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Top 7: Winter sports

Whether you’re heading out on a fat bike or being propelled by a snowkite, there’s more to winter sports these days than mere skiing and snowboarding

Top 7: Winter sports
The 47th Engadin Skimarathon, Switzerland. Image: Michael Buholzer/Exodus/swiss-image.ch

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Snowkiting, USA
A combination of skiing, snowboarding and kite-flying, snowkiting hit the headlines after the Polar Trekking team N2i used the method to reach the Antarctic pole. These days, it’s known as a niche sport with a rapidly growing fan base and a thrilling competition circuit.

According to two-time North American Snowkite Tour Champion Tyler Brown — who runs the Sierra Snowkite Center in California’s Sugar Bowl Resort — it’s easier than kitesurfing on water, with children as young as seven able to progress to jumps in the first week. “If you’ve experienced skiing or snowboarding you can be moving in just two hours and off on your own in around four hours, whereas with kitesurfing it’s more like four days,” says Tyler. Keen to promote the sport, he charges a flat fee of $350 (£226)for a day’s tuition but won’t charge you more if it takes you longer to learn the ropes.

No hills are required, just light winds of around 10-20mph to keep the kite in the air — which, Tyler claims, means the sport is less dangerous. “I’ve reached speeds of around 60mph but you can go as fast or as slow as you like. Accidents are rare because we have such wide open spaces and light winds. It’s far safer than downhill skiing, too. The wind isn’t going to lift you off the ground and, while you may see advanced jumpers soar 40 feet in the air, you’d first need to learn how
to jump.”
Details: $75 (£48) for a taster session; $350 (£226) to learn. sierrasnowkite.com

Yoga on the slopes, St Moritz, Switzerland
Forget the snowplough — skiers in St Moritz are instead being taught how to do the warrior pose and sun salutation at altitude. The world’s first yoga piste opened on Corviglia’s Paradiso piste, fittingly known as the ‘chill out slope’. Snowsport instructor and Hatha-Vinyasa yoga teacher Sabrina Nussbaum has chosen four scenic sites or ‘quiet zones’ just off the red slope, where skiers can breathe deeply and strike their best poses. Visit independently or book a half day (three hours) or full day with Sabrina, who uses yogic principles to help guests improve their technique in between asanas.
Details: Booked via the Suvretta Snowsports School, prices cost from CHF 510 (£355) per day and can be split between a group (minimum three people). suvretta-sports.ch/en

Cat skiing, North America
For those who want to carve fresh tracks through the powder but can’t justify the cost of hopping into a helicopter, cat skiing — which sees snowmobiles used to transport skiers — is a far more affordable option. Technological advancements mean snow cats are now better climbers, able to access steeper gradients and offer a smoother, quieter ride (and yes, they’re also heated). Red Mountain Resort in BC, Canada, has introduced a cat shuttle that swifly transports intermediate skiers up to the peak of Mt. Kirkup, providing access to approximately 200 acres of gladed tree skiing and a vertical drop of 1,600 feet for just CN$10 (£5) a run. Seats are sold on a first come, first served basis. Utah’s Powder Mountain offers a similar single-ride cat skiing service that takes participants to the top of Lightning Ridge with access to over 700 acres of challenging pristine powder snow and an impressive 2,100 feet vertical drop for just $18 (£11.50). Meanwhile, resorts such as Park City also offer a day’s cat skiing where you can enjoy repeat runs covered in untracked powder and epic panoramas.
Details: Single runs from CN$10 (£5). Day Cat trips from around US$459 (£295). redresort.com powdermountain.com pccats.com

Fat biking, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italian Dolomites. Image: Giacomo Pompanin

Fat biking, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italian Dolomites. Image: Giacomo Pompanin

Fat biking, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italian Dolomites
They may not be speedy, but fatties — essentially bikes with giant tyres — are catching on. Their appeal lies in the fact that they offer access to stunning off-piste areas and enable cyclists to burn up to 1,500 calories an hour.

With low-pressure tyres up to 4.8 inches wide (nearly double that of mountain bikes), the wheels have good grip on snow and ice. It’s harder than it initially looks, though, and beginners can expect to sweat as they pedal furiously uphill — before hurtling downhill and landing in a deep clump of refreshing snow.

While the sport is already popular stateside, it’s beginning to gain traction in Europe, particularly in Italian resorts. Cortina is currently enjoying its second fat biking season, with two excellent downhill slopes on offer. Hut-to-hut itineraries and night runs are also available here, giving cyclists the chance to stop for a bite to eat or sleep in cosy mountain refuges scattered across the peaks.
Details: Rental costs €35 (£25) for a full day, €25 (£18) for a half day. Cycle independently or hire a guide for €100 (£72). cortina.dolomiti.org

Freestyle snowboarding, Espace Killy, France
Essentially the performing of tricks on a snowboard, freestyle boarding has become so popular that most resorts now have a snowpark with rails, boxes, kickers and half-pipes.

Freestyle boarders tend to use shorter, lighter and sometimes wider and more flexible snowboards, which make mid-air manoeuvres easier — and they’re also more forgiving on landing if something goes wrong.

If you’re keen to learn serious tricks, a growing number of resorts, such as Tignes in south-eastern France, are installing BigAirBags. A Dutch invention, these inflatable pillows are similar to the giant fall cushions used by professional stuntmen and will help you nail that front flip or double-cork.

With epic park riding and the infamous Tignes superpipe, the Espace Killy region has fast become Europe’s freestyle mecca and Val d’Isere is offering a week-long Freestyle Snowboard Course in 2016 (20th-27th March). Bookable through Ticket to Ride, the course caters to all abilities. Giving both beginners and more advanced boarders the chance to learn and develop spins and slides, the course will boost confidence and let your true riding style and expression develop.
Details: Val d’Isere’s Freestyle Snowboard Course is priced from £595 including transfers, self catering accommodation, lift pass, 16 hours of coaching, equipment, clinics and video analysis. tickettoridegroup.com

Snowshoeing, France and Bosnia
One of the fastest growing snowsports in the world, snowshoeing is perfect for those who want to amble along above the tree line, enjoying the fresh air — but there are also more difficult treks on offer for adventurers who want something a bit more challenging. Responsible Travel now offers over 20 snowshoe combination holidays in countries including France, Iceland, Romania and Canada. For complete beginners, the company recommends a week in an auberge in the French alpine valley of Champolion, snowshoeing through the pristine winter wilderness. Travellers looking for a more testing adventure can head to Sarajevo, the host city of the 1984 Winter Olympics, to snowshoe through the remote mountain ranges featuring pine forests, crystal-clear streams, glacial lakes, frozen waterfalls and snow-covered summits.
Details: Snowshoeing in the French Alps from £722 (eight days) excluding flights; Bosnia snowshoeing holiday from £949 (eight days) including flights. responsibletravel.com

Cross-country skiing, Europe-wide
This low impact sport is another that’s quickly growing in popularity. Not only do you get to escape the crowds and enjoy the quiet of the mountains, it’s also kind on knees. Cross-country skiing seems to particularly appeal to those keen on improving their fitness.

If you’d like to give it a go, plan a trip to Engadin, Switzerland, in March 2016 to take part in one of the largest ski races in Europe, where over 13,000 participants will be picking up a well-deserved medal at the finish line.

English Ski Council coach Eric Woolley offers participants a five-day practice holiday comprising cross-country skiing along the groomed tracts of the Engadin valley. Woolley aims to ensure all skiers are confident come race day and that they’ve tried out each section of the 42km course.
Details: Engadin Skimarathon, £1,549 per person for eight days including flights. exodus.co.uk


Published in the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)