No Resort Necessary: 6 Wild Winter Adventures
With winter well underway, cold weather sports are kicking into high gear, and many people are prepping themselves and their equipment for the slopes. However, if ski lift lines and rental fees are starting feel a little stale, shake up your normal winter sports routine with one of these unusual snow season adventures:
1. Snow kiting: Though challenging to do, snow kiting is pretty much what it sounds like: participants strap on skis or snowboards, hold on tight to a foil or inflatable kite, and fly across snow or ice. Like most snow sports, snow kiting requires a bit of a learning curve. Beginners can learn the basics at outdoor sports schools all over the country.
2. Wolf Watching in Yellowstone: Though park-approved guides offer wildlife watching excursions year-round, winter is one of the best seasons to track wolves in Yellowstone. Interested parties can arrange custom one- and two-day trips with an experienced wildlife biologist, or join the group at organized catered retreats.
3. Ski Biking: Like snow kiting, ski biking has a simple premise and complicated execution. A number of U.S. resorts are now open to those who hit the slopes on bicycles sporting skis instead of wheels. In Colorado, Winter Park Resort even offers guided night ski biking trips. Though many basic maneuvers will be familiar to those who've skied or ridden bicycles, beginners should think about taking a class or two before braving the mountain. Before forgoing lessons entirely, think for a moment about how you might take your bicycle on a ski lift, and then evaluate your confidence level. That being said, some enthusiasts swear it's just like riding a bike.
4. Geocaching: In many places, the GPS-enabled treasure hunts are abandoned during the winter months. If the cache you seek is buried in snow and ice, the fun was over before it begun. But for the passionate, winter just adds a new challenge. Wisconsin is home to the geocaching capital of the Midwest, the town of West Bend and the reported 1,200 caches hidden within a 10-mile radius of the city. Many of these are considered "winter-friendly," meaning they should be accessible to seekers regardless of ice and snow. The town is full of well-maintained trails, so strap on your skis or snowshoes and start searching.
5. Winter Mountaineering Clinic: Die-hard hikers can expand their season into the winter months with a winter mountaineering course designed to hone their outdoor skills. In California, SWS Mountain Guides teaches participants the basics of winter climbing, camping, rescue, and survival skills. Snowshoers, hikers, climbers, skiers, and snow boarders are all welcome, provided they're up to the challenge, which culminates in an attempt to scale Lassen Peak. Find a similar course near you, and sign up while you can — SWS says the course is the most popular they offer, and already seats are scarce.
6. Ice Diving: Back in the Midwest again, test your mettle with an ice dive in one of the country's frozen lakes. Divers suit up, slide through a hole in the ice, and watch the small circle of light recede as they sink deep into the freezing waters. Needless to say, this one isn't for the faint of heart, nor the reckless. The sport is a dangerous one, and again, beginners should seek out instruction before taking the plunge. If you're committed enough to make it under the ice, the 40-60 feet of visibility is said to be well worth the frigid temperature.
— Images via iStockPhoto/Xseon and JOETEX1