Winter Travel by Richard Jones

You’ve gotta go one of two ways with your travel experience: hot or cold.

Going anywhere that isn’t significantly warmer or cooler than home – like York, or something – doesn’t count, despite what the good people at caravan club will argue.

That said, one is faced with a somewhat difficult travel choice. Hot? Cold? Hot? Or Cold?

We can hear inner you crying out for copious amounts of Christmas songs, hot chocolate and wind burn.

So here RICHARD JONES presents five of the best winter sports and a few places you can go to do them.


a) I look so sick in these shiny purple goggles

I like to think that the world’s two most popular winter sports were invented by two Neanderthal men betting each other they couldn’t get the whole way down Mont Blanc while standing fully upright on a plank of wood.

Now, that may not be the most insightful view I hold, but then my opinions on the subject are irrelevant to the fact that skiing and snowboarding are freakin’ awesome.

Something about the combination of stunning scenery, blinding sunlight, and the very real presence of danger makes them an obvious choice for millions of families and student-types across Europe.

In Europe, skiing and snowboarding doesn’t get much better than in Val Thorens, Savoy in France’s South East, sandwiched neatly between Turin on the East and Lyon to the West.

It holds the honour of being ‘the highest ski resort in Europe’ and ‘the largest linked ski area in the world’.

If you need much more convincing, then I highly recommend you immediately open a new tab and type in ‘Val Thorens’ into Google images. It’s quite a special place.

While you’re there, your day will pretty much pan out like this:

1. Wake up, throw on ski gear

2. Ski on a variety of black, red, blue and green slopes for 4-5 hours

3. Head to one of the many bars on the resort for some Apres-Ski pints

4. Ski back to the accommodation for an enormous amount of food and more beer

5. Head back out to one of the many clubs on the resort for yet more pints

6. Repeat for 7 days

Even if you’re not big on skiing, don’t let that put you off. One of my friends heard about a skiing trip to Val Thorens through his uni and decided he quite liked the idea of pints/flying down a mountain.

With basically no experience, he booked the holiday and picked up the basics on his first day on the resort.

If you’re ever so slightly less, erm…straight up cocky than my friend is, then you’ve got the option of a few lessons at the start of your holiday before heading to the black slope.


b) Yeah, the sport…that’s why I went there

If snowboarding down black slopes and climbing vertical ice walls isn’t for you, then I’ve got just the winter ‘sport’ for you.

german-markets

Ice skating. And by ice skating, I mean touring German Christmas markets while eating chocolate and doing the occasional lap round a Santa’s grotto themed skating rink for kids.

Every year, cities all over Germany host a variety of visually stunning and nostalgia-inducing outdoor markets in the run-up to Christmas.

These markets are complete with vendors selling Bratwurst hot dogs, hot chocolate and more sugary treats than you can possibly imagine.

Think of your favourite three Christmas films, turn them into a market, put them in Germany and that’s pretty much what I’m on about. Picture ‘Whoville’ from the Grinch with distinctly more Sauerkraut.

There is even some ‘sport’ on offer. After indulging yourself at the markets all day, throw on some skates, try not to break your ankle for an hour (which is far easier said than done) before getting back to the eggnog and mulled wine. Mmmmmmm Cinnamon.

To get the most out of your ‘ice skating’ trip, you’re gonna want to fly into Hamburg, Germany’s beautiful second city, before making your way by bus, train or car to Berlin to complete the best Christmas ever. Boom.


c) Pass me my orange helmet and spiky shoes

I believe there are two kinds of badass winter sport lovers out there.

The first is the kind of snow enthusiast who wants to go as fast downhill as is humanly possible, and therefore far more suited to a ski/snowboarding holiday.

snow-climb

The second is the kind of person who looks at a vertical ice wall and thinks, “I’m going to get up that even if it takes seven million hours”.

If the second person sounds much more like you, then prepare yourself, because you’re going ice climbing.

Ice climbing and hiking are hugely popular (and extremely tough) winter sports, and pretty much the best places to do both is in Europe; more specifically The Alps.

There’s a heap of great climbing and hiking spots in and around the resort at Val Thorens, but other locations in the mountain range which offer a variety of challenges and walks include in and around Mont Blanc and further north in the Swiss Alps.

Your climbing holiday can be as extreme or as laid back as you choose, really.

Some travel companies organise treks that fit around varying levels of fitness, and all you need do is strap on some snow shoes and follow the leader.

The scenery will be incredible, and something about looking back down a glacier or mountain you’ve just spent hours walking up is extremely, extremely gratifying.

For those of you more intent on putting yourself in a situation of very real, apparent danger, then never fear.

I’ve always held the opinion that if something is completely safe, then it’s more than likely not worth doing at all.

If that’s what you’re after then heading to the alps this winter might just fill that gaping hole you’ve always felt could only be filled with ice hooks.

The Mont Blanc range is extremely popular for climbing fanatics because of its unique geography, and there’s a host of companies that provide climbing lessons and guides.


d) Wait, how North actually am I?

So…Skiing and snowboarding? Can do better. Vertical climbs?…Not quite. How about a lovely Christmas market? Not extreme enough.

I hear you, I really do. Which is why I’m about to tell you about all the crazy maniacal stuff you can do in Lapland.

Yeah, buddy, you’re going to Santa’s house and you’re going to have the time of your life.

Your crazy winter sport holiday will take you to Lapland first of all, to places like Sevetijärvi or Rovaniemi, but you’ll most likely spend some time in Sweden or Norway as well.

In terms of experiences, it doesn’t get much better than heading to the Arctic Circle than down to the Alps.

I’ll detail the kind of week you can have. A host of travel and tourism companies will organise the whole thing for you for a fee, so don’t worry if you don’t a degree in Arctic biology, because it’s not really required.

snow-ski

Day One of your holiday will see you arrive inside the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi. From there, you’ll have to get a bus even further north to any number of tourist hotels in the area.

You’ll need some snow safari gear (so you don’t succumb to the below freezing temperatures which can reach as low as -30 degrees) before heading outside to take in some of the Nordic scenery and stargaze into a night sky like no other.

Day Two is significantly more sporty. And that’s because you’re going to get a snowmobile. Oh yeah.

You’ll drive 170km North into Norway on a trail through arctic wilderness and icy landscapes.

You’ll head to a reindeer farm (because that’s what the child in you would want) before hunting for the Northern Lights at night. I’ve been told that no amount of pictures/videos of the event can prepare you for the sheer beauty of seeing the Aurora Borealis for yourself.

Day Three is husky day. Six dogs will carry you on a sled across more snowy terrain and glaciers.

You’ll also get to spend some time with the dogs before and after and learn a little about how they’re trained and whatnot. You’ll hike up a glacier (because when in Rome) and clamber up a giant frozen waterfall until you reach the unfrozen lake at the top.

Day Four you’ll spend back on the snowmobile. You’ll make the trip back to Norway to a fishing village called Sevetijärvi on the North Sea.

You’ll meet the local fisherman that live in the area and spend some time on the edge of the frozen lakes that surround the sea.

Then, because you’re *officially* on a winter sports holiday, you’re going to go for a swim.

Because nothing makes a better story than that time you drove a snowmobile to Norway and swam across a semi-frozen lake.

Plus, it’ll mean that you’ll be able to look at your friends condescendingly next time they say ‘I’m sooooo cold.’, before telling them they have no idea what being actually cold feels like.