Winter holidays aren’t just about skiing. There are SO many more winter activities you can sample when you’re at a ski resort, or a snowy destination. I’ve taken some advice from top travel bloggers on the best things to try if you want a break from the piste. So grab a hot chocolate, curl up and have read about some different ways to enjoy yourself in the snow. And if you’re planning on spending Christmas at a ski resort this year, check out our tips and hacks.
Ice skating’s a good option for people who’d rather not go the whole hog. You don’t need quite so much kit for ice skating as you do for skiing. Forget salopettes and goggles; instead, all you need is your warm winter woollies and some skates. Lots of ski resorts have ice rinks, which are usually floodlit in the evening, for a warm-down after the slopes. And, if you’re not a fan of heights, ice skating’s a good way to get that whizzy feeling.
Last year was our first family trip to an ice rink. We went to the Tower of London, where the children used penguins to help them around the rink, and a bar served hot chocolate and gluwein to take off the chill. The children are already clamouring for a repeat session this season.
Fatbiking on snow
Gretta Schifano from Mums do travel says:
My bike keeled over onto the snow, again. I laughed, picked myself up and got back on. This was challenging but fun – and I was very glad to be wearing a helmet and padded ski gear. I was in the French Alps, and this was my first taste of fatbiking. Fat bikes have wide tyres so that they can be ridden on soft terrain such as snow and mud. Mine had a heavy frame and also an electric motor, which made it easy to ride uphill on the road to the top of the snowy piste.
Cycling down the piste, my approach was to go very slowly, using the back brake, but this meant that each time the bike found a groove in the snow, it got stuck and slid over. Despite the tumbles, I really enjoyed my introduction to fat biking and would definitely try it again – I’d try to speed up a bit next time though!
Nichola from Globalmouse Travels says:
There’s something about taking a reindeer ride which is unlike any other activity. There’s a quiet and calmness about it, the sound of hooves gently cushioned by the snow, slight panting, the creaking of the sledge as it turns and slides. It’s the perfect way to get around, slowly gliding through the trees, huddled in the back under blankets and hides. It’s not the fastest way to travel but that’s part of its appeal, it’s the perfect way to really see your surroundings, to take them in and enjoy them.
We’ve been lucky enough to take reindeer rides in the daytime as well as at night and while I love both the nighttime version is the ultimate in cosy, wintertime activities – seeing the moon appear between towering trees while resting in the sledge. The reindeer sledge rides we enjoyed were all in Finnish Lapland, with the colourfully dressed Sami guides leading us and pouring hot berry juice at intervals. What could be more perfect for a winter activity?
Ok, so this is skiing – but it’s very different to the Alpine, or downhill version. Cross-country, or Nordic skiing, began in Scandinavia over 5000 years ago. It’s a technique used to traverse land that is often flat, and sometimes wooded. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there are fewer hills than with Alpine skiing. This type of skiing is reckoned to be more difficult for beginners. With cross-country skiing, the skis are much more narrow, and your heels move in and out of the ski bindings. There’s a lot less control.
I tried out cross-country skiing at Myrkdalen ski resort, in Voss, west Norway. I only had an hour, so I didn’t make it off the practice run into the resort’s ski tracks through snow-laden trees. It was tough. When I hit a shallow incline, it felt as though I was trying to balance precariously on cocktail sticks, wearing slippery trainers. I fell over. A lot. But after two hours, I began to find my balance. Apparently, the intermediate level of Nordic skiing’s much easier than the downhill version.
I’m hoping to try it again soon, to test that out….
You can see a little video of my efforts here (this was after an hour of practising….)
Nisbah from Five Adventurers says:
Lapland is synonymous with everything Christmas but there is so much more to do and see. The one experience which truly stole my heart was snowmobiling. Leaving the main resort area, you are suddenly in midst of the Lappish wilderness. Everywhere we looked the trees were dusted with snow and it looked like a scene from Narnia. As we drove through the countryside everything looked truly otherworldly.
We did the snowmobile experience as part our Winter escape to Lapland. The snowmobiles were really easy to control but for someone who is new to winter activities I would recommend to do the activity alongside others in case you experience any issues (or get lost as lots of the area looks the same). Unlike the other winter activities we were really able to get our much further and see lots more of the stunning scenery. Visiting in January, despite the tour starting at 10, we were able to experience the sunrise from the snowmobiles and it was truly a sight to behold. The snowmobiles are fab for those seeking something a little out of the norm of winter activities and it was a real adrenaline rush having the wind sweep through your face as you drove out into the sunrise.
Kirsty from Family Adventure Project says:
In the French Alps last year we tried Paret Sledging. As the skiers went home we grabbed traditional wooden sledges and headed up on the last lift of the day. At the top of the mountain in La Rosiere the peak of Mont Blanc was starting to blush pink as our instructor briefed us on the simple technique of steering ourselves down the mountain at dusk; a technique children from days gone by would have used to get home from school across the fields.
