Although most of us go to the mountains to fuel our passion for skiing or snowboarding, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy and entertained in ski resorts.
Whether it's on the snow or ice, in the water or even in the sky, you can find lots to do if you need a break from your skiing or you have people in your group who are keen to experience everything that mountain resorts have to offer.
A perennial favourite for families, tobogganing and tubing are activities that almost anyone can do and some courses can offer up quite a thrill! Toboggans usually have rope or handles to offer some directional control. There are great tracks in Grindelwald and Davos in Switzerland, and Obergurgl and Lech in Austria.
For younger children, it's often possible to slide around on or near the nursery slopes after the lifts have closed. Many resorts have their own floodlit courses which range from sedate to fast and furious. Often there is a hut or bar at the top of the course, so that you can fuel up with a hot chocolate or Glühwein before you begin your decent.
Tubing has become more popular in recent years, providing another non-skiing activity in many resorts. Courses are more commonly found in North American including, Jackson Hole, Vail and Whistler, which all have large tubing areas. It is also possible to try tubing, on a smaller scale, at the UK's indoor snow slopes.
You might be unfortunate to be skiing or snowboarding on ice, but there are numerous sports and activities in ski resorts where ice is a good thing! Depending on where you go for your ski holiday, resorts often take advantage of the freezing winter temperatures and offer icy activities that range from fast and furious ice driving to convivial curling.
You’ll find ice rinks in most large ski resorts. They're usually outdoor and are often very popular, so it’s worth checking whether or not you have to book ahead (tour operators tend to book out whole sessions for their children's holidays).
Don’t forget to wrap up and wear your ski jacket, gloves, hat and plenty of warm layers, as the air is a lot colder once the sun has gone down late afternoon. Avoid wearing jeans if possible. Skates are available for hire at the rink, but make sure you have a warm pair of ski socks. Most ice skating rinks are man-made, but in some higher resorts it is sometimes possible to skate on frozen lakes during the coldest part of the winter.
'Chess on ice' originated in medieval Scotland, and can be played at numerous ice rinks, including many at major resorts throughout the Alps. Many ice rinks in ski resorts have curling facilities, and it can be good fun to give it a try. Curling involves sliding granite stones (called ‘rocks’) down to a target up to 46m away. You can try curling at resorts including Zermatt and Wengen, as well places that have hosted the Winter Olympics.
If sliding on ice is your thing, a handful of resorts boast ice driving course. Some even hold rallies which you can go and watch. It can be expensive, but it's certainly a memorable experience. French resorts with ice driving tracks include Tignes, Alpe d’Huez and Val Thorens. Europe's highest circuit is in Andorra's Grandvalira ski area, plus Scandinavia has an abundance of ice driving options, including many tracks based on frozen lakes if your destination isn’t necessarily a ski resort. Do bear in mind that the tracks aren’t always open for the whole season. European ski resort tracks will often close from the end of February.
Explore The Flat
It’s not something you can do in every resort, but for those who are seeking a full on adrenaline rush, this is the activity for you! Both day trips and nighttime excursions are usually possible, and you can generally choose to either ride on your own or with two people on the snowmobile, which will save a bit of money. Not all snowmobile companies will provide you with the essential goggles and gloves, so it’s advisable to take yours with you. You’ll almost always be asked to sign a disclaimer when snowmobiling, so make sure you have insurance which covers the activity.
While larger European resorts do tend to offer snowmobiling, it remains a more popular activity in North America. Crested Butte is one popular destination, but it's Jackson Hole and the nearby Yellowstone National Park, which has arguably the best snowmobiling in the USA.
Let the dogs take the strain! This is an extremely popular activity in Scandinavia, where some resorts have fantastic networks of dogsledding trails, winding their way through stunning forests and over frozen lakes. Some big resorts in the Alps offer up this too and its even possible (if conditions allow) to make the most of this great activity in Scotland.
Up In The Sky
Trying paragliding, or parapenting as it's sometimes called, gives you a unique perspective from high above your favourite slopes. Paragliders use the thermal currents (warmer air which rises) to stay in the air for longer, so your descent can last for around 20-30 minutes. The views and tranquility when you’re in the air make it a memorable highlight to any ski holiday.
Anyone can give it a go, as tandem paragliding with fully-trained instructors is offered at many resorts. You wouldn’t be doing it solo, unless you’ve done a course of instruction to allow you to go alone. One of the best places to try paragliding during a ski holiday is Wengen or Mürren in Switzerland, with spectacular views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Jungfrau.
Snowkiting works on a similar premise to paragliding, though in recent years there have been rapid developments in the equipment used for snowkiting. While it is often done on snow-covered frozen lakes, the more extreme variant – speedriding – is done in high alpine terrain.
Snowkiting can be dangerous, and there is a steep learning curve, so it's essential that you take lessons and commit to learning the core skills if you're going to do it. There are many popular locations for snowkiting in both Europe (including Scotland) and North America. The main requirement is an area with a consistent (but not too much) wind.
Hit the spa
Natural thermal springs are common to many mountainous regions, which means that there are spas in or close to many major resorts. Located in Austria's Salzburg region, Bad Gastein (‘Bad’ actually means spa) is one example of a traditional resort town with amazing spa facilities. Another top choice is Bormio in Italy. Most resorts will also have excellent swimming pools. which have increasingly been built with spa areas &ndash expect saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms. One of the best is located in Tignes and Avoriaz has recently built a fantastic indoor complex, whilst most Austrian hotels – even some of the moderately priced ones – will have excellent "wellness" facilities.
Sightseeing... with a difference. Horse-drawn carriages are a memorable way of seeing a resort. You’ll find opportunity to do this in quite a number of resorts, though slightly more often at Swiss resorts. Among the resorts you can take a horse-drawn ride are Lech and Ischgl in Austria, St Moritz, Zermatt and Wengen in Switzerland, and Megève in France.