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Alternative high-altitude snow sports

16th March 2016 | Monica Adorno

Snowkiting on frozen lake of Reschensee in South Tyrol - ©South Tyrol

Snowkiting on frozen lake of Reschensee in South Tyrol

Copyright: South Tyrol

So you can ski and you can snowboard. But how about taking flight on a kite, shredding the steeps on teleskis or paragliding off a summit? There’s a whole other world of high octane high-altitude sports out there and learning these takes grit, determination and a different mind-set.

Want in? Here’s the lowdown on the most stimulating high-altitude sports.  

Telemarking

With telemarking your heels aren’t fixed as they are with Alpine skiing, instead, the bindings only attach to the front of the boot allowing for more flexibility and freedom.  The joy in this form of skiing in is the turn; to do it, tip your skis onto their edge, you’ll feel the skis curving at which point you should tip your upper body down the hill in order to stay in balance, and adopt the telemark position.  This is where you drop the inside ski back and raise the heel as if you were lunging, then ride the skis out all the way around the curve.  

It’s not an easy technique to learn but the effect is that there’s a natural and unrestricted feel to your skiing, just sweet free carving.

To find out more visit, the Telemark Ski Company which offers All Mountain Courses to develop skiing for all slopes, speeds and snow conditions with BASI qualified instructors. Also good are Scottish-based G2.

Snow kiting

Fly, spin and twist through the air on a snow kite. We struggle to find the words to describe the feeling of being pulled up a mountain by a kite but take our word for it – it’s friggin’ awesome and it’s probably your calling. Watch a few youtube videos – you’ll see. You can do it on any wide-open snow covered area, of course you’ll need some wind, and in theory most kites will get you moving.  However, there are kites specifically designed for the sport and various factors, such as weight, speed of wind, rider’s ability, should be taken into consideration when choosing a design that’s right for you.

So don’t just grab a kite and set off - that would be silly. You want to soar through the sky, not crash and eat wood.  Be smart, take lessons, ensure that you have the right kit and you’ll be good to go.

In essence, what you’re after condition-wise, is a wide open space with consistent wind. Trees, cliffs, buildings which are upwind are not good; downwind you want to avoid rocks, power lines or steep drops.

Once you’re a pro, you’ll be able to use your snowkite skills to travel long distances and access deep untouched pow!

Where can you do it? France, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Bulgaria and the US.

We rate La Thuille, which has more than 150 kilometres of piste, is relatively quiet, and which has a designated snowkite area on the St Bernard Pass (at 2,188m). It’s also the only one in Italy that can be accessed by ski lift. The snow kiting school is equipped to look after both beginners and more expert kiters.

Also excellent is host of the Snowkite Masters events Serre-Chevalier.  There’s a snowkiting school located on the Lautaret Pass, which also happens to be one of the world’s top snowkiting spots.

Snowkiting in Serre Chevalier, France - ©Serre Chevalier

Snowkiting in Serre Chevalier, France

Copyright: Serre Chevalier

Cross-country skiing

For a proper cross-country adventure, head to Engadin St. Moritz. The resort, which is famed for its glitz and loaded clientele, is situated in the Engadin Valley in the south of Switzerland, and has perfect snow conditions.

So well suited is it to cross-country adventures that each March it hosts the Engadin Ski Marathon, Switzerland’s largest cross-country race where up to 13,000 skiers attempt the 26 miles between Maloja and S-chanf.  Altogether, Engadin St. Moritz has over 125 miles of ski tracks that stretch through the Upper Engadin and which pass through the Roseg Glacier, crossing frozen lakes and beautiful diverse landscapes.   

Those new to cross-country could ski the Direttissima route over three lakes, or, could choose to glide over the Zuoz trail. We recommend booking a hotel in the valley to ensure that you’re near the slopes.

Another great cross-country skiing destination is Funäsfjällen in Sweden where you can explore the gentle valley landscape and ski to your heart’s content.

Also good in Sweden is Sälen, which has trails for both cross-country and ski touring and several places which offer illuminated trails making it possible to ski in the evening.

Preparing to cross-country ski in Engadin St. Moritz - ©Engadin St. Moritz

Preparing to cross-country ski in Engadin St. Moritz

Copyright: Engadin St. Moritz

Snowshoeing

With fresh powder snow, and surrounded by the iconic peaks of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger, the Schwarzhorn peak above Grindelwald is a beautiