If you think winter’s arrival limits you to the gym till spring, think again. There’s no better time to get outside and challenge yourself with these ultra-demanding snow sports. Try one, and you’ll not only slash calories and build muscle, but you’ll also enter a world of outdoor exercise that’s surprisingly accessible—and addicting. From riding half-pipe on a park board to powering up a mountain on snowshoes, here are the season’s severest snow sports. Adrenaline junkies, we present you the ultimate cold-weather rush.
Sick of competing for snow at commercial ski resorts? We don’t blame you. No one wants to play dodge the tourist on vacation. Our solution: Hire a chopper and head to the best—and most remote—areas of the mountain. The untouched lines and deep powder will make the hefty fee well worth it. You’ll drop several thousand vertical feet, testing your endurance and agility in a way that no average black diamond can. Need a little inspiration? Check out Warren Miller’s 64th-annual ski and snowboard film Ticket to Ride, on tour now.
It’s underrated, but hands down the coolest way to backcountry ride. Enter the splitboard, a snowboard that separates into two skis, and pairs with climbing skins so you can reach high, off-the-map descents. Hiking up is just the beginning. K2 just debuted its Ultra Split Kit ($1,000, k2snowboarding.com), a brand-new splitboard that was perfected over the course of two years of testing on intense backcountry terrain. The result? An ultra-lightweight system that makes no sacrifice over the harshest runs.
Yes, people really do it, and yes, it’s as badass as it sounds. Mushing, aka sled dog racing, puts both rider and canine through tough winter conditions over difficult trails, with little to no support for miles. To compete, you must be in killer endurance shape and be wilderness survival savvy. But everyone has to start somewhere. Various sled dog clubs around the nation foster teams, teach classes, and host competitions—especially in areas like Colorado with heavy snowpack six to seven months out of the year. If you want to bag the holy grail of all races, try the Yukon Quest, North America’s epic 1,000-miler that runs between Fairbanks, AK and Whitehorse, Yukon every February.
Trail freaks, listen up: Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean you have to eliminate runs and hikes from your routine. Simply switch out your boots and runners for a pair of fitness-minded snowshoes to get a similar workout all winter long. The new Atlas Fitness Speed Snowshoe ($180, atlassnowshoe.com) features an ergonomic, lightweight V-frame that maximizes flotation in powder without hindering your gait. These babies are distance-ready and all-terrain-friendly. Follow any hiking trail or hit the drifts. Plus, you can strap them to your backpack for easy portability.
Let out your freestyle spirit and go bold with your snowboard on the half-pipe. Riding park is super complex and energy-demanding. It requires bolstered endurance to manipulate both board and body into fluid tricks without eating powder. Try it yourself on Ride Snowboards’ new Buck Up park board ($530, ridesnowboards.com)—easy to handle for beginners, but with daring flexibility to deliver the perfect pop and response for intermediate and advanced riders. To get in the mood, tune in to the 2014 Winter Olympics this February to watch the world’s best athletes compete in the half-pipe event.
You can chalk biathlon’s toughness up to one thing: adrenaline management. It’s challenging because it demands stamina and precision. Athletes cross-country ski up to 12-plus miles, stopping intermittently to shoot targets. They use a rifle weighing almost eight pounds, which they carry throughout. It’s not only about speed and endurance, but also the ability to master breathing and slow down your heart rate in order to steady the gun. To try it, find a cross-country ski area with a biathlon shooting range, or go to one of America’s five official biathlon training centers. Biathlon, a staple of the winter Olympics for decades, just added mixed relays—teams of two men and two women—in a brand-new event debuting in Russia this February.
7. Cross-Country Skiing
We’ve already touted cross-country skiing’s sculpting and cardio benefits. To recap: Nordic-style skiing tones muscles and improves stamina in a low-impact workout. But let’s be real, it’s probably a lot less fun than hitting a bunch of black diamonds on alpine skis. So how about a compromise? Get the best of both worlds on your winter vacation, and mix two days focused on cross-country—a day each for classic and skate style—with your alpine time. We know you want a killer workout before the après ski. And if 10-20 miles pounding the backwoods doesn’t exhaust you, we don’t know what will.
You don’t have to skate like Wayne Gretzky to reap the cardio benefits of ice hockey. No matter how good (or not so good) you are with the puck, hockey’s stop-and-go action gives you a killer calorie-torching, fat-burning interval workout. When you’re home for the holidays, round up a group of buddies and scout out the community rink for a pickup game. All you really need is a pair of skates, a stick and helmet, and your crew. Or, to make it a staple of your winter routine, join an adult league through Hockey North America: schooling beginner adults in hockey since 1980.