When the weather turns cold, and the landscape becomes covered in snow and ice, it opens up opportunities for enjoying a variety of winter sports and activities. From classic options like downhill skiing and ice skating to more intense pursuits like snowmobiling and ice climbing, there are plenty of fun ways to stay active during the winter. This guide covers some of the most popular winter sports and activities that you can enjoy during the chilly months of the year. Is it snow in Seattle? This allows for prime conditions to participate in winter recreations even in typically warmer climates.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding are classic cold-weather sports that involve sliding down snow-covered slopes on skis or a snowboard. Most skiing and snowboarding take place at specialized mountain resorts that have groomed trails and runs ranging from easy to extremely difficult. Lift tickets allow you to access ski lifts that you ride up the mountain and slopes. There are now over 400 ski resorts just in the United States thanks to abundant snow in many northern states as well as mountainous areas out west. Some top destinations include resorts in Vermont, Colorado, Utah and California. Most resorts also have extensive offerings when it comes to equipment rentals, ski/snowboard instruction and dining options on the slopes.
While downhill skiing focuses on sliding down mountains, cross-country skiing involves gliding over and across relatively flat snowy terrain using skinnier skis with “waxless” bottoms. Trails are specially groomed for cross-country skiing at certain mountain resorts and public parks. It provides more of an endurance cardio workout that emphasizes the use of your arms, shoulders, abdomen, and back muscles. Some find it more accessible than traditional downhill skiing thanks to its easier learning curve. Locations known for extensive cross-country skiing networks include mountain towns in Vermont, Washington, Oregon and Canada. Many cross-country ski areas now offer equipment rentals and group or private lessons for beginners.
From outdoor public skating rinks to indoor arenas, ice skating is a classic winter activity for people of all ages and skill levels. Special ice skates with steel blades allow you to glide across smooth ice surfaces. Most indoor skating rinks offer open public skating sessions along with skate rentals. There are also lots of opportunities for outdoor ice skating at temporary ice rinks and ponds set up in public parks and town centres when conditions allow. It’s important to take proper safety precautions when skating outdoors on frozen ponds or lakes. Popular spots include New York City’s Rockefeller Center, locations in downtown Boston and Chicago and Ottawa’s famous Rideau Canal in Canada. Beyond recreational skating, you can also find lots of opportunities to participate in or watch competitive figure skating, speed skating and hockey at local venues.
One of the simplest winter activities to enjoy is sledding down snow-covered hills. All you need is an area with enough elevation change to pick up some speed and a plastic sled, inner tube, saucer or similar device to slide on. Local parks, golf courses and ski hills often allow sledding on certain hills or slopes. Simply climb or walk back up the hill with your sled and slide down again. There are no special skills or equipment required beyond warm winter clothing, but it still provides thrills thanks to the speed you can pick up sliding down hills. Some popular sledding hills even allow you to hook your tube or sled up to rope tow lines so you don’t have to walk back up each time. Keep in mind that sledding hills without dedicated supervision can pose certain safety concerns. Use caution, follow posted rules and make sure not to slide around other recreationists.
Snowshoeing and Winter Hiking
Avid hikers who still want to enjoy the outdoors during colder months often turn to snowshoeing. Special snowshoes basically act like tennis rackets for your feet, allowing you to walk across heavy snow without sinking too deep into it. Snowshoeing has surged in popularity in recent years as the equipment becomes more lightweight and easier to use even for beginners. It allows you to access snowy trails and landscapes that might be covered by several feet of snow. Snowshoeing trails are set up within certain cross-country skiing networks and at local parks. Rental shops and guided tours are also increasingly available if you want to give it a try for the first time. Even without snowshoes, winter hiking is also popular within parks and natural areas that get lots of snowfall but still maintain certain ploughed trails. Just be sure to have proper insulated boots and clothing to stay warm and dry.
Hard water fishing, more commonly known as ice fishing, involves fishing through holes cut into frozen lakes and ponds. It’s popular in northern climates that experience thick ice on inland bodies of water during winter months. Specialized equipment like ice augers, ice fishing rods and insulated shelters allow anglers to comfortably fish through the ice in weather that can be well below freezing. Common catches include trout, walleye, panfish, northern pike and bass, depending on location and habitat. Local bait and tackle shops can advise you on prime destinations and techniques. Sheltered shelters with heaters, seats and holes pre-drilled into the ice provide even more comfort. Permanent ice-fishing villages set up solely for the purpose of the sport make it super convenient for casual anglers and families to drop in and try their luck. Ice thickness and conditions do require diligent monitoring for safety. Many locales hold popular organized ice fishing tournaments when ice reaches safe depths.
Mushing is a term used for the sport of dog sledding behind well-trained teams of sled dogs. Outfitters across northern snowy regions offer visitors opportunities to experience short dog sled rides or multi-day adventures across picturesque winter terrain. Skilled mushers drive the dog sleds while guests take in views of snow-capped landscapes, forests and frozen lakes from the bundled-up comfort of sled baskets. Popular dog sledding destinations include Alaska, Northern Canada, Northern Europe and upper Midwestern states. Rides allow you to enjoy bonding with the enthusiastic sled dogs, taking in views far from roads or trails often inaccessible by other winter transportation and observing experienced mushers in action guiding their racing teams. Some locations even host annual sled dog races across vast wilderness trails that last multiple days through extreme weather and terrain.
Ski jumping involves athletes speeding down long steep slopes and launching themselves into the air to achieve long distances before making a landing on downward downward-angled hill. Ski jump facilities have specially constructed in-runs, takeoff ramps and landing zones filled with groomed snow. Famous annual competitions include Germany’s Vierschanzentournee (Four Hill Tournament) and Norway’s Raw Air ski festival. The best ski jumpers in the world can fly over the equivalent of an American football field off the end of a ski jump, thanks to their speed and aerodynamic jump position. Aspiring ski jumpers can start training on smaller hills as young as 6 or 7 before progressing to larger jumps. While recreational ski jumping opportunities are limited, you may be able to take lessons and eventually work you way up to smaller competition jumps at select training centres. FIS-approved competition hills require lots of space and specialized construction.
Snowmobiling involves riding specialized motorized snow vehicles, typically in groups, on snow-covered trails and open terrain. Also referred to as sledding, trail riding opportunities for snowmobiles continue to expand across the northern United States, Canada, Scandinavia and mountain regions farther south. Some areas allow snowmobiling alongside cross-country ski trails, while other regions have extensive dedicated snowmobile-only trail networks spanning thousands of miles. Tracks left by snowmobiles also allow for snowshoeing and fat tyre biking during winter months. Snowmobile models range from small 300cc machines designed just for single riders to large touring models built to pull passengers in sleds or trailers over long distances. Guided snowmobile tours take larger groups into scenic forested areas and mountain terrain typically inaccessible during warmer months. Safety precautions are important given the speed and open terrain covered by snowmobiling. Most areas require participants to wear helmets and avoid alcohol consumption. This site provides up-to-date snow cover forecasts to help plan safe snowmobile outings.
From this quick guide, you get a sense of the diversity of winter sports and activities popular across snowy regions. Even just focusing on a few top options gives you plenty of ways to take advantage of the unique conditions winter weather allows. Just be sure to have the proper gear and take necessary safety precautions before heading out to enjoy snow and ice-based recreation!