After nearly 50 years of living around mountains, I thought I knew how to enjoy the winter. I’ve gone skiing, skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tobogganing, sleigh riding, dog-sledding and more.
But until this winter, I’d never heard of bumper cars on a skating rink. And it wasn’t until recently that I had my first chance to carve turns down a ski hill on a snowbike.
It’s part of a trend to provide visitors to ski resorts and other snowy destinations with a wider variety of choices, said Troy Hawks, managing editor of the National Ski Areas Association Journal.
“What we’re seeing is a larger swath of the family — you’ve got the grandkids all the way to the grandparents — and all of them have their idea of how they want to spend their day,” he said.
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Some activities are more popular in certain regions — not all have come to the Pacific Northwest just yet — and some aren’t well advertised, so for a different spin on a snow-destination vacation, here are some things to look for:
These massive, inflatable air bags are placed at the bottom of jumps to allow skiers and boarders to try flips and spins. Nail the landing on your feet and you ride off down the hill. Fail, and you have a soft landing; see bagjump.com or bigairbag.com.
Washington’s Crystal Mountain ski resort has an air bag at the bottom of the Gold Hills chairlift. Two jumps for $5; crystalmountainresort.com/Activities/airbag.
Bumper cars on ice
Just what it sounds like, these are turning up at skating rinks from coast to coast. The battery-operated “cars” are large rubber tubes with molded seats that can hold one adult or an adult and small child. Controlled by two joysticks, they are easy to steer or spin as they bump along on wheels with tiny cleats. Most rinks have age, height or weight restrictions. (On the West Coast, look for them at Iceland skating rink in Van Nuys, Calif.)
The opportunity for intermediate and advanced skiers to take the first runs in the morning before the slopes open to the public is an option at more resorts. Some, like Northstar in California, require skiers to stay with a guide; others, like Aspen, Colo., include a gourmet breakfast. Steamboat Springs, Colo., has been experimenting with multiple day First Track passes, some of which can be shared among buddies.
In Washington, Crystal Mountain ski resort offers a First Tracks Breakfast that includes early boarding of the gondola, breakfast at the Summit House Restaurant and the chance to make the first tracks in new snow in Green Valley ($36, plus lift fees; see crystalmountainresort.com/Activities/First-Tracks). Also check out the Fresh Tracks Mountain Top Breakfast (at the Roundhouse Lodge) at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia (see whistlerblackcomb.com and search for “fresh tracks”).
From the Norwegian word meaning “ski driving,” skijoring is still primarily the stuff of winter carnivals and cowboy competitions. But some places, like the adult-only Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont., offer guests the chance to see what it’s like to be pulled on Alpine skis behind a horse. Other resorts, like Eden Mountain Lodge in Eden Mills, Vt., and Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colo., work with experienced skiers and their own dogs to learn what it’s like to go mushing on Nordic skis. There’s a Washington Skijor group; see groups.yahoo.com/group/waskijor.
These massive ice castles are formed by thousands and thousands of icicles. A series of pathways take visitors through ice columns, tunnels, caverns and archways. Introduced last year in Silverthorne, Colo., the castles were being built this winter in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
Bicycles that ride on skis, rather than wheels, have been around in various forms for decades, but now they have the blessing of some ski resorts, which rent the bikes and offer instruction. Smaller skis clip to your ski boots, helping with balance and maneuvering. The bikes can be taken on the chairlifts to access a variety of terrain; more information at www.snowbike.info. Hoodoo Ski Area, near Sisters, Ore., is touted by some as the capital of U.S. snowbiking, with rentals and lessons available: hoodoo.com/snowbiking.
A high-tech spin on winter tubing, these snow body boards are inflatable sleds with molded plastic runners on the bottom and handles on the top. The sleds can reach speeds of 60 mph or more (nearly 100 kilometers per hour), and users steer by shifting their body weight. They’re offered at some ski areas (though banned at others) as well as through some private operators; www.airboard.com has a partial list of rental locations. Oregon’s Hoodoo Ski Area has a few of these for rent on a limited basis, with lessons required, along with Sugar Bowl Resort, North Tahoe, Calif.
Snowkiting or kite boarding is a cousin to ocean kite surfing. For the winter version, an experienced, fearless skier or snowboarder is harnessed to a kite and uses wind power to propel him- or herself. An extreme sport, it requires strength and an understanding of wind patterns. Lessons are recommended.
In Washington, a popular spot for snowkiting is snowy Keechelus Lake, just east of Snoqualmie Pass. For more information, see the Puget Sound Kiteboarding Association website, http://pskite.org, and search for “snowkiting.” The Prairie Blowout Rally (PBR) is a snowkiting event Feb. 22-24 in Fairfield, Idaho. Also check out Idaho Kitesports at idahokitesports.com.
Brian J. Cantwell, Seattle Times Outdoors editor, contributed to this report.