The lift closed and the mountain hushed but we had no respect for its silence as we squealed our way haphazardly down the lumps and bumps left by skiers, finding and losing our feet in the snow. I still remember the spray on my face, the relief when we arrived at the bottom as dark properly fell and the snow ploughs heading up to wipe our tracks. As we warmed our hands on hot chocolate and Gluhwein and the kids swapped tales of pirouetting on parets leaving parents far behind it was already as though we were never there.
Find somewhere unique to stay
Emma from Bavarian Sojourn says:
A day high in the mountains is special, whether you choose to spend the daylight hours skiing, snowboarding, soaking up the sun, or simply revelling in the magnificence of it all. But, what’s it like once the masses have departed, the last ski lift has closed for the day, and you find yourself at the top of the Zugspitze (Germany’s tallest mountain) waiting to watch the sun go down before spending the night in an Iglu hotel? It’s completely magical – and unlike anything we have done as a family before. Briefed on what to expect before our adventure (and what to do in case of an avalanche!), we felt well prepared for our adventure before spending next few hours night sledging, chatting to our fellow guests over a fondue dinner (and a couple of schnapps of course!), and star gazing under the clearest skies before it was time for bed.
Having been issued with the fattest Arctic sleeping bags, we all slept really soundly and our beautiful hand carved ice chamber wasn’t nearly as cold as we were expecting (all the rooms have a different theme, you can take a sneaky peak at the others when you first arrive!), before being woken with warm alpine tea and breakfast the following morning. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this experience for really young children, ours enjoyed every minute (apart from perhaps the trip to the ice loo in the middle of the night). The Iglu Dorf has expanded since we visited, and you can now spend the night in eight locations across Switzerland, Germany and Andorra… What are you waiting for? Not everyone can say they’ve spent the night in an Iglu!
Back Road Ramblers say:
Snowshoeing is a fabulous winter activity for families – you don’t need any special skills and unlike skiing, there is very little risk. Snowshoeing gives you the ability to get off the beaten path and travel where skiers can’t. It’s a slow sport, which means you can travel at a pace that works for your family, and you can bring along your camera and a thermos of tea. Despite the easy pace, snowshoeing is amazing exercise, keeping you toasty warm on the coldest of days. Many ski resorts rent snowshoes for families who want to take a day off the slopes.
When snowshoeing with small kids, I recommend starting on flat terrain so they can get used to trudging through the snow. If you are trying to cover a good distance, bring along a plastic sled to pull your kiddos when they get tired. Hiking up hills is hard work, and a sled will make it fun on the way back down. Be sure to stop and play when your kids need a break – walking in the woods is peaceful and beautiful, but it’s not always an exciting adventure. Make time to throw snowballs or build a snowman. You will remember these winter days forever and so will your kids.
Wandering Wagars says:
We love our winter holidays. There is no better way to shake off the winter blues than to get outside and get active. So, while visiting Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Northern Canada, we jumped at the chance to join the award-winning dog-sled team at Beck’s Kennel for an opportunity to rip around some frozen lakes pulled by a team of friendly, excited, and very energetic huskies.
Dog sledding is a ton of fun, and it can be as active, or relaxing as you want it to be. While my kids were happy to sit under blankets in the sled and take in the view, my wife and I had the chance to mush, chase and steer the dog-team during our 45-minute journey. Dog-sledding is a blast. The animals are bred to run, and getting out on the trails is their favorite thing. But it’s not all fun and games. Dog-sledding means spending some time untangling pups as they jump over each other, breaking up dog-arguments and of course, smelling dog-farts. But it’s still the most fun you can have on 20 legs and a pair of skis!
Journey Wonders says:
Even though hiking in the Winter is definitely harder than hiking in the Summer (you will definitely burn way more calories just trying to get out of the snow!!!), Switzerland offers many marked trails that can make this Winter hike an unforgettable one.
My favorite region for Winter hikes in Switzerland is the Bernese Oberland Alpine region which includes Interlaken, the best town in Switzerland for outdoor adventures, as well as the incredible Schilthorn Piz Gloria where 007’s On Her Majesty Secret Service was filmed.
Is hiking too hard for you? Worry not because Switzerland has many cable cars and funiculars for those who still want to enjoy breathtaking views without risking exhaustion. Sure, they are VERY pricey but the views are definitely worth it my wonder friends!
Sample festive beverages
There’s something about winter and alcohol that just goes together. Regardless of which winter destination you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll have the opportunity to sample some festive alcoholic beverages.
Many countries have their own winter drinks. Russia has Sbiten and American has Eggnogg. In Sweden they drink Glögg, while Germany has glühwein. Everywhere that doesn’t have its own winter drink has glühwein, of course, but go to Germany if you want to taste it made perfectly.
Some drinks, although not specifically made for winter, just taste better in winter. There’s no better time to come to Scotland and sample whisky than during the height of winter, for example. The same goes for Port in Porto or Ginjinha in Lisbon. Both just taste better against the backdrop of a cold winter’s night.
While there are obviously more noble priorities for visiting a place during winter, it’s a great opportunity to sample food and drink that you mightn’t get to try during the rest of the year.
What are your favourite snowy winter activities?
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