5 Cheap, Fun Snow Alternatives to Skiing

Like that famous HBO and fantasy novel series says, Winter is Coming…at least for those readers in the Northern Hemisphere. And with it comes the promise of snow, the joy of snow sports, and the incumbent snow sport costs such as lift passes, gear hire or purchase, accommodation, travel and of course, that necessary après-ski aperitif.

We talked to snow activity guides Kylik Kisoun Taylor and Brian Jones, as well as drew on our own experience, to find some activities that won’t bust your budget this winter. Whether your wallet is a little on the slim side or your travel insurance company doesn’t cover activities more strenuous than marathoning the Walking Dead on Netflix, we’ve got you covered: here are five cheap and fun alternatives to skiing for your enjoyment this winter.

1. Snowshoeing

Kylik’s company, Tundra North Tours, rents snowshoes and offers snowshoe tours, with rental from about $20.

Snowshoeing is lots of fun and a great way to immerse oneself in the wilderness, taking travellers off the beaten path. Snowshoeing doesn’t require a trail, since the shoes ride on top of the snow, and while it’s a good work out, people don’t need to be in great shape to do it, he says.

Snowshoes are easy to use and if people can get into a pair of skis, they can get into a pair of snowshoes. An intermediate activity on the difficulty scale for able-bodied people who don’t have trouble getting in and out of cars, snowshoeing is popular in southern Canada, in the mountains, Kylik says, and is a cheap, fun alternative to skiing.

2. Winter camping

Brian says Canada West Mountain School offers winter camping programs and that most people enjoy winter camping because it is a unique experience that very few people do. “If folks already like summer backpacking and camping, then winter camping allows them to get out all year, not just in summer. Also, there are no bugs in the winter!”

Anyone can try winter camping, which can be done anywhere, meaning no lift access fees apply, Brian says. Required gear includes good warm clothes and camping gear, such as a sleeping bag. And he believes it’s easier than summer camping, given people can build shelves and chairs to sit in, nothing gets dirty, and there are no crowds.

“If you are camping where fires are allowed, it really is not much more difficult to have a fire. This really can make a winter evening great.”

Coming Back Alive has some safety tips for those looking to go winter camping, including making sure to travel with an experienced leader and with the correct, quality, equipment.

3. Cross-country skiing

While still involving skiing, cross-country skiing doesn’t generally involve paying for lift passes or resorts, Kylik says. Local cross-country ski clubs, which are generally not for profit, offer trails and cheap rental of equipment, and people of all ages take part in the activity, with the same skill level as snowshoeing, he says.

His local club, Inuvik Ski Club, offers rentals of skis, poles and boots for $20 a day and memberships for individuals costing $60.

“I really like to cross country ski because it’s under your own power, it’s not very expensive and you can go exploring, you’re more likely to see wildlife and things like that.”

4. Tobogganing 

Whether you buy a $40 sled from the shops or flatten a cardboard box, whether you cart your sled to a ski field or you just find a snow-covered hill, tobogganing or sledding can be a cheap and fun alternative to skiing or snowboarding.

It’s got the adrenaline rush of skiing, albeit generally over faster, but on the flip side, if you choose your hill well, you won’t have to worry about black diamond toboggan runs. Remember to watch out for obstacles like trees or buried rocks, and try not to go too fast – slowing down can often involve falling off the sled (or piece of cardboard, as the case may be).

5. Snowball fights and making snowmen

Find a patch of snow in public property or your own backyard and you have the makings for the cheapest of snow activities – the traditional snowman making and snowball fights.

While the latter is generally only fun with friends (and could lead to some serious talks with the police if you try it on people you don’t know), snowman making can be a solo, if sometimes frustrating, exercise. Be prepared for your creation to be about half a metre high and the colour of dirt, but revel in the fact that you’ve made a public work of art.

When it comes to snowball fights, why not go full Calvin and Hobbes and create a snow fort with snow barricades to hide behind? Your friends (and possibly, some innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire) won’t know what’s hit them.

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