Forget rock climbing, in winter it’s all about ice climbing; scaling huge flows of frozen waterfalls for the ultimate adrenaline rush. The town of Kandersteg in the Swiss Alps is famous for its ice climbing and has options for all abilities, as well as guided ice climbs and even its very own ice climbing festival. The town is an excellent gateway into the Alps and their ample winter sports and adventure options.
Balloon ride over the Alps
Hot air balloons fly better in cold air, which produces better lift, so winter is a great time to enjoy a ballon ride. In late January the Swiss town of Château d’Oex hosts an international hot air ballooning festival, an ideal time to experience flying silently over the snowy peaks of the Alps.
Phillip Island, just a short drive from Melbourne, Australia is home to its own colony of penguins, known as fairy penguins. At sunset, locals gather to watch the famous ‘penguin parade’, when the little penguins come ashore. The island is also home to many other wildlife species, such as kangaroos and wallabies.
No place is more synonymous with Christmas than Lapland, and if you want to experience a true festive adventure then you should definitely head to this northernmost region of Finland. Kids will be transfixed by the magic of meeting Father Christmas, while a host of other activities, from dog sledding and snowmobile-riding to ice fishing and reindeer rides will bring out the Christmas spirit in even the biggest grinch.
If skiing and snowboarding is too tame, then amp up the fear factor by trying your hand at heli-skiing, which consists of taking a helicopter up to an unreachable part of a mountain and jumping out for some pristine powder and often never-before-skied terrain. Whistler in British Columbia, Canada is a great place to try the adrenaline-pumping activity and has options for both intermediate and advanced skiers.
A dog sledding tour in Norway lets you appreciate the country’s rugged snowy landscapes and get back to nature. There are lots of different options available, from a half-day tour and a full moon sled experience to a hardcore four day expedition through Langsua National Park.
Channel your inner Cool Runnings and try your hand at a bobsleigh run. Whizz down the 1,500m Olympic bobsleigh track in La Plagne, France, which features 19 bends for an exhilarating ride. Go it alone in the solo speed luge or plunge down with friends in the four-person bob raft. If you want to go professional you can even opt for the Olympic Experience and go down the track with an Olympic bobsledder as your driver.
There is perhaps nothing quite so wintry as staying in an actual ice hotel. The original Icehotel is located in the far north of Sweden and is rebuilt every winter, with artists from around the world hand carving each ice room. The hotel organises winter excursions for guests, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights. You sleep on a bed of ice, covered in fur for extra warmth, while temperatures hover between -5 and -8. Don’t forget your thermals!
It might only have around four hours of daylight at this time of year, but Iceland is undoubtedly a great winter destination, whether you want to plunge into its hot springs, see the magnificent Northern Lights or just explore the country’s rugged landscape.
Skiing in Japan
When it comes to skiing, Japan is still slightly off the beaten track for most Europeans, but is well worth exploring for a brilliant winter adventure. The northern island of Hokkaido is home to hundreds of ski resorts, one of the most popular of which is Niseko, renowned for its excellent conditions and international atmosphere.
New Zealand is renowned for its stunning landscapes and is one of the best places in the world to try out glacier hiking. The Franz Josef glacier extends for 12 kilometres on the west coast of the country’s South Island and is a popular spot for glacier walks. Tour companies will provide you with specialist equipment and fly you into the area by helicopter before guiding you across the glacier.
If you really want to escape the chill then all you have to do is head into the southern hemisphere where it is the middle of summer. South Africa is a country perfect for adventures, from surfing and penguin spotting to hiking and ending the day with a vineyard tour and glass of chilled white wine.