Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
When the ski and snowboarding season kicks off and all your pals head for the high country, what is there to do if you don't ski? Or don't want to?

Don't get left behind this time. Try these five weird, wacky and wonderful winter activities for travelers to enjoy the frigid weather.
Winter Wonderland in Whitefish

The great Northwestern state of Montana has it all—rivers, lakes, mountains and plains—which increases your chances for fun in every season, even if you aren't interested in traditional outdoor activities. From February 5–7, 2010, at the Whitefish Mountain Resort, the Winter Carnival ignites with a Torchlight Parade and elaborate fireworks displays—right on the icy slopes of the ski lodge.

Food is being served while activities abound for all folks ranging from ski bums to those hoping simply to enjoy the season from the cozy vantage point of a massive leather armchair beside the fireplace. There will be a Yeti Snow Skate, parade and dances, plus the "Penguin Plunge," a voluntary charitable dive into the icy depths of Whitefish Lake to benefit the Special Olympics. The festival is free and open to all ages—and for those snowmen and snowladies 21 years of age and older, there will be hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps served while you enjoy the festival.

Mushing It, Scandinavian Style

You've probably heard of long-haul mushing with snow dogs in Alaska, but what about the same concept with a single horse and a lone skier? The somewhat cultish winter sport known as "skijoring" (pronounced SKEE-yuring)—a Scandinavian term meaning "ski driving"—was originally an efficient way to travel in the winter, but now it's nothing short of an action-packed, winter wonderland joy ride.

Various types of skijoring are fairly popular. The skier can drive the horse himself, or a horseback rider can guide the horse at full speed with the skier in tow. And some prefer skijoring with a dog or two. Either way, you're guaranteed pure shots of adrenaline, even if you're only watching.  

Get more winter sports ideas from Peter Greenberg

Leave it to the Swiss to take this sport seriously—but the hard-core cowboys and girls of Colorado aren't far behind, complicating skijoring by adding ramps, jumps, a clock to beat and rings to catch. In short, you simply must see this to believe it, so try Leadville, Colorado's annual skijoring competition, which takes place about 30 miles from Vail and is next scheduled for March 6–7, 2010. You'll see die-hard skijorers and their trusty steeds race and jump—right down the snow-packed streets.

Catch a (Frozen) Wave

Another equally fast-paced alternative to skijoring is snow-kayaking. It's very simple. Instead of sliding down those hills packed with fresh snow in a sled or toboggan, grab your ocean or river kayak and let 'er rip!

The kayak works the same way as a sled, but the paddle allows for more control, especially when used as a rudder or as a means of carving into your turns. Snow kayakers wax their rigs just like surfboards for the fastest shot down the slopes, reaching speeds upward of 40 m.p.h. We'll let you come up with ingenious ways to heft your kayak up the hill before you whiz down it.

Don't ski? Don't let that stop your winter vacation plans

Because snow-kayaking is considered an "extreme" sport, hardly any ski resorts offer rentals. However, one of the best places for observing or competing in the sport is Monarch Mountain Resort, just off Highway 50 in Monarch, Colorado. The infamous Kayaks on Snow Boater X, featured annually at Monarch since 2006, is the resort's signature event. Competitors race down an obstacle course with jumps, bumps, berms and turns, just to be launched on the final slope into an icy pond. The event will next take place on April 3, 2010. If you're feeling that winter spirit or are encouraged by the $5,000 in prize money for winners, give Monarch a call to register in a number of snow kayak races at 800-996-7669 (ext. 5050).

Old-School Snowshoeing

Turns out those antique, seal sinew and whale blubber snowshoes mounted on the cabin wall offer a great alternative to traditional downhill skiing. Modern snowshoes are easy to wear, lightweight and help you walk easily atop snowfall, and they're usually available to rent at your local outdoor store. The sport is a great activity for anyone looking to keep in shape through the winter months, with snowshoers burning on average 600 calories per hour.

If you're looking for snowshoeing in the Western states, try South Lake Tahoe's historic Camp Richardson Resort, which features hundreds of acres of specially marked trails for snowshoers of all levels, plus on-site rentals at the Mountain Sports Center. You'll get the chance to snowshoe right on the banks of Lake Tahoe, and kids 12 and under get a free trail pass.

For folks on the eastern seaboard, try New York's Garnet Hill Lodge and Resort in the Adirondack Mountains. Known for its well-groomed snowshoeing trails for beginners and experts, Garnet Hill Resort offers snowshoe rentals, cross-country skiing, hiking and even dogsledding. Keep in mind that between Thanksgiving and April these otherwise immaculate trails are usually hidden beneath 125 inches (!) of snowfall, so plan to do your winter sports here earlier in the season to avoid losing your vacation to inclement weather.

Winter spa time
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
Kick Back and Relax

After exerting yourself in the great outdoors, consider taking a much-deserved dip in your ski lodge spa. Many ski resorts nowadays offer immaculate, world-class guest services in addition to black diamond ski runs. For example, the Lodge at Vail, Colorado, features a sauna, steam rooms and whirlpools, plus 11 types of specialized treatments tailored to whatever your aching bones might require. Remember, frozen barflies and gondola squatters deserve love too.

For a more authentically rustic experience, Western Washington's Carson Mineral Hot Springs Spa and Resort in Carson, north of Stevenson in the Carson River Valley, should do the trick. Founded in 1897, the Resort began as the St. Martin's Hotel—a secret spot for travelers navigating the Wind River to soak up the mineral water goodness during their journey.

Accommodations and spa rates are very reasonable, but the destination is fairly remote, which means the golf course is still being manicured. Be prepared to walk through the early 20th century bathhouse and simmer in the mineral waters instead—it's what Carson does best.

Read more travel advice from Peter Greenberg


Next Story