You have descended the world’s steepest slopes on skis and snowboard. Yawn. You summited an 8,000-meter peak last January. Extended yawn. What should the over-experienced adventurer do this winter, when resorts are repetitive and remote climbs seem boring? Don’t worry. The universe holds a never-ending supply of Adrenalist-fueled ways to enjoy snow.
Here are five extreme winter sports to try this year.
Skis and snowboards only allow you to go in one general direction: downhill. Not so with a snowkite, which can propel riders any which way — not to mention sweep them hundreds of feet in the air. A close cousin of the water sport kiteboarding, snowkiting allows for skiing or snowboarding on frozen lakes, snow-laden clearings and yes, mountains. The added dimension of soaring up and down lends kiteboarding a syncopated rhythm. A skilled snowkiter can change direction in the most unpredictably elegant ways.
Snowkiting is an awesome way to spice up your snow life, but it takes a measure of commitment to learn. As every kiteboarder knows, mastering the kite – being able to make it grab the wind or go slack on command — is the crux. Proficient as you may be on a board or skis, you won’t go anywhere (not comfortably, anyway) until you control the swoop of the kite and the intense force generated when it suddenly fills with air. But when you do, you’ll have opened the door to some pretty sweet winter recreation.
If you have ever skidded on slushy snow, then, strictly speaking, you have glissaded. Glissading, if it can be called that, is nothing more than sliding down a snow slope either standing or sitting. Mountaineers take advantage of mountains’ gravity, steep slopes and soft snow to zip hundreds or thousands of feet down in a controlled way.
In groups, the first person to glissade a slope in a sitting position will carve a deep rut resembling a bobsled track for their followers to rocket down. But refined climbers will stay on their feet, making sure to lean forward and bend slightly at the knee. For stabilization in this upright position, one foot is placed slightly ahead of the other. This movement looks a lot like telemarking, but it isn’t nearly as difficult. If the snow is particularly slushy and the slope not too pitched, glissading becomes like running, where the mountaineer takes long strides that carry him for 20 or 30 feet. The trick is to balance with your legs spread apart and to react quickly. After reaching a difficult summit, there is no better way to reverse course than to slide back down. And, let’s face it, learning to glissade is easier (and way more fun) than schlepping skis up there with you.
Mixed climbing is a hardcore sport in which any combination of frozen water and rock are scaled with ice axes and crampons. The upshot of climbing rock with axes is that the metal picks allow for passage on the tiniest of holds. Unlike a sport climber, who must hold onto razor-thin edges with naked fingertips, the mixed climber comfortably grips an ergonomic handle, allowing for marathon routes up blank faces and impossibly steep overhangs. So, while “mixed” refers to the blend of rock and ice sought, it applies more accurately to the odd amalgamation of techniques and equipment. In fact, some sport climbers, frustrated by infinitesimally small holds, have used ice axes to ascend super-hard rock climbs. This hybridized version of climbing, called “dry tooling,” is one more type of mixed climbing. (It’s also a reminder that creative rule-breaking is always a game-changer.)
True mixed climbing beginners will want to start on vertical cliffs, probably with a guide, testing the picks on short bands of rock. But sporty climbers accustomed to steep terrain may require only a bit of ice climbing before launching into full-on mixed climbing. With some practice, the forced hiatus of winter will transform into a season of new opportunities and expeditions. At some point, every experienced climber will come across a terrain of snow, rock and ice that defies any description other than “mixed.” When that time does come, all their initial practice on cliffs and cave walls will come in very handy.
Snow Mountain Biking
Strap on some spiked tires and take to city streets, downhill courses or the backcountry…on a mountain bike. During winter. Snow mountain biking, reportedly born in the late 1980s as a companion sport to the Iditarod, exists as a chilly alternative to every form of mountain biking: freestyle, downhill, extreme and touring. If you’re into 360ing off snowy ski jumps, you can spin your heart out at many resorts with freestyle courses that allow bikes. When that gets old, find some mountains. Be advised: snow makes for added fitness, so pedaling in the snow, however short your ride, is a killer workout.
First time snow mountain bikers quickly learn that a set of subtle tricks is needed to successfully take up this activity. Here’s a primer: Make sure to ride your tires at low pressure, as with any mountain biking on loose terrain. Slow down the cadence of your pedaling and generally eliminate jerky motions so as to avoid burying your front tire sideways in the snow. Those tips will take you far, along with learning how to layer your clothing to stay warm but not get too sweaty.
The monoski is what it sounds like: a single ski used alone rather than in concert with a second. From there, things get complicated because there are two basic variations, one executed while standing, the other sitting. The basic idea is to face forward with your legs together and poles in hand and point downhill. Learning either variation is a worthwhile endeavor, whether as a diversion if you’re an experienced skier or boarder or an introduction to snow if you’re a newbie. Luckily, for competent skiers, the monoski is a breeze. And for first-timers, it’s no more difficult than learning to ski or snowboard as long as you follow the mantra of monoski instructors: Keep your knees together.
The sweeping 8’s made by monoskis are bigger than those produced by normal downhill skis. This languid, flowing style made monoskiing popular with the surfers who invented it and became its first disciples. Since its founding in the 1960s, monoskiing has become a mainstay in Europe. It hasn’t been nearly as popular in the U.S. (thanks to snowboarding) but it is seeing a resurgence. Seated monoskiing has been popularized by the X-Games and an explosion of adaptive outdoor sports equipment that has made the mountains accessible to those lacking legs or the ability to stand. Those who want to try monoskiing will find the equipment they need in any serious mountain town.
Cover Photo Credit: ottawaws – flickr.com