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Winter 2020/21 has been a winter like no other. With the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic meaning that most European ski resorts are unable to open their ski lifts. But what you might now know is that the ski resorts themselves are still open. That’s right! The resorts are up and running and welcoming people with wide open arms. But you might wonder what you can do in the alps right now? Well look no further, I’m here to shed a little light on some new and different activities that you might never have thought to do this winter!
Ok, firstly one of the activities most likely to spring to mind if you can’t use the ski lifts, is cross country skiing. This winter, cross country has taken off as an excellent way to explore the mountains. It is basically where a person’s momentum is purely from their own effort and not from a mechanical lift.
Cross country is not only a great way to explore mountain trails in a way that you cannot on normal skis or snowboards, but it is also an excellent form of exercise, providing a much more continuous cardio workout that downhill skiing provides.
Snow shoe or ‘raquette’ is now a recreational activity but it came about essentially as a way for people to move about in counties of heavy snow. Snow shoes allow you to move through deeper snow with more ease than if you were just in hiking boots.
Most resorts have spaces and tracks that have been created purely for hiking and snow shoes, but you don’t have to stick to the routes. If you fancy exploring off the beaten track, you can do more easily with these. Just make sure that you are always staying safe - it can be a good idea to hire a guide for your exploring and most ski schools have instructors teaching this as well. An instructor will also make sure you are in the correct gear, walking correctly - which sounds silly, but trust me, means you will move efficiently and with more ease.
Touring is probably the number one activity currently taking place in the alps this winter. Touring is when you hike up the mountain (either on foot, snow shoes or skis/board with skins on) to be able to then ski or snowboard back down. Either on pistes or on off-piste routes. It is very
popular with those living in resorts and for advanced skiers and riders looking for fresh powder and untouched pistes.
Touring is again a great way to explore the mountains and to keep skiing and riding when lifts are closed. However, don’t be lured in by those beautiful instagram shots of people scaling mountains with their skis strapped to their backpacks. Touring takes a lot of fitness, knowledge of the mountains, safety precautions and awareness of the current snow conditions.
Having said that, touring is open to anyone from an intermediate level of riding of skiing. But do it safely! Speak to the ski schools in your resort and hire a guide. Not only will they be able to provide all the equipment needed to tour safely (think the right skis, skins, poles, safety equipment…) but they will also be able to take you to the best areas of your resort.
You might shrug this off as an activity just for children. But sledging or ‘bum-boarding’ can be great fun for all ages! For us, this is something we can do as a family, from our 2 year old, to grandparents, it’s something we can all head out to do together with minimal planning and expense.
Most resorts will have dedicated luge spaces for younger children to play safely. Often located very centrally and easy to access for little legs.
If you are looking for something more adventurous, then evening ‘super-luge’ might be for you. Whilst Oxygene Ski School pioneered this fun activity, a lot of ski schools now also run their version of the race.
This is most definitely an older teen / adult activity. The sledges have brakes and take some muscle to control. The idea is that the guide will take a group of you to the top of the luge space - usually a ski run after the lifts have closed for the day. You will luge down together, with the guide. It can be pretty fast and often gets quite competitive. Think Mario Cart, on sledges with your friends!
Whilst visiting spa’s and pools is currently not possible, the spa can still come to you! If you are looking for a holiday accommodation, think to book somewhere that has a private pool space, spa or sauna. The use of the pool is great for all ages, but is definitely a good way to tire out children. Sauna and steam rooms of course are just for the adults.
If you want to take your alpine relaxation to a higher level, then there are also mobile services like Massage Me, who cover most of the French ski resorts. They have dedicated practitioners
offering private yoga sessions, physiotherapy and massage. These therapists come to you, keeping everything safe and cosy in your accommodation, so you can feel like a true VIP.
Ice skating in the alps is not like you might have experienced. The spaces are not the ‘rinks’ that might spring to mind but are usually open air spaces, surrounded by the atmosphere and elements.
Most spots are well set up for adults and children, with family offers and discounts to entice you in. They usually have tiny skates that strap over a little child’s snow boots - we were able to take our 2 year old. They also often have aids and fun toys to help younger kids find their feet on the ice, whilst being safe and having fun.
Jöering originated in Scandanavia and its popularity is spreading through Europe. Initially seen as a way to get up mountains before lifts existed, it is now becoming an activity in it’s own right. Joöering is when you are pulled on skis or a sledge behind a horse. Skiers of all abilities can try
this activity, the idea being that it is tailored to each and every person. Even children can give this a try, with most equestrian centres also having smaller poneys for younger children. The starting age is usually around 6 years old.
Resorts where this is offered often have dedicated spaces and trails for you and the horses, meaning you can head out into nature for longer walks and hikes.
Whilst not available in all resorts, it is definitely something to keep an eye out for. Merbel has a great set up, read more about their space here.
Another sled activity is husky dog sledding. Similar to jöering, with this you are tucked snugly in your sledge whilst a team of animals pull you to your destination. Husky sledding is with a team of dogs who have often been working and training together for several years to be able to work
together in sync. The musher - sled driver - will be in control of the dogs and steers them with his voice. The dogs love this activity -the breed of huskies relish the social interaction, the exercise paired with the mental stimulation it gives them.
This can be a beautiful way to head high up into the mountains with younger children often not able to ski these areas. Just make sure to wrap up warm as whilst the dogs will be pacing, you are sat stationary with the wind whipping by you!
You can also take a try at mushing the dogs yourself! Have a look at the dogs in Les Arcs where they have an excellent set up.
If you are more of a petrol head than with the animals, then a ski doo trip might be more up your piste. A ski doo is essentially the same as a jet-ski, but for snow not on water. In France it is very difficult to buy your own ski-doo with many restrictions in place on who can own them. Basically this means they are reserved for the ski safety patrols and for organised legal ski doo companies.
The trips head out in the evenings once the pistes are closed to skiers. An excursion will entail 5 - 6 bikes following one another in a line, with the guide in the front. You can book 2 people per bike and share the cost. Also share the driving and being the passenger. Usually taking up to an hour, you will explore closed pistes, off piste powder and dedicated trails.
This activity is geared towards the older crowd, usually mid/older teens can be passengers but to drive is 17+.
What? In winter?! Yes, mountain biking in winter on the snow is having a real moment this winter. Especially as the bikes can access the pistes currently closed to mechanical lifts. Pistes open for biking are usually marked as dedicated for bikers and approved by FFCT (French Cycle Tourism Federation).
Routes are graded as are ski routes, from green for beginners, to black for the advanced. The trails can be a mix of downhill, cross country, endurance or jumps and obstacles. The wide variety available makes the activity accessible for a wide range of skill levels.
Bikes can be rented in resort, along with the safety and protective gear you are going to need. We would also suggest hiring a guide to take you out to familiarize yourself with the etiquette and the routes and best places to head to.
Whilst rock climbing is reserved for the summer months, in the winter alps we try ice climbing! Again, not all resorts have this activity but if they do, it is well worth stopping by. Ice climbing is often on a tower of ice, with hand and foot holds carved into the sides. Arranged with varying levels of difficulty from beginner to more advanced, guides are on hand to guide the newcomers as well and challenge the pro climbers. One of the most famous towers is in Champagny where they have a 24m high towel that has hosted world cup climbing events!
This is a great activity for those with a head for heights!
Bobsleigh is unique to only a few resorts - in France it’s the calling card of La Plagne. Used for the 1992 winter Olympics, and still used for world cup level competitions, the track is also open to amature bob enthusiasts. There are varying levels of bob that you can take, from slower carts, to taking the ride with a pro-driver, to mono-luge done on your own. The speed of the bob and the G-force experienced means that this is an activity for adults.
On the La Plagne track, the speed record is 134 km/h, so there’s something to aim for…
About the author : Jennifer Tsang lives in the alps with her husband and 2 ski-crazy boys. Outside her day job, she works as a freelance writer, specialising in all things winter. From activities, to families, to lifestyle and wellbeing. Follow her adventures on Instagram.Back to overview
We are Jacob and Taylor. Travel is our passion and we love sharing our experiences here at The Travelling Souk. Our hope is that you would be inspired by this little blog to try something new, embrace an adventure, and live life to the fullest.