Cold temperatures, the early onset of night and snow are upon much of the country, signaling the unofficial start of winter. Instead of skiing and sledding, take advantage of some of the unique activities the world has to offer. There is fun to be had for sporty types, tourists and even film buffs.
A human polar bear takes the plunge in Seward, Alaska, in January.
Polar Bear Jumpoff:
Snow and ice have inspired humans to create a variety of bizarre games. After all, curling, which is basically shuffleboard on ice, is an Olympic sport. In Alaska, they go swimming. On the third weekend in January, head to
, don a costume and leap into Resurrection Bay, which is patrolled by King Neptune. "The Plunge" begins at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday the 19th. Jumpers are awarded prizes for the best costumes. Following the ceremony, refuel your frozen torso by entering the Oyster Slurping Contest at the Breeze Inn to benefit children with cancer.
Broomball National Championships:
In Minnesota, they run on ice.
is sort of the unofficial state sport. Played in a hockey rink, or outside on a pond, broomballers eschew skates in favor of rubber-soled shoes and wield a broom in place of a hockey stick. Otherwise, the rules are similar to ice hockey. Why not check out this year's national championships in Richfield, Minnesota, March 27-29? And if you're really ambitious, find a low-level league or co-rec team in your area, and enter to win yourselves! You can warm up after your time on the ice at the Mall of America, or head into town and catch a more traditional sport, NBA basketball, as the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the New Jersey Nets on the 29th and the Dallas Mavericks on the 31st.
Skijoring in New England:
So you've undoubtedly heard of dog-sledding, and know all about the Iditarod National Championships. In fact, there are plenty of spots in New England where you can try your hand at being pulled by groups of dogs over several days, like in Nahmakanta Lake, where Maine Dogsledding offers tours ranging from one to three days. For $975 a person, take your own team of five or six dogs for three days. The price includes all meals and lodging.
If you have a love for cross-country skiing and canines but never knew you could combine the two, maybe skijoring is your idea of perfect winter bliss. In skijoring, one to three dogs help pull as you cross-country ski. Harness yourself just like you're one of the dogs and enjoy the assisted ride. At the
Eden Mountain Lodge
in Vermont, take lessons from Vermont skijor champion Jim Blair, who is also the owner of the lodge, Or, go on a guided tour at the
in New Hampshire.
Bobsled at Lake Placid:
So you've seen bobsledders roll down the track during the Olympics, at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour, risking bodily harm in the name of international competition and a medal. If high-speed fun is your idea of a good time, forget the roller coasters, and head to Lake Placid, New York, the site of both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics. There you can take your own
trip down the track
at the Olympic Sports Complex with a professional driver and brakeman. But you'll have to sign a waiver. You can also try a luge custom-built for safety if you prefer to go solo down the icy track. Or, try that other bizarre Olympic sport that combines cross-country skiing with shooting, biathlon, in "Be a Biathlete." Check the
for available dates.
Residents of Oberhasli, Switzerland, drive out the evil spirits in a Trychele parade.
Trychele processions in Switzerland:
If you'd prefer to keep both feet on the ground, and take a less slippery approach to the winter ice and snow, catch the winter Eden that is the Oberhasli region of the Bernese-Oberland in the canton of Bern in Switzerland, and take part in centuries-old winter processionals. First, think about celebrating Christmas in the capital city of
. The day after, go to the highlands. There you'll see the ancient Annual Trychele processions, parades in the small towns of the
, which began as a tradition to drive out evil spirits around the winter solstice take place in the week following Christmas. Costumed marchers hit the streets with drums and cow bells. Every village in the Oberhasli has its own Trychler group, each of which converge in the village of Meiringen on Dec 30. And during the week, the towns run 24 hours, giving you the chance to try local delicacies like hot-mulled wine called Glühwein, and Chäsbrätel, rich grilled cheese on toasted bread.
Nate Herpich is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and Sports Illustrated.com.