The winter can be a tough time for non-skiers, especially if you are a climber, cyclist or a trail runner—one of those athletes whose sports heavy snow tends to interfere with.
If you dread your usual outdoor playground disappearing under the white stuff, take a gander at this collection of quirky winter-fun alternatives to skiing or boarding. You never know; winter may just turn out to be your new favorite season.
For those who love team sports
Ice skating is hard. Playing hockey is harder. If you don’t have it in to you to master either, take a cue from our northerly neighbors and find yourself a broomball league. Similar to hockey, this Canadian-originated sport pits two teams against one another on an ice rink. But, instead of wearing ice skates, players wear regular street shoes. Instead of a puck, they swat around a ball. And instead of traditional hockey sticks, they use broomsticks or, less traditionally, sticks with broom-like heads.
For the young at heart
News flash: sledding isn’t just for kids anymore! This grownups’ rendition is named for the traditional plastic, bomber “Swiss Bob” sleds with handles that work best for this sport. Groomed ski mountains (that permit uphill traffic before or after regular ski hours) are the perfect venue. Strap your sled to your back and hike or run up the groomed slope in boots or running shoes outfitted with traction devices. At the top—the most ambitious Swiss Bobbers may hike for an hour or more to reach the pinnacle of the ski area—take a seat on your sled and let it rip all the way back down.
Use your feet to steer and brake, and don’t forget your waterproof pants!
For extreme adventure seekers
Ice climbing is the perfect sport for rock climbers looking to extend their season without relying on an indoor climbing gym.
The equipment is a good deal more intense than traditional rock climbing—mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes and other ice tools are necessary, in addition to the usual gear—and learning from a pro is pretty much a must. But once you get the hang of it, there’s little that matches the exhilaration of scaling a frozen waterfall.
A great place to dip your toes in the proverbial (er, literal) ice is at western Colorado’s Ouray Ice Park, one of the world’s premier, free, public ice-climbing venues.
For fitness buffs
There are two types of cross-country skiing: classic (traditional Nordic) and skate. Classic is more common and easier to learn, but skate is gaining momentum—and for good reason. It’s faster than classic Nordic skiing, and once you get the technique down, an unbelievable cardio workout. The New York Times described it as graceful and “even a bit sexy, something its buttoned-up older brother has never been accused of.”
Skate skiing involves shorter skis, longer poles and, as its name suggests, a skating, “V-stride” motion across a groomed, corduroy snow track. Learn more through the Cross-Country Ski Areas Association.
For endurance athletes
If you fancy a little backcountry exploration with a gentler learning curve than cross-country skiing, snowshoe running might be just the ticket for you. Snowshoes help you stay afloat in deep, soft snow, so you won’t be stuck running roads or only packed trails through the winter.
Running snowshoes are lighter, shorter and slightly narrower than traditional hiking snowshoes, which allows for more of a running motion without looking like a bow-legged cowboy. The winter world is your oyster.
For a race calendar, visit the US Snowshoe Association website.
For cycling enthusiasts
Not ready to hang your helmet come winter? Just as fat skis have revolutionized downhill skiing by offering extra float on soft powder, “fat bikes” are revolutionizing winter for cyclists. The bikes’ oversized, knobby tires let you maneuver easily on snow—and sand as well, for that matter.
Many outdoor shops in mountain towns now offer fat-bike rentals or tours as a way to experience the trails year-round from your bike saddle. Or, check with your local Nordic skiing area—sometimes bikes may be permitted on these trails, too. Those with superhuman lung capacity have been known to ride up and down groomed ski slopes after hours—again, only at ski areas that permit uphill traffic.
For dog lovers
Want all the fun of cross-country skiing without all that cardio effort? Better call Fido over. In this Norwegian sport that’s gaining popularity in the U.S., a person on cross-country skis is pulled chariot-style by a dog (or horse) across a snowy trail or racecourse. Generally speaking, most dogs over 30 pounds are skijor-material. As for you, traditional cross-country skiing skills are a prerequisite.