So maybe ripping down a double black diamond just isn't enough for you. The powder, the trees, the cliff bands? Nope. Too pedestrian. Well, then. The next time you schedule out your ski vacation save room for these unique, knee-shaking adventures.
You take a great big parachute-like kite, attach it to yourself with a harness and hand cables, and slap a snowboard or a pair of skis on your feet and off you goooooo. Snowkiting doesn't need a ski lift, slope, or good weather. In fact, the nastier the weather, the more extreme the sport. The sport is, um, taking off all over the world but North American resorts are marketing lessons and venues where you can push the boundaries of freestyle, big air, and backcountry exploration by kite.
The International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway N.H., has a snowkiting program.
Colorado Kite Force, Lake Dillon, Summit County, Colo., has two locations for lessons.
Skip the lifts, the lines, the crowds. Book a seat on a helicopter for a skiing experience that never will be matched If you've got the cash and the skills (you need to be an intermediate to expert skier or boarder). You'll be asked to pay a hefty amount per run or day but then you get 2,000+ feet of untracked vertical with each landing. Just about every major destination resort has (or will have) a helicopter skiing operation nearby. Some places, like the Ruby Mountains, the Chugach Range, Alaska, Bella Coola, B.C., are heli-skiing only.
Pacific Crest Heli-Guides plans to offer helicopter service in Lake Tahoe this season. The operation is based out of the Truckee Airport and will access more than 100,000 acres of privately owned lands located along the spine of the Pacific Crest. This is the first full-fledged helicopter skiing operation launched in the Lake Tahoe region. Others include:
Snowcat skiing is the poor man's heli-skiing. It takes longer, gets less vertical, beginners can do it, it's less expensive but the skiing can be just as spectacular. You also have a better chance of going out on the mountain because you won't have high winds or foul weather to ground you. You pile into a heated snowcat cab (skis on the outside) for a march up service roads to backcountry ridges. Some ski areas use snowcat operations to assess potentially new inbounds terrain before they install a lift. Others map out backcountry areas on private or public lands where no ski resort operates.
Tucker Mountain Snowcat Access. Copper Mountain, Colo. Backcountry skiing inbounds. Cats operate about every 15 minutes and the service is free with the purchase of a Copper Mountain lift ticket, but is first-come, first served. Others:
Steamboat Powdercats, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Grand Targhee Snowcats, Grand Targhee, Wyo.
Jump on a bike with skis rather than wheels this winter. This sport lives on the edge. Riders have a seat and handlebars but the frame uses short skis instead of pedals. You can't snowplow. The only way to stop a snowbike is with a hockey stop- leaning the bike sideways and digging in the ski edges.
Snow cycle lessons are offered daily at Vail, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, Telluride, Winter Park, and Steamboat Springs. You can slap on a headlamp for three hours of night cycling on weekend nights in some resorts.
Polar Bear Swim:
Feel like doing something really stupid? Join the thousands of people who jump into freezing-cold lakes in the middle of winter. Those thrill-seekers seem to forget that polar bears have thick fur. We have skin.
Bayfield Winter Festival, Mt. Ashwabay, Bayfield, Wis.
Ogden Winterfest, Ogden, Utah. Not only did people join in the Polar Bear swim, they also hooked themselves to the front of a dog sled for the Human Dog Sled Race.
Gar Woods Bear Swim, Carnelian Bay, Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Polar Bear Plunge, Eagle Nest Lake, N.M.
Flathead Lake Polar Bear Plunge, Flathead Lake, Big Fork, Mont.
Backcountry Ski Guiding:
It's time to learn all there is about the backcountry when the inbounds "extreme" skiing experience doesn't cut it. Several operations not only take you in the backcountry but teach you how to guide in the backcountry.
Jackson Hole Backcountry Camp, Jackson, Wyo.
Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau, Whistler, B.C.
Crested Butte North Face Guide Program is a "backcountry-lite" clinic. The groups stay in-bounds, but get avi education, ski technique tips and evaluation.
This is basically like waterskiing except the boat is a horse or dog and your skis are on snow instead of water. Purchase a harness online and "Hiyaaa" all by yourself if you have a big dog with too much energy and a flat area or cross-country ski track that allows dogs, Otherwise, look for winter festivals with Ski Joring as an event and use someone else's horse.
Whitefish Winter Carnival, Whitefish, Mont.
Silverton Skijoring, Silverton, Colo.
Ogden Winterfest, Ogden, Utah
Find out what it's like to steer your own rig. Feel the 330 horse power of plowing, pushing, and tilling technology in your hands. You drive, till, turn, plow snow, and even groom a run if you feel comfortable.
Prinoth Snowcat Driving Experience, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Crested Butte, Colo. The school incorporates classroom time for safety and operational instruction then puts students on a closed 'course'.
(Note: Be sure and check Becky Lomax's story about heli and cat skiing across North America for more information on those sports.)