Dive into winter
Winter weather is upon us and millions of people will be hitting the slopes and skating across frozen ponds this year. But if you're looking for a more exciting way to experience Mother Nature this season, you're in luck. You can dive beneath icy waters or ride a kayak down a snowy mountainside, and if you still want to strap on a pair of skis, go ahead — just don't forget your parachute.
Here are 12 extreme winter sports that are sure to keep the adrenaline pumping all season long.
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Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean you have to put away your flippers. Pack up a dry suit — and some hot cocoa — and give ice diving a try. This specialized type of scuba diving requires additional training because it takes place under ice and typically has a single entry/exit point, making it much more dangerous than regular diving.
Ice divers must learn how to recognize unsafe ice conditions and how to prepare a dive site because it requires cutting a hole in the ice. Divers must also wear a harness and learn to communicate via a series of tugs because ice divers must be tethered to a safety diver on the surface.
Snow polo is simply a modified version of polo played on a snow-packed arena surrounded by fencing. The horses are shod with special cleated shoes to provide better traction, and the ball is typically larger and bright red to accommodate the snowy conditions.
What do you get when you combine downhill skiing with skydiving? Speed flying. In one of the most extreme sports ever invented, a person is dropped off — typically by helicopter — on top of a mountain where he or she then skis/flies down. If there's a rock or tree in your path, you simply soar over it with the help of your parachute.
Soaring over a snowy landscape may sound serene, but speed flying gets its extreme name for a reason. Riders can reach speeds of almost 100 miles an hour when they fly down crags like Mont Blanc, the highest point in the Alps at 15,800 feet. If you're an adrenaline junkie, this may be the sport for you, but be sure to wear safety gear. Although no one died at the 2010 Swiss Speed Flying Championship, nine people were killed participating in the sport last year — a high number for a sport with only a few hundred participants.
Love scaling cliffs and mountainsides during the summer months? Then you might want to give ice climbing a try. The activity evolved out of rock climbing when mountaineers in high altitudes had to learn how to navigate icy areas. Eventually, climbers developed specialized gear and tools and began to seek out icy climbs such as frozen waterfalls.
This unique sport began in the 1970s when ski lift operators were looking for a quick way to get down the slopes once the lifts closed. Today, shovel races take place across the nation on modified shovels that can reach speeds of up to 60 mph. If you want to take a spin on a shovel, but skip the downhill ride, then hitch your shovel up to a horse to experience a little “shoveljoring.”
The sport of skijoring began hundreds of years ago as a way to travel during long winters. Today, skiers can harness themselves to dogs, horses or even motor vehicles and compete in skijoring competitions in five U.S. states and in several countries worldwide.
If you live near a large body of frozen water, ice yachting is a fast-paced, exciting activity that will leave you windswept. Modern ice yachts resemble a combination of a sail boat and a large pair of ice skates, but while these boats might look odd, the sport is all seriousness. Ice yachting clubs have popped up across the northern U.S., and they host annual races that are quite heated — despite the ice.
You might have mastered the slopes on skis or a snowboard, but ski biking offers an entirely new challenge — and a thrill all its own. And if you’re not an avid skier, no worries. Ski bikes have a low center of gravity, so this winter sport offers a much gentler learning curve.
Ski biking is still relatively new, so bikes typically must be bought directly from the manufacturer. However, you can rent a bike and hit the slopes at these skiing destinations.
Instead of sledding down snowy hills this year, slip into a freshly waxed kayak and enjoy an exciting new twist on traditional sledding. The kayak works like a sled, but the paddle allows for more control — and the wax will have you shooting down slopes at incredibly high speeds.
Because snow kayaking is considered an extreme sport, few ski resorts allow it; however there are professional competitions that involve bumps, turns and all sorts of adrenaline-pumping obstacles, which makes watching the sport almost as much fun as doing it. The hardest part? Hauling your kayak up the mountain.
Ice surfing is considered a hybrid sport — a cross between wind surfing and ice boating. While both ice surfers and wind surfers use similar sails to glide across bodies of water, one of the big differences between the two is how fast they can go. Ice allows adventuresome surfers to sail several times faster than the wind and reach speeds of up to 70 mph, but — like windsurfing — there are no brakes.
If you want to experience the thrill of snowboarding without actually fastening a board to your feet, then you might want to try snowscooting. Snowscoots are similar to ski bikes, but are more snowboard-inspired in their design. The sport is very popular in France and is just now catching on in America.
Polar bear swimming
Whether you choose to participate in an annual polar bear plunge in your wintry city or simply jump into the frigid local pond, a little icy dip might be just what you need to awaken your senses this season. While a lengthy immersion in frosty temperatures can be bad for your health, a quick dip followed by a steaming cup of fair trade coffee or organic cocoa can be downright exhilarating, so jump on in — the water's fine!