Winter splits people into two groups – those who want to be on a beach (wimps) and those who embrace it and wish for snow. Well, if you really want snow, here’s where you can get it and what you can do in it.
Winter adventures for people who like to embrace the cold
Dog-sledding in Lapland
The idea of rushing through a frozen wilderness propelled at almost 20mph by a team of over-excited huskies has always appealed to me. If you’ll allow me to go full hippy for a moment, it feels real, somehow. Primal. Connecting man and beast in a wordless partnership and understanding, and connecting yourself to a practice that’s been going on for a thousand years. Combine that with heading to Lapland, the northernmost tip of Finland and a place I’ve always wanted to see and experience, and this starts to take the shape of an adventure I’m VERY interested in.
Turns out that a lack of prior experience isn’t much of a hindrance when it comes to dog sledding. If you want to be the ‘musher’ (the driver of the dog sled, in case you were wondering), there are tours that allow you to take control of your own sled. Or if you don’t think you’re fit to take charge of a load of excitable dogs, there are tours that allow you to just sit back and watch the wintry world go by.
Whilst dog sledding may sound like quite a serene activity, there are a few things you should know. Dogs can pull a sled at a surprising speed and the braking system, while effective, may seem a little primitive when compared to what might be sat on your driveway back at home.
The ride can also be pretty bumpy which isn’t too kind on the back or the bum. And the wind chill factor can make it seem a lot colder than it already is. If you’ve got facial hair, expect it to freeze!
Where can I go?
Nature Travels offers adventures to Sweden, Finland and Norway from around £750 per adult. These include training, accommodation and the obligatory sauna. The dog sledding season starts in mid-November and runs through to early April.
Jeeping around Iceland
Iceland has always seemed a mystical and ethereal place to me; a land of elves, volcanoes, and Sigur Ros. Of Björk, whale watching and World’s Strongest Men. Existing in my mind in some sort of limbo between Europe and North America, it retains a sense of magic and other worldliness that excites and intrigues me. So what better way to experience that wonderful magic than in a Jeep? Right? Hear me out on this one.
Nothing really. You sit in the car and have a look around. A Jeep trip is a great way to get up close and personal with geysers and waterfalls. Driven by an expert tour guide, these sturdy, all-terrain vehicles can reach glaciers and volcanoes that would take days to trek to. It could almost be considered cheating – it seems too easy. Surely these wonders should be worked for a little more?
Tours can be booked on the day and usually start out from the capital Reykjavik. Lasting anywhere between a few hours to a couple of days, each Jeep has a trained driver and an expert tour guide who can answer all your questions. They even provide a packed lunch.
Where can I go?
Superjeep.is offer a range of short and long-haul tours, including day trips to the Langjökull Glacier (where the ice can be up to a frankly staggering half a kilometre thick) and night time expeditions to see the northern lights. And who doesn’t want to see the Northern Lights?! They also offer two-day package tours of Iceland’s Golden Triangle, the tourist route that loops through southern Iceland, handily taking in popular iconic locations like Geysir, Gullfoss and the capital Reykjavik.
Winter walking with a snowshoe expedition
If skiing feels a bit too much like hard work (and let’s face it, your knees still hate you for the last time you went) or a little on the technical side, perhaps a spot of snowshoeing? People have been traveling on snowshoes for over 5,000 years apparently, with the oldest snowshoe in the world found in the Dolomites dating back to around 3,800 BC. And if it’s good enough for an ancient Alp dweller, surely it’s good enough for me?
How hard is it?
It all depends how easy you want it. There are different levels of difficulty to a lot of the treks that are offered by tour operators. My eyes instantly settled on the packages marked ‘leisurely’ but if you’re up for a challenge and fancy putting those snowshoes through their paces then there will be ascents all over Europe that satisfy. Really, it all depends on how much effort you want to put in and what appeals to you, but I’d suggest if you’re not a fan of long walks maybe try your hand (or feet) at something else?
As with most winter sports, good cold-weather clothing is essential. You’re going to be out in the open and in winter you’ll have some pretty deep snow fields to content with – they might not be the height of fashion but thermal underwear, a fleece and a good hat are going to keep the cold out and keep you nice and toasty.
Where can I go?
Take your pick! It all really depends on where you fancy checking out or what you want out of your trip. If it’s amazing mountain scenery that you’re looking to capture, the Pyrenees or the southern Alps could be the one for you, or if you’re keen on getting off the grid and getting your wilderness fix, how about Turkey or even Bulgaria? Exodus run tours in both locations that take in stunning, remote landscapes, underground caves – the trip to Cappadocia in Turkey has gone straight on to the bucket list. Anywhere that boasts ‘fairy chimneys’ (cone-shaped rock formations. They look amazing. Seriously, check them out) definitely piques my interest.
Catching king crabs in Norway
None of the above tickle your fancy? Then how about fishing with a difference? In fact, should it even be called fishing? Because I’m talking about king crabs here. And I hope you’re hungry because if you catch one of these, it’s no small meal. King crabs can grow to over two metres in length and can weigh more than 15 kilograms. Yup. They’re massive. They’re also armed with pinchers that can easily snip a person’s finger off. Which, let’s face it, is probably not what you want from your holiday. A dangerous delicacy! But don’t let the idea of a cranky crustacean put you off – this sounds like an adventure worth persevering with because of the tasty prize at the end.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never sawn through pack ice before. It sounds like a lot of hard work and frankly, I’m a ‘path of least resistance’ man. So I was particularly pleased to find that if you’re going to be catching these little beauties in the north of Norway, a lot of the tour operators have established ‘ice trapdoors’ that can be opened up again and again through the winter to unlock the veritable larder below. You and your fellow adventurers will need to give it a few whacks with an axe and a little saw as they do tend to freeze over a bit but once you’re in, it’s all about getting those crab pots up and seeing what’s been caught down there in the icy depths. The best bit is that down in Oslo, king crab is extremely expensive but on these trips, you can eat as much as you catch (or as much as you can!) without the astronomical bill at the end.
Where can I go?
Hurtigruten’s King Crab Safari offers fishing treks that start from the town of Kirkenes in northern Norway. Winter clothes, a crab meal and soft drinks come included, with prices starting at £162 per person.
Click here to find out more about winter sports travel insurance.
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About Dom Haley
The most amazing place I’ve been to has to be Zabriskie Point in the Death Valley National Park. Nothing but sky and rugged salt flats stretching on for miles and miles.
A group of Hell’s Angels even pulled into the car park while we were there — it was like being in Mad Max…
Dom works with our marketing team.