From the Yukon to New Zealand to Iceland and more, winter celebrations take on many a wild form and we’ve brought you five such epic snow season events to sink your teeth into – wrap up warm, invest in a wetsuit, and maybe some life insurance; it’s going to get chilly!
Surely the fastest way to see a whole heap of Dutch cities in one go, and one of the most impressive events on this list, is the Elfstedentocht. This epic ice skating tour takes in the eleven cities of the Friesland district of Holland, covering nearly 200 kilometres. The event is only held when the ice on the canals, lakes and rivers is thick enough, with contestants apparently running on their skates anywhere the ice doesn’t quite cut it.
Locals say the last time the event was held was in 1997, attracting more than two million spectators. And in 1986, the King of Holland himself took part – appropriately disguised, of course, and under the name W.A. van Buren.
The race starts and finishes in Leeuwarden and reportedly draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, with a maximum of 16,000 skaters allowed. The national fervour for this event is so great, it’s even got a name – the ‘Eleven Cities Fever’.
You can keep an eye on the tourism office’s Facebook page to check out whether this year will be the first in more than a decade to hold the race. And while there, you can always check out the Alkmaar Cheese Market for a more regular Dutch experience.
Queenstown in New Zealand is mostly known for its majestic views, beautiful ski slopes and adrenaline-pumping adventure sports. Possibly belonging in the latter category is the Birdman Competition (full and cumbersome name: the Hits 90.4 Birdman Competition), which riffs off events in other countries and cities, and the huge spectacle that is the Red Bull Flugtag. These competitions encourage contestants to construct flying contraptions or elaborate costumes to a theme, jump off a pier, and see how far they can fly. Said costumes and contraptions tend to be built with comedy value, rather than aerodynamics, in mind.
The difference in this case is, the Queenstown offering is part of the city’s Winter Festival, meaning contestants leap into icy Lake Wakatipu in the middle of winter. While the backdrop of snow-covered mountains is gorgeous, the spectators pictured are wrapped up in puffer jackets and is a good reminder of just what contestants are leaping into.
For those interested in taking the plunge dressed as a giant chicken, it’s free, and the dates have been announced for 2016. Or, save your system and check out Six Locations for Tolkien Fans to See in New Zealand instead.
If you really like dog sledding, and we mean, really like it, you could consider taking part in the Yukon Quest, an epic 1,000-mile journey travelling from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territories to Fairbanks in Alaska. Yes, it’s an international dog sled race that takes anywhere from nine to 14 days and has apparently run every February since 1984.
The trail follows the routes from the Gold Rush era, paying tribute to miners, trappers and those who travelled without the aid of cars, roads or planes, organizers say. Those taking part apparently leave food at checkpoints and shelter along the way in various accommodation sites, such as cabins, checkpoints or campsites. Two-time winner John Schandelmeier writes “Be prepared to camp at minus fifty without a fire.”
The 2015 winner took home $24,000 out of a total $127,000 pot, as well as four ounces of gold. Readers with the $2,000 US entry free who are wanting to participate can sign up here or you can check out what some Canadian snow guides have to say about less strenuous, and less expensive, snow alternatives in 5 Cheap, Fun Snow Alternatives to Skiing.
Another event-type that comes under the ‘you must be crazy!’ section of life are the polar bear swims. They’re popular all over the world, but Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim Club says it is one of the largest and oldest in the world, with the first swim in 1920 seeing 10 people enter the water, and more than 2000 in 2015. It’s free to enter provided you’re a club member.
The swim occurs on the first day of the New Year, with the city warning people that they shouldn’t stay in the English Bay waters longer than 15 minutes. Participants have said that despite the ice on the beach (yes, really) it’s the best swim ever (albeit saying this several years after the fact), with warm blood making them feel alive. Swimmers can try to make it out to a boat 100 metres offshore, but this is apparently quite hard due to the cold.
Polar Bear Swims are not unique to Canada, however, with the events reportedly also occurring in Holland, the USA and the United Kingdom. But if you’re taking part in the Vancouver swim, you could also check out seven other weird but wonderful things about the city.
An event for those with an iron stomach, Thorrablot is the Icelandic midwinter festival, which made a recurrence after Christianization in the 19th century, Iceland’s tourism office says. It also says that the menu for the festival, which starts in the 13th week of winter, is an “acquired taste”, given that its consists of traditional Icelandic food. For those not in the know, this includes rotten shark’s meat, congealed sheep’s blood in a ram’s stomach, pickled ram’s testicles and seared lamb’s head.
The food served at Thorrablot is apparently in the way of a traditional rite, or proof of manliness – this was a Viking festival originally, after all, and the festival is reportedly named either after an early king or the Thunder God himself. For those who are doubting that they have the Viking stomach required for the festival, let these twelve pictures and seven reasons to visit Iceland sway you when it comes to visiting the country.