From electric fat biking to ice climbing: seven alternative winter sports
These days, ski resorts are not just about skiing – most offer a whole range of options for those who want a break from the slopes
I’m standing at the bottom of the Vallée Blanche chairlift at 1,600-metres in Les Deux Alpes; fresh snow lies all around but despite my skiwear I’m not going skiing.
ELECTRIC FAT BIKING, LES DEUX ALPES , FRANCE
Today I’m mountain biking on the snow instead; and I’m doing it the easy way, with an electric fat bike. Huge balloon tyres ensure a good grip and, best of all, the bike’s electric motor ensures the hills are conquered with ease.
I’m riding with Sylvain Marulaz, an ‘Accompagnateur en Montagne’ who, after guiding mountain bikers around the superb range of trails at Les Deux Alpes during the summer decided to combine the upsurge in popularity of fat bikes and electric bikes to offer a winter version.
The bikes come equipped with seven-speed Shimano Altura gears and four different levels of battery power, along with huge Kenda Juggernaut tyres which Sylvain runs at seven to eight PSI (48 kilopascals). The combination of grip from the low pressure tyres along with battery and human power manage to get me up slopes that would be the equivalent gradient to a blue run in a ski resort; I know this for a fact since at one point we actually ride up the side of a blue run.
Most of the riding, however, is along snowshoe trails, across alpine pastures and through shady forests with a mix of people whose mountain biking experience varies from 30 years to 30 minutes, and everyone has a ball.
Electric fat biking is new in Les Deux Alpes this winter, and other ski resorts around the world are also offering it as a visitor experience (it’s popular in Telluride, Colorado and Red Mountain Resort in British Columbia).
The activity is so easy to pick up that it looks certain to become another popular alternative winter sport.
From HK$499 per half-day including bike, helmet and guide, lepleinair.com
ICE CLIMBING, BIG WHITE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Ice climbing is an exhilarating, if demanding activity, the basics of which can be picked up pretty quickly. Big White resort in British Columbia has an impressive 20-metre ice tower in Happy Valley Adventure Park; it’s constructed out of three telephone poles coated with four-foot thick ice, with beginner to advanced routes.
Pretty much anyone can give it a go with the assistance of expert instructors. All necessary equipment is provided to enable you to summit the icicle of your choice.
From HK$138 per person, bigwhite.com
ICE DRIVING, VAL THORENS, FRANCE
The Alain Prost ice-racing track at Val Thorens is the highest in Europe at 2,200 metres, and as well as being used by the likes of ex-F1 driver Prost for full-on rallying, it also offers ice driving courses. With a qualified instructor at your side you’ll learn how to steer and slide your kitted out, studded-tyre rally car around the 760-metre track at speeds of up to 100kph.
From HK$2,535 per person, valthorens.com
SNOWMOBILE TO A GHOST TOWN, TELLURIDE, COLORADO
Hop aboard a snowmobile and head out into the wilds of Colorado to visit the abandoned mining town of Alta (you can get some idea of the landscape you’ll be travelling through from Quentin Tarantino’s latest film ‘The Hateful Eight’, which was shot in the area).
The two-hour tour uses groomed trails and is ideal for first timers. You’ll pass through forests and snowbound meadows with grand alpine vistas, as well as learning about the rough and tumble of everyday life in a genuine Wild West mining town.
From HK$1,403 per person, telluridesnowmobile.net
BOBSLEDDING, PARK CITY, UTAH
Your speed increases frighteningly quickly as you set off with your professional driver on Park City’s Olympic bobsled run. The air whistling past quickly becomes a roar and the whole machine begins to shake and rattle as you hit 80, 100 and 110km/h..
By the time you reach your top speed of 130km/h-plus you’ll be hitting bends like a missile, and pulling up to 5g on the bends (the kind of force you’d experience in a fighter jet); trying to lift or turn your head is almost impossible. It’s absolutely thrilling and not as dangerous as it appears, and if you have a need for speed, you’ll love it.
From HK$1,365 per person, utaholympiclegacy.org
SNOWSHOEING, HAKUBA, JAPAN
If you can walk, you can snowshoe, which makes this an activity for anyone of any age (the age restriction is actually six). Snowshoeing here takes you into the heart of Hakuba’s more remote mountain areas on a series of trails which take in high ridges with soaring views, or meander through old growth forests and past ancient shrines; full-day walks involve a quiet picnic lunch surrounded by magnificent landscapes. It seems a million miles away from the hubbub of lift queues and ski slopes.
From HK$428, includes a guide and hire of boots and snowshoes, evergreen-hakuba.com
IGLOO BUILDING, WILDSCHOENAU, AUSTRIA
An expert Inuit can build an igloo in little more than an hour; it will no doubt take you a tad longer – around five hours for four or more people working together.
With the help of mountain guide Hans Georg Hotter you’ll learn how to stake out your floor space, cut out your ice blocks and erect the whole thing into a classic igloo shape. A good test of how well you’ve built your icy house is that a full-grown man should be able to stand on the roof without it collapsing.
HK$85 per person, wildschoenau.com