It’s the time of year ski lifts start to hum, mountains become dusted with snow, and ski lovers head to the slopes. But not all adventurous, snow-loving people enjoy barreling down mountains strapped to two narrow planks. I adore snowy adventures, but I hate skiing—and I'm not alone. I recently went to Banff, Canada in the winter to prove it’s not just about skiing. It's possible for adventure buffs to find plenty of chilly, heart-pounding fun and still meet your friends après ski. Here are six great alternatives to seek out before resigning yourself to the lodge.
No one likes to run and play in the snow more than sled dogs. At Snowy Owl Dog Sled Tours you can learn how to be a musher and drive your own team through the woods. Once you get the hang of the commands, you’ll even be able to drive your team out onto frozen lakes. Be sure to give your dogs lots of encouragement and you’ll be rewarded with an adventurous ride. At the end, take time to cuddle with your dog team; these dogs love people as much as they love running in the snow.
While your friends are on the slopes, you can catch dinner! Big Jim is a local guide who will welcome you into his fishing shanty and introduce you to the world of ice fishing. Some may think sitting on a cold lake waiting for fish to bite isn’t very adventurous. However, I learned it’s not just about fishing; it’s about the whole journey. The journey includes a morning stop at the bakery, a drive out through the mountains, wildlife sightings, a hike through the woods to the lake, drilling holes, cooking food, and catching your dinner if you are lucky. There’s nothing more exhilarating than feeling the line tug, and reeling in your first fish though the ice with Big Jim as your cheerleader.
If you love to hike, don’t let the snow stop you. Rent some snowshoes and hit the trails. Banff is a hiking mecca in the summer, and it has just as many snowshoe trails in the winter. The trails are well marked and groomed, plus you’ll have no bears to worry about in the winter. You’ll work up a sweat quickly at altitude, so be sure to take plenty of fluids and snacks for energy. You can hire a nature guide to lead you, go out independently, or go remote and take to the air heli-snowshoeing.
Waterfalls can be an adventurous playground even in the winter. Just grab some rope, heavy-duty boots, ice picks, and crampons and follow your instructor from Yamnuska Climbing School to the frozen waterfall. Climbing routes are available to all levels, even beginners like me. After instruction on rope tying, belaying, and ice pick technique you’ll be ready to conquer the waterfall. It takes less strength than you would think if you use the right techniques. You’ll find yourself at the top of the waterfall before you know it.
While your friends are skiing at the top of the mountain, you’ll be going inside the mountain. With a constant inside temperature of 41°F, caving is done year-round in Banff. As long as you aren’t intimidated by tight squeezes, take a four-hour tour traversing 400 meters of the Rat’s Nest Cave and a 60 foot repel. This tour is not for the faint of heart. Be ready to get dirty, do some belly crawls, and don’t be afraid of the dark.
This winter, why not throw some stones? Granite curling stones, that is. Stay inside and test your balance on ice while learning about this distinctly Canadian sport. It may seem less adventurous, but don’t mistake that with being easy—it’s quite a core workout. You can learn how to do it weekly at the Banff Curling Club on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., October 28th through March 23rd. After my lesson I was able to push off and glide correctly, but I had a long way to go with sweeping and placement strategy. This is a great way to get local and appreciate the Canadian winter culture.
Try a few of these new winter adventures, or try them all in Banff. When you join your skiing friends in the evening for après ski, you’ll have the most unique winter adventure stories to tell at the table.