Think “winter fun” is an oxymoron? Try out these four awe-inspiring activities and then try to tell us you’re still a warm-weather person.
Forget all those other wimpy seasons: Winter is here, and we should be thrilled about that. After all, what other time of year tests our mettle, snaps us out of our mild nine-month slumber and shows us who we really are like this one?
Are you still with us? Did you buy our little winter sales pitch, or were you busy online shopping for a heated windshield scraper and looking into flights to the Caribbean? Before you hit the “buy” button, read on. What follows are four thrilling winter activities in four very cool (or numbingly cold, in at least one case) spots that we honestly wouldn’t trade for a year’s worth of Julys. Will any of the following game changers warm your view of this season? You bet your gas bill.
WHIZ HEADFIRST DOWN AN OLYMPIC ICE TRACK IN UTAH
Winter Olympians benefit from years of training to experience stuff that the rest of us can only gape at vicariously from a Barcalounger. Nordic jumping. Halfpipe Double McTwist 1260. Scoring an overtime goal against Slovenia. Maybe we’ll give all of these things a whirl in another lifetime. But for now, there is one chillingly awesome Winter Olympics activity that you don’t need overachieving-amateur-athlete status to try for yourself: the skeleton. Yes, it turns out this underappreciated sport — in which participants blast down a frictionless surface atop an undersized sled with their chins three inches from a blur of hard ice — is actually open to skeleton dabblers on select Fridays and Saturdays at Park City’s Utah Olympic Park.
In Utah, you can learn skeleton technique on a Winter Olympics track
“It’s an adrenaline rush like you’ve never felt, and it’s better than a roller coaster — you’re the one doing the driving,” says Cassie Revelli, a five-year U.S. Skeleton Team member and the coordinator of a new Olympic Park program that lets visitors test out the official winter games track. “Skeleton doesn’t get much mainstream coverage, so this program has really been designed to help familiarize people with what it’s all about and to give them a thrilling little taste.”
The two-hour program begins with an orientation of Utah Olympic Park’s 1,335-meter skeleton track (the same one used for the luge and bobsledding events) and a briefing on the history of the sport. Proper skeleton technique is discussed — everything from good foot position and proper weight shifting to the importance of breathing.
“Seriously,” Revelli says. “People forget to breathe when they’re doing this.”
Helmets — along with shoulder pads and elbow pads — are donned, a little last-minute advice is dispensed (“a little pressure on the runners is all it takes”), and you’re off. Your solo slide starts at Curve 11, about three-fourths of the way down the track. It lasts just under a minute and reaches speeds of 45 mph. “People have this fear of going headfirst,” Revelli says, “but once they relax, they can really get the hang of it in one or two rides.”
Want more? Enroll in a multiday skeleton school at the facility. Or try the Bobsled “Comet” ride — an 80-mph, three-passenger, 5G journey from the top of the track that’s manned by a certified bobsled pilot. www.olyparks.com
CLIMB A FROZEN WATERFALL IN NEW HAMPSHIRE’S WHITE MOUNTAINS
When it’s winter in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley, it’s winter. Not the mild, damp version. Not the cold-but-arid variety. We’re talking about the snow-swirling, window-cracking, toe-freezing, hot-buttered-rum–swilling, icicle-on-the-beard–forming, Robert Frost kind. One other thing about winter in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley (home of the White Mountains’ Presidential Range and the highest recorded wind speed in the U.S. — 231 mph, at the top of Mount Washington in 1934): It may be the best place between Patagonia and the North Pole to give ice climbing a whirl.
back east, make your way up a frozen waterfall in New Hampshire.
“It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s filled with gorgeous ice-covered cliffs and waterfalls that freeze right up — basically your ideal ice-climbing conditions,” says Sara Reeder, who works as a guide with Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS), a New England–based outdoor retailer that also runs one of the oldest climbing schools in the country.
So just how leery should your average winter-novelty seeker be about stepping into a pair of rental crampons, shouldering an ice ax and spidering up a glassy blue wall in subzero temperatures? Well, that’s a personal decision, but know this: Ice climbing isn’t just for that crazy guy hanging for his life on a National Geographic cover. If you’re in shape and want to try it, you’re eligible.
Ice climbing in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley
“A good [number] of our ice-climbing sessions are with total beginners,” says Reeder, who points to a pair of one-day EMS courses, “Winter Climbing 101” and “Ice Climbing 201,” as a popular combo package covering the essentials of ice climbing before safely testing your footwork and belay skills with a certified pro on the area’s steeper slopes and frozen waterfalls.
“I was surprised that I was able to do it,” says Frank Morrison, an EMS client who booked his first ice-climbing session at age 62. Three years later, he’s logged more than a dozen ice climbs in the Mount Washington Valley area, including a clamber up the nearly 200-foot Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch State Park. “The colors and the sounds and the views are just exquisite,” he notes, emphasizing that he’d never consider doing this without a solid, reputable guide. “It’ll humble you pretty quickly, but in spite of the hard-core image, it’s doable — and fun.” www.emsclimb.com