enough to hit the tiny targets!
If you want to get involved, you can find plenty of cross country skiing and target shooting clubs to start practising. Though predominantly a winter sport, biathlon training happens throughout the year with roller skis and tarmac, particularly on cycle tracks, so getting involved isn’t as tricky as you’d think.
12. Fat biking
Don’t let all that snow get in the way of some good old-fashioned cycling. With the right tyres, ‘fat tyres’, to be precise, you can glide over winter terrains with ease (while pulling off the Xtreme Sportz aesthetic you aspired to achieve when you were 14). Originating in America as a reaction to Alaska’s harsh landscapes, fat biking has become hugely popular in Europe, as a means of exploring mountain biking trails that would usually be inaccessible in the winter.
From the French Alps to Geilo in Norway, winter fat bike tours will let you explore snow-capped bike trails. Our favourite place to go fat biking is in Tuscany, where you can wind through charming villages, past medieval castles and into soaring valleys. Then maybe stuff yourself with pasta and Florentine steak afterwards. It is called fat biking, after all.
11. Ice boating
Ice boating is similar to sailing, except your boat is fitted with skis that are designed to run over ice instead of water. As you can imagine, flat, slick ice is a much easier surface to contend with than rolling waves. That can mean only one thing: serious speed. The wooden ice boats of the 19th century – designed with traditional sailing equipment – achieved speeds which were then the fastest ever attained by any vehicle. Today, they can reach four times the speed of the wind propelling them, which can mean up to 140 miles an hour!
Looking to get in on the action? The biggest ice boating destination in the world is Poland, particularly the lake district of Mazury, with its sprawling frozen reservoirs and furious winds. It’s not the most accessible or cheap sport in the world, but it is one of the most thrilling.
Hiking not extreme enough for you? You should try some winter mountaineering. Mountaineering is a pretty broad term, but usually involves conquering all sorts of different terrains like rock, ice and snow. It often requires technical winter hiking gear to help you scramble, climb and walk your way to the summit.
Hiking in snow is tricky enough, but when you add climbing to the mix you’re facing a pretty intense workout. So, start small with some of Britain’s more hilly haunts. Then upgrade to some of its iconic winter hiking trails up Glencoe and Ben Nevis. Up for a bigger challenge? Why not try some Himilayan trails, or maybe even Kilimanjairo?
Curling is a pretty strange winter Olympic sport that involves sliding large stones towards a target, while your team sweeps the path in front of it with brooms like intense housekeepers.There’s a surprising amount of tactical nuance going on with friction, angles and arcs – giving curling its nickname: chess on ice.
Curling is actually one of the world’s oldest team sports, originating in 16th-century Scotland where locals curled stones on the frozen lochs of Stirling and Perth. Check out the Try Curling website if you’re looking to get involved.
8. Winter segway rides
We know what you’re thinking: winter terrains and segways don’t seem like the best match. But the tech has come a long way in recent years. With their chunky tires, the rugged X2 models can take you off-road with ease.
So, where’s the best place to take a winter segway tour? Well, one of our favourite winter wonderlands has to be Japan (we even have a ski trip there). If you’re looking to explore some natural beauty at a more leisurely pace, winter segwaying is a great way to glide through those dreamy watercolour landscapes.
7. Shovel racing
Snow shovel racing is about as insane and dangerous as you’d imagine from a sport that involves barrelling down icy hills on shovels sounds. Shovel racing was invented in New Mexico in the 1970s, and it has developed some pretty serious credentials since. It was even featured in the Winter X Games in 1997, but sadly a huge crash injured a competitor so severely, the whole thing was chalked down to a failed experiment.
Snow shovel culture is a weird world, in which riders ‘pimp’ their shovels with ridiculous modifications. This includes roll cages – which makes sense considering they can reach speeds of up to 73 mph.
Yep, being pulled along on skis at breakneck speeds by dogs or horses is a thing. It’s called ‘skijoring’, and though it may not be an Olympic sport, it’s a pretty brilliant one. It’s a relaxed endeavour (compared to say, snow shovel racing) in which the main objective is to work harmoniously with your skijoring husky (actually often Alaskan Malamutes).
As the name suggests, Skijoring originated in Scandinavia, but surprisingly, the most popular place to try it for yourself is North America. Here, it’s tied to cowboy culture, so they use horses instead of dogs.
5. Dog sledding
Dog sledding is an ancient practice that relies on energetic packs of huskies to pull sleds through wintry landscapes. It is thought to originate in Alaska, where American-Indian cultures pulled great loads with the help of their dogs.
Today, dog sled racing is a popular sport in the Arctic regions of America and Europe, in which teams of sled dogs compete in pulling their ‘musher’ (dog driver) the fastest.
There aren’t many experiences more thrilling than surging a snowmobile through snowy forests. Snowmobiling is a pretty serious hobby to some, but we recommend choosing a spectacular travel destination and trying out some snowmobile rentals.
Some of the best snow for snowmobiling can be found in Yellowstone National Park. In fact, this sprawling landscape is probably the snowmobiling capital of the world. Here you can zip through the Horse Butte Trail, trace the winding shores of Hebgen Lake and enjoy spectacular mountain scenery at extreme speeds.
3. Ice racing
Ice racing is a sport which involves driving cars, motorbikes or 4x4s on snowy race tracks and frozen lakes. Yes, driving cars on frozen lakes. While that may sound terrifying, event organisers have ice measurement down to an exact science, and though you may get a sinking feeling as the ice shifts beneath your wheels, it’s actually a surprisingly safe sport.
Compared to other motor sports or extreme racing, ice racing is pretty affordable, too. Grab yourself a set of snow tires and fix them onto your road car and you’re pretty much good to go. Once you’ve got your vehicle ice-ready, check out the AMEC which holds events on the lakes of Adirondack Park in New York.
Given its current popularity, snowboarding is actually a surprisingly recent sport. It was developed in the USA in the 1960s and added to the Winter Olympics in 1998. Unless you’re already a skateboarding pro, it’s not easy to learn how to snowboard. Buuuut it’s an enthralling winter sport once you get the hang of it.
Bored of skiing and want to get involved? Whether you’re a beginner or a master of snowboarding techniques, check out our Powder Rush Canadian adventure. This one lets you carve up the slopes of Whistler, explore Vancouver and glide through the spectacular Rocky Mountains with your very own snowboarding crew.
1. Ice skating
Ice skating was invented by the Finnish more than 4,000 years ago, and remains one of the most effortlessly festive winter sports you can do. When the holiday season arrives, so does a flurry of public ice skating rinks, where people of all ages get together to do their best Bambi impressions, surrounded by snowy parks or historic buildings.
Plus, it’s one of the most affordable winter sports. Our favourite rink – the Winter Wonderland in Edinburgh’s Street Gardens – is just £5-£12.50 per session. If you want to experience it at it’s best, you need to visit during the city’s legendary Hogmanay New Year’s Eve celebration, where you can twirl around on the ice as marchers with flaming torches light up the night and fireworks sparkle atop Edinburgh castle. For this, you’ll need a street party ticket – or you can take our Hogmanay New Year trip and get your skates on with your Contiki party crew.