There’s a well-known phrase used among us skiers and snowboarders: “The mountains are calling!” They generally call me twice a year, in February and at Easter. Once you’ve been bitten by the winter holiday bug, it won't be long before those mountains are calling you! Here's my list of 10 best picks of how you can enjoy life in the snowy mountains without stepping into a ski.
Spending a week or longer in snow-covered, jaw-dropping, white and slate landscapes never fails to remind me just how insignificant I am in the face of the power of Mother Nature. Over the past 100 years, ingenious resort planners have carved out playgrounds, all over the world, for winter sports enthusiasts to test their skills and enjoy all the magnificent mountains have to offer. Just the architecture and infrastructure of some ski resorts is an incredible feat of engineering in themselves... So, just how did they build those cable car routes decades ago?
My parents introduced me to skiing as a child, before I turned to snowboarding at university and, subsequently, spent my winters working in Italy as a ski holiday rep. While my parents have reluctantly grown older, their love of the ski resort ambience and fun hasn’t waned one little bit and they still holiday in Austria each year, filling their days without even stepping foot on skis.
If you’ve been inspired by last months’ Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, but snowsports aren’t what you would choose to do on holiday, you may not be aware that many ski resorts have plenty to offer visitors seeking a less energetic snowy escape - and plenty of activities that aren't necessarily adrenaline-fuelled.
With the right wardrobe and accessories, you can have just as much fun on the snowy mountains as you can on a sandy beach. Winter clothing is getting cheaper to purchase every season too, so grab yourself a toasty-warm ski jacket, gloves and pair of sallopettes in the spring sales. The secret is to pack base-layers, a sturdy pair of walking boots, thick socks and your sunglasses (yes, I'm happy to tell you that you will need them) and choose which activities you want to try.
1. Ride a gondola to the top of a mountain for lunch
If you take a gondola ride to the top of a mountain for lunch - you will be rewarded with the fabulous views as well as the delicious traditional cuisine. Why not help your lunch go down with a glass of glühwein or Bombardino as you take the time out to stop and take in the view? You’d be surprised how warm it can get in the sun, even when you are surrounded by so much snow, and how prevalent deck chairs are on mountain-side restaurant terraces!
2. Watch the experts in action
Why not watch the experts in action? It can be almost as thrilling as participating, as the tension of the race rises. Choose from ski jumping, ski racing, pairs of skiers or snowboarders pitched head to head in downhill slalom racing, half pipe, big air or slopestyle - think aerial acrobatics on skis and snowboards. For more sedate spectator sports, cheer on super-fit biathletes as they ski across country, stopping to fire their rifles at targets en route. Even without the competitions, many resorts stage weekly snow shows by night which are floodlit or illuminated by torch light and put on by the ski school instructors. They are usually free to watch, so all you have to do is turn up and cheer them on.
3. Test your precision and learn the winning techniques of the incredibly skilful sport of curling
To learn the winning techniques of curling, no skating skills are required as you take to the ice for this team game, attempting to outwit your opponents by gliding the closest ‘rock’ to the target. It was certainly a highlight of the Winter Olympics in South Korea for many, sat in their armchairs at home wishing they could give curling a try.
4. Soak in a thermal pool
Soak in a thermal pool. Many resorts have heated pools, which have both indoor and outdoor sections. Floating on your back at night in a steaming pool, looking up at the clear starry sky and ghostly mountain peaks looming overhead is a very special feeling. Plus, where you find winter sports, you’ll find an abundance of saunas too which are a perfect way to unwind and relax on your holiday.
5. Strap on a pair of snow shoes
Snowshoeing - or snow walking - evolved over thousands of years as our ancestors hunted, migrated and moved around their snowy landscapes. Whilst the snow shoes have become more sophisticated over time, the simple pleasure of squeaking through fresh, crisp snow at your own pace is yours to discover. Most ski resorts now offer snowshoe walking tours of many different lengths and duration to give everybody an opportunity to do something they have most likely never done before.
6. Boo at the bad guys at an ice hockey match!
Why not have a good old 'Boo' at the bad guys at an ice hockey match? Exciting, loud, easy to follow and just pure all-round hearty fun. You pick a team. Cheer them on. The team with the most goals wins. You might even be inspired to return the next day to take an ice skating lesson.
7. Shout ‘mush’ at your own team of huskies
Shout ‘mush’ at your own team of huskies as they pull you through the snow. But don't forget to make a fuss of them afterwards as a reward, while admiring their beautiful coats and mesmerising eyes, up close and for real. For those wanting something more sedate by way of a ride, you can always try a horse-drawn sleigh through pine tree-lined trails as you explore the heart of your winter wonderland.
8. Pilot a skidoo
A popular option is to ride into the mountains at sunset on a skidoo for a traditional dinner at a piste-side restaurant, and then ride back in the dark. If snow and motors are your thing, some resorts also offer rides in gravity-defying ‘piste-bashers’ as they groom and prepare the slopes for the next morning with their caterpillar tracks. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
9. Be a passenger in a bobsleigh on an Olympic run
Be a passenger in a bobsleigh on an Olympic run. This may require some adrenaline but what an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience! You can ride with the pros on tracks at Igls, near Innsbruck in Austria; La Plagne in France; Lillehammer Olympic track, Norway; Sansicario, Italy and the world’s oldest track of 125 years: St Moritz in Switzerland.
10. Sample some of the world’s finest cuisine
Many snowy European destinations are, as luck would have it, situated in countries boasting some of the world’s finest cuisine. If you’ve spent your day outside burning calories in the cold, you can surely justify that wood-fired calzone oozing with mozzarella and a huge slice of Marsala-soaked tiramisu.
The good news is, for those of us based in Europe and the UK, dozens of the world’s leading snowsports destinations are within easy reach, thanks to budget airline routes flying into numerous gateway cities to the Alps, Dolomites and Scandinavia. Don’t rule out driving yourself out to France, Italy, Switzerland or Austria - you can add an overnight stop onto your journey for some bonus exploring.
Don’t underestimate the incredible experience of flying over the Alps to your destination, which is an experience in itself. If you’re lucky enough to fly on a clear day, the views as you come down to land are truly stunning; it’s a genuine privilege to see the topography of the landscape from that angle. Landing at Innsbruck airport in Austria offers an extra-special thrill, as you come down to land through the mountain valley.
The majority of these destinations are under a two-hour flight away from UK airports. It's quite amazing to think that there’s a whole different side of our astoundingly diverse planet waiting, so short a distance away, to offer you the warmest of welcomes to their colder climes.
If you feel like a change from the sand, sun and sea holidays, then start planning a snow, sun and ice holiday and fill your days with exhilarating new experiences. RCI members have some 806 great winter resorts to choose from if they want a holiday experience way beyond the beach - just click below and see for yourself.
Many people own timeshare, but don't realise how far it can take them with a holiday exchange membership, such as RCI membership. From sunny shores to sensational summits, the softest of sand to the crispest of snow - and every holiday experience in between - with RCI membership you could be widening your world and collecting some amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If you own timeshare and want to see where it could be taking you, just click on the button below to join RCI in a few simple steps.