What’s your winter sport of choice? Whether you’re into skiing, ice skating, snowboarding or sledding there’s THE perfect destination in the world to hone your skills. And whether you fancy trying ski jumping, snowmobiling or even the luge for the first time, there’s a perfect spot somewhere in the world for that too;
Not all ski resorts and destinations cater to beginners. Newcomers to alpine skiing may find themselves on tricky slopes without proper instruction. Breckenridge Ski resort in Colorado, however, has an entire park geared towards helping new skiers build their confidence on gentle slopes along with more challenging terrain for the veterans. On the other side of the Atlantic, Vallandry in France has a ski school with English-speaking instructors and the Les Arcs resort in Savoie has nursery slopes that make learning to ski easy on beginners. Those in search of alpine skiing’s more peaceful cross-country cousin can find it in Winthrop, Washington. There are more than 120 miles of maintained trails and more than a million acres of wilderness for cross country skiers to explore around Winthrop.
There are hundreds of adventurous ski destinations across the world from the usual favourites of France, Austria, Italy and the US, to the more unusual spots such as Lesotho in South Africa to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. There’s a ski slope out there to suit all ages, ski travel budgets and abilities!
Beginning snowboarders can build their skills and confidence in Breckenridge’s segregated beginner’s areas, which feature ample room for them to learn. They can then move onto any of the other terrain parks (25 acres in total) to exercise their newfound abilities. Breckenridge offers a 14ft halfpipe and a 22ft one. Experienced snowboarders can also visit Squaw Valley which is best known as one of the most challenging places to ski in the US; expert snowboarders will find that they have their work cut out for them here as well. The slopes are steep and there are 100ft jumps to tackle, making Squaw an essential destination for anyone who wants to get a reputation as an “extreme” snowboarder.
The Canadian capital of Ottawa is the home to the world’s longest natural skating rink in the Rideau Canal Skateway. The Skateway is almost five miles long and runs through Ottawa’s center, making it one of the world’s top destinations for ice-skaters. Historic ski resort, Sun Valley in Idaho is better known for skiing but also has a large outdoor rink for those who prefer ice to powder.
Winter vacationers who want to go sledding or snow-tubing will find that they have many options and that they can participate in the activity in a large number of places across the country. Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin is among the better options. Cascade Mountain’s park has five 800ft chutes for sledding/tubing. While a location like New York City may not be widely considered a winter destination, visitors can go sledding in a number of places throughout the city, including several hills in Central park and slopes in Riverside Park. There are also dog sledding adventures to be had, where a team of husky dogs pull your sled along. Dog sledding is popular in northern Europe and Canada.
Harris Hill near Brattleboro in Vermont is considered one of the best places in the US to ski jump and is home to its own established sporting event: the annual Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition that has been held there for the last 90 years. The jump is built in compliance with International ski federation guidelines. Expert ski jumpers visiting Europe can try out the Holmenkollen Ski Jump in Oslo, Norway. It is built of steel and concrete and is designed for use by serious athletes.
Those interested in the luge can participate or watch in one of the World’s historic winter sports capitals, Innsbruck in Austria. The park at the Utah Olympic Oval also hosts luge events and activities and those interested in learning how to luge can attend luge clinics at the Muskegon State Park in Michigan.
The Petit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a world class facility for speed skating along with curling and other indoor winter sports. It is a training site for Olympic athletes and it is open to the public. The Utah Olympic Oval is another adventure speed skating facility that is open for public skating in the fall and winter months and is located in Park City, Utah.
Those in Florida for the winter can get in some time on the beach as well as on the ice with Coral Springs’ Incredible Ice which has rinks for figure skating as well as hockey. The Incredible Iceplex is also the official training facility for the Florida Panthers, but is also open to the public. For those further north, both of the skating facilities at the Utah Olympic Oval and the Petit Center in Milwaukee offer daily ice sessions and classes for figure skating.
Wintersports explained for beginners
Skiing – Long runners – skis – are attached to your boots or shoes to travel across the surface of snow
Snowboarding – Created in the US in the 60s, one board is attached to your boots to ride down snow slopes
Ice Skating – Sturdy leather boots with a thin metal blade attached to the bottom to skate on the surface of ice
Sledding – Also known as sledging or tobogganing, on a wooden or plastic sledge/sled – children can also be spotted in winter using a kitchen tray to slide down hills in their neighborhood!
Ski jumping – Skiing off ramps to jump and land at distance
Luge – A sled designed for one or two people which lay face up and control the route with their shoulders and calves
Speed skating – Competitive skating in a race
Figure skating – Teams or individuals perform elaborate jumps, spins and footwork on ice skates
Bobsled – Also called bobsleigh, teams of four or two race at speed down a special ice tunnel against the clock
Snowmobiling – Super-sleds on tracks and with an engine designed to travel over snow and ice at speed
Skeleton - Singles ride on sleds down a designated track whilst laying down
The adrenaline rush of the four-man bobsled is available to those who visit Lake Placid in New York State in the US in the winter. They can experience a world class track in a bobsled accompanied by a professional driver and brakeman team.
Michigan is known for its snowmobiling and has more than 3,000 miles of trails for snowmobilers to explore. There are several towns in the Upper Peninsula that cater to those looking to experience the sport. Those in the vicinity of Yellowstone, Montana can also snowmobile, both in the park and just outside of it in West Yellowstone. Snowmobiling in West Yellowstone can be done without any of the restrictions that park officials enforce.
The public skeleton slide at Vancouver’s Whistler Sliding Center is available both to those experienced in the sport and newcomers alike. The facility provides both beginner instruction and tracks that experienced individuals will find exciting. Lake Placid also offers a skeleton track for visitors to New York.
By Julie Bowman