Skiing and snowboarding have become the minimum requirement for mountain resorts. Many now offer a myriad of winter activities, from hair-raising heliskiing and airboarding to husky sleigh rides and snowgolfing.
The cradle of heliskiing is Canada, but Europe also boasts some magnificent options. While it is prohibited in Germany and France (though there are places at the border to Italy and Switzerland helicopters may take off), the most adventurous freerides down the mountain tops are to be found in Switzerland and Italy, costing €170 for a one-day tour in Gstaad and €750 for a three-day tour in Monte Rosa.
Almost all mountains in Switzerland feature heliskiing, while in Italy, Valgrisenche, Courmayeur, and Monte Rosa are the places to go. Austria also offers limited access to heliskiing in the Arlberg for €330 per helicopter flight for three skiers.
Snowkiting is one of the trendiest new sports and the best thing about it - almost no prior experience is needed. After a few hours of instruction, beginners tend to have their first successful take-offs. "Snowkiting is easy to learn, even for kids," Pascal Nessier, founder and director of Swiss Snowkiting School, confirms. "Being far away from packed slopes makes snowkiting fascinating for skiers and snowboarders. There is no getting in line, no lift tickets, no noise of the gondolas." A two-day beginners' course starts at €215, rental equipment is available from €45.
If you have the equipment, snowkiting is possible almost everywhere in the mountains, provided there is enough wind of course. An increasing number of snowkiting schools are opening their doors, like in St. Johann im Pongau, Thalgau, Achensee, Obertauern, Hochfilzen, Kufstein, or Lofer in Austria. Swiss spots and schools are located at Sempione (Simplon), Leukerbad, La Brévine, and St. Moritz-Engadin. At the border of France and Italy there is Little St. Bernard Pass, and in France Serre Chevalier, Flaine, or La Rosiere offer good conditions for snowkiting.
Invented in Switzerland, the airboard is now popular in ski resorts throughout Europe. It is a three-kilo inflatable mattress used as a sledge, steered only by moving your weight. The flexible air-filled "board slash sledge" absorbs the unevenness of the slopes and provides a thrilling ride. The airboard is ideal for fresh or deep snow as well as groomed pistes, and lots of resorts feature their own airboarding runs. As airboarders can reach speeds of around 60-70 mph, riders are required to wear helmets, knee protectors, and even back protectors.
Airboarding pistes, equipment rental, and schools can be found in Scuol, Davos, Saas Fee, and Riederalp in Switzerland; in Brandnertal, Dachstein West, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis, and Abtenau in Austria; Oberstdorf in Germany; and Alpe d'Huez, Courchevel, Val Thorens, Le Grave, Valmorel, and Les Rousses in France.
No prior experience is required for driving a snowmobile (also called a skidoo), but you do get a briefing before turning on the engine. The Austrian resort of Saalbach offers a groomed snowmobile slope; it costs €15 for 10 minutes. There are further slopes in Kitzbuehel, Serfaus Fiss Ladis, and Innerkrems. Skidoo tours are also offered in Crans Montana, Switzerland and in Val Thorens and Tignes, France.
Riding a Snowcat
For €70 in Adelboden, you get a crash course in steering a massive snowcat before climbing up mountains or grooming pistes with it. There are other places to get a snowcat ride, such as Feldis and Grindelwald in Switzerland or Hochficht and Silvretta Montafon in Austria. In France it is offered at Val d'Azun and Peyragudes in the Pyrenees or Serre Chevalier in the French Alps.
Other extreme winter sports include snowrafting, snowtubing, snowbiking, skifoxing, and snowscooting. Up to 10 people race down a slope in a massive rubber raft and call it snowrafting. Similarly, you can reach the speed of 30 mph when riding a snowtube (an air-filled inner tube that looks like a huge doughnut). Other fun winter sports include snowbiking, skifoxing (similar to snowbiking but a steering bar), and snowscooting (a half snowboard, half scooter contraption).
Husky workshops and activities in the Alps are frequently booked out months in advance. There are a number of ski resorts across Europe featuring husky farms where people can spend a few hours or days with huskies enjoying activities like sleigh rides, snowshoe hikes, preparing huskies for rides and feeding them afterwards. Anton Kuttner, ownder of the husky farm 'Husky-Toni' in Brandnertal, Austria says families are big fans: "Lately I've received a lot of inquiries from families who want to book huskies exclusively for a day or two, even though it is more expensive than just joining a scheduled group - they want to spend more quality time with their families on a winter holiday." Other places where husky farms can be visited are Söll, Warth, Schroecken in Austria or Gstaad, Engstligenalp, and Mullern in Switzerland. In France, husky days can be arranged at Val d'Isère or Le Gets.