10 wild, wacky and wonderful sports to enjoy this winter
Published Friday, January 2, 2015 10:30AM EST
Canadians often lament our frustratingly short summers, but if there’s one great thing about our long winters, it’s that they give us plenty of time to get out and try out new cold-weather sports.
There’s plenty more to enjoying winter in Canada than just skiing, skating and hockey. Several exciting new sports and activities have popped up in the last decade that provide good wintertime exercise as well as a chance to take in the pretty awesome beauty that winter has to offer.
Here’s a look at a few of them:
1. Snowshoe running
Snowshoeing has always been great exercise but for those who really want a tough aerobic workout there’s nothing like snowshoe running. In the last decade, an entire race series has been created for snowshoe running, called The Yeti, which hosts races in B.C., Alberta and Quebec.
Running in snowshoes is not technically difficult -- if you know how to run, you already know how to snowshoe run. But because it’s slower and you need to lift your knees higher, it’s a bit like running on the beach... but with fewer palm trees.
The only equipment that’s needed is a pair of running showshoes, which are lighter and narrower than regular aluminum snowshoes, and look nothing like the wood-framed, rawhide-laced snowshoes you might remember from your youth.
KC Colby (CTV News Barrie)
2. Fat biking
For mountain biking lovers, fat bikes have become the dream solution to the problem of how to keep riding after the snow has fallen.
Fat bikes are not just a mountain bikes with fat tires. They’re made with frames and wheel forks that designed to accommodate tires that are two to three times as wide as regular bike tires. The tires are soft and deliberately under-inflated to allow the bike to sort of float over snow-covered trails, powder and even ice.
Fat biking began to take off in Alaska nearly a decade ago but has exploded in popularity in recent years in every area of the country. While most fat biking takes place on regular bike trails, a number of ski resorts are also beginning to allow fat bikes on their snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, including Silver Star Mountain in B.C. which says fat bikes leave “an impressively small footprint” on the trails.
Tandem trike fat bike (Steven Wilke / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)
Baseboarding is a fun new activity for adults and kids over 8 that has just arrived at Whistler Olympic Park. It’s billed as a high-adrenaline, high-speed hybrid of skeleton, tobogganning and bodyboarding.
It uses a specially-designed rigid baseboard outfitted with a handlebar and parallel runners on the bottom.
After a brief instructional session on staying safe, riders mount the board headfirst, grasp the handles and fly down the hill at ridiculous speeds. They then board a chairlift back up to the top of the 1.5 km course to do it all over again.
4. Ice skating trails
Outdoor skating is hardly new, sure, but several communities are putting a new spin on the activity by building man-made ice trails that loop through parks and forests. The trails are created by flooding established walking paths which are either kept frozen with artificial cooling systems or with the help of Jack Frost.
One of the most spectacular and longest skating trails can be found at Arrowhead Provincial Park near Huntsville, Ont. Since 2012, park staff have used tens of thousands of gallons of water each year to build a gorgeous 1.5-km long trail that loops through the woods and is kept smooth with a zamboni-like ice groomer.
On weekend evenings, park staff line the trail with torches, creating a romantic nighttime winter wonderland they call Fire and Ice.
And of course, when it comes to outdoor skating trails, every Canadian should make a plan to head to Ottawa at least once in their lifetime to skate on Canada’s longest rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway.
(Arrowhead Park photo)
Snowkiting, or kite-skiing as it’s also called, might just become the next hot sport now that Quebec athlete Frederic Dion has used it to travel all the way to the centre of Antarctica.
The sport has been around for decades but has really taken off in the last 10 years or so, thanks to the development of foil and inflatable kites. Snowkiting lessons are now offered in many spots across Canada wherever there are wide open snow-covered spaces.
The sport simply involves holding onto a kite while on either skis or a snowboard and letting the breeze drag you along a space, such as a frozen lake. It’s a sport that’s said to be even easier to learn than waterskiing or kiteboarding on water. And while it doesn’t require a great deal of strength, it does take a few lessons to learn how to control the kite and to ride into the wind.
If you’ve ever tried dog-sledding or gone for a sleigh ride and thought it not fair that the dogs and horses got to have all the fun, ski-joring might be for you.
Ski-joring combines the terrific workout of cross-country skiing and turns up the fun and speed factor by bringing in sled dogs or horses to offer some pulling assistance.
While ski-joring has been popular for years in Scandinavia where it originated, it’s just beginning to catch on in North America. Several places in Alberta and Ontario now offering ski-joring lessons and tours with either horses or dogs.
But if you want to try it yourself, any large, fit, well-trained dog can be taught how to skijorn, from Siberian Huskies, to Golden Retrievers. All that’s needed is a harness that attaches around the dog (or dogs) and then around your waist and you’re off to the canine, alpine races.
7. Bobsleigh, luge and skeleton
Ever watched athletes flying down sledding courses during the winter Olympics and wished you could find out what that feels like? Well, at one of Canada’s winter Olympic parks in Calgary or Whistler, you can.
Even beginners with no experience can try out the sports on a shortened run down the tracks. Luge will send you down feet-first, while skeleton will send you down head-first. Or you could choose choose the relative safety but incredible speed of the four-man bobsleigh.
Each ride begins with a half-hour lesson and track orientation. Then, when you’re ready, you’ll race down the track, reaching speeds of up to 60 km/h on the luge or 125 km/h in the bobsleigh.
(Girl speeds down the Luge track in Whistler, B.C.)
8. Downhill ice cross
Downhill ice cross is all that’s insane about speed skating, hockey, and ski cross, rolled into one.
The sport sees skaters decked out in full protective gear barrelling downhill down a winding half-kilometre long ice track, hitting speeds of up to 60 km/h.
Though most of the full-season-long ice cross courses can only be found in Europe, Canadians brave enough to want want to give the sport a try can enter one of 10 Red Bull Crashed Ice Qualifier events taking place across Canada in January and February.
For those who’d just rather be a spectator, the Red Bull Crashed Ice series will be making one stop in Canada this year, in Edmonton in March.
9. Snow tubing
If you’ve never flown down a toboganning hill in an inflated tube, feeling slightly out of control, you’re missing out.
While tobogganing in an inner tube isn’t exactly new, several ski areas across the country have now set up dedicated tubing areas to make this great family activity a little easier. There's no skill or special equipment needed; just a few dollars for a ticket and a love for excitement.
Tubing parks typically include rope tow or magic carpet tow systems to help with the hard work of getting the tube back up the hill, as well big, banked lanes to ensure you don’t cross paths with other tubers. Some parks have areas just for little kids; others let you form chains where riders can hold onto each other's tubes as they race down the hill.
(KC Colby / CTV News Barrie)
10. Freestyle skiing and boarding
Freestyling isn't altogether new – Canadian athletes have been excelling at moguls, aerials, and ski cross for years. But it's the related freestyle disciplines of halfpipe and slopestyle skiing and snowboarding that have really exploded in popularity in recent years.
Many ski hills in Canada have made it easy for anyone brave enough to learn these sports to give them a try. There are now about 50 freestyle ski clubs across Canada, and most of the big ski resorts have built permanent terrain parks and halfpipe courses.
In the halfpipe, snowboarders and skiers on twin tip skis perform jumps and spins off walls of an icy halfpipe, much the way skateboarders do on tarmac. In slopestyle, boarders and skiers make their way down a terrain park that includes a variety of obstacles including rails, huge jumps, and boxes.
The larger ski hills even have coaches who specialize in freestyle who can work with kids as young as six, all the way up to adults who are as young as they feel.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)