After nearly 50 years of living in the Rocky Mountains, I thought I knew how to enjoy the winter. Ive gone skiing, skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tobogganing, sleigh riding, dog-sledding and more.
But until this winter, Id never heard of bumper cars on a skating rink. And it wasnt until recently that I had my first chance to carve turns down a ski hill on a snowbike.
Its part of a trend to provide visitors to ski resorts and other snowy destinations with a wider variety of choices, said Troy Hawks, managing editor of the National Ski Areas Association Journal.
What were seeing is a larger swath of the family youve got the grandkids all the way to the grandparents and all of them have their idea of how they want to spend their day, he said.
Some activities are more popular in certain regions, and some arent well advertised, so for a different spin on a snow-destination vacation, here are some things to look for:
Air bags These massive, inflatable air bags are placed at the bottom of jumps to allow skiers and boarders to try flips and spins. Nail the landing on your feet and you ride off down the hill. Fail, and you have a soft landing. (www.bagjump.com or www.bigairbag.com)
Airboards A high-tech spin on winter tubing, these snow body boards are inflatable sleds with molded plastic runners on the bottom and handles on the top. The sleds can reach speeds of 60 mph or more, and users steer by shifting their body weight. Theyre offered at some ski areas (though banned at others) as well as through some private operators. (www.airboard.com has a partial list of rental locations.)
Bumper cars on ice Just what it sounds like, these are turning up at skating rinks from coast to coast. The battery-operated cars are large rubber tubes with molded seats that can hold one adult or an adult and a small child. Controlled by two joysticks, they are easy to steer or spin as they bump along on wheels with tiny cleats. Most rinks have age, height or weight restrictions.
First tracks The opportunity for intermediate and advanced skiers to take the first runs in the morning before the slopes open to the public is an option at more resorts. Some, such as Northstar in California, require skiers to stay with a guide; others, such as Aspen, include a gourmet breakfast. Steamboat Springs has been experimenting with multiple-day First Track passes, some of which can be shared among buddies.
Skijoring From the Norwegian word meaning ski driving, skijoring is still primarily the stuff of winter carnivals and cowboy competitions. But some places, such as the adult-only Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont., offer guests the chance to see what its like to be pulled on alpine skis behind a horse. Other resorts, such as Eden Mountain Lodge in Eden Mills, Vt., and Devils Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, work with experienced skiers and their own dogs to learn what its like to go mushing on Nordic skis.
Ice castles These massive structures are formed by thousands and thousands of icicles. A series of pathways take visitors through ice columns, tunnels, caverns and archways. Introduced last year in Silverthorne, the castles were being built this winter in Steamboat Springs and at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
Snowbikes Bicycles that ride on skis, rather than wheels, have been around in various forms for decades, but now they have the blessing of some ski resorts, which rent the bikes and offer instruction. Smaller skis clip to your ski boots, helping with balance and maneuvering. The bikes can be taken on the chairlifts to access a variety of terrain. (www.snowbike.info)
Snowkiting Snowkiting or kite boarding is a cousin to ocean kite surfing. For the winter version, an experienced, fearless skier or snowboarder is harnessed to a kite and propeled by wind power. An extreme sport, it requires strength and an understanding of wind patterns. Lessons are recommended.