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Alternative winter sports: There are many ways to tackle a mountain

Zip-wire, snowshoe or Snooc? From the Alps to the Rockies and beyond, here are some alternatives to skis

Alternative winter sports: There are many ways to tackle a mountain
Snowshoeing. Image: Getty

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Climb the North Face of the Eiger, Switzerland

There’s no getting away from it. If the rope snaps, I’m a goner. This was pretty much all I could think about as my guide, Beat (pronounced ‘Bay-art’), slowly let the rope slip through his fingers to lower me over the side of an almost 13,150ft mountain. Located in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, the Eiger’s reputation causes even hardcore climbers to go weak at the knees. Lined up alongside its Alpine siblings, the Jungfrau and Monch, this monolith of ice, rock and snow has seen many perish in their attempts to climb.

Soap-slippery ice walls and frequently-falling rocks make the North Face especially treacherous. Traditionally, the closest us mortals get is the viewing platform at the top, accessible via a 25-minute train ride from the village of Kleine Scheidegg; from here you can sit and sip a latte while contemplating the stupidity of those daft enough to try climbing it. Now, however, Beat and his colleagues at Eiger Vision can escort you out onto the mountainside.

Having shuffled off the train halfway up, I huddled with my group against the tunnel’s limestone flanks, where Beat’s chief piece of advice was to ditch our sunglasses: “there’s no sun on the North Face of the Eiger…” Seconds later we shuffle through the tunnel, emerging onto a precarious snow shelf halfway up the Rote Fluh — a notorious cliff wall about twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. Viewed from the valley earlier that morning, it had appeared little more than a fist-sized dimple in the north face’s entirety — such is the vastness of this giant.

Yet once I settled my backside into the safety harness, I felt sufficiently confident to sneak a peek over my shoulder. Spread out before me like a Google Maps close-up, were petrol-blue lakes, the view extending for about 50 miles. As beautiful as it may have been, I wasn’t sorry when the time came for Beat to winch me back to safety.

Eiger Vision offers excursions for £2,422pp, based on groups of 5-15 people. jungfrau.ch

Dog-sledding, Bjorkliden, Sweden

When you’re over 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle, dog-sleds are one of the most effective ways to get around. On a two-hour trip into Abisko National Park you’ll glide along centuries-old trails, with extra time to meet the puppies when you finish. From SEK1,495 (£136) per adult, SEK695 (£63) per child (four years up).

Snowshoeing, Banff National Park, Canada

At the aptly-named Sunshine Village, about 45 minutes from Banff itself, you can follow in the footsteps of fur traders and trappers, on a guided tramp through ancient forest trails. Daily tours depart Banff at 12.15pm (or from Sunshine Village at 1pm), costing C$79 (£47)pp.

Zip-lining, Ischgl, Austria

Proof you don’t have to stick to the slopes to scare yourself silly: the zip-lines from the Silvretta gondola reaches speeds of over 50mph while almost skimming the trees for just over a mile. Having arrived in the valley almost 1,000ft below, you’ll need a moment to catch your breath. €35 (£31) per adult; €25 (£22) per child (aged 17 and under).

Ride a Snooc, Le Grand-Bornand, France

Ridiculous name, great fun: one of the newest snow sport gadgets, a Snooc can be strapped together to form a pair of skis and quickly transformed into a toboggan to cruise downslope. It’s seriously addictive. A two-hour lesson starts at £26. legrandbornand.com

Fat biking, Lake Tahoe, California

When it comes to mountain biking, it’s no longer a case of ‘snow stops play’. With oversized tyres and lower pressures, these muscular trail bashers are built for making fresh tracks. The Tahoe town of Truckee is surrounded by trails to suit all riders. A 6-10 mile ride costs $90 (£70)pp.

Ice fishing, Whistler, Canada

Surrounded by rivers and alpine lakes, Whistler’s waters teem with rainbow trout and other treasures. Take a day trip to learn how to cut an ice hole, and settle back for your catch — starting at C$239 (£143)pp.

Published in the Winter Sports 2017 guide, distributed with the October 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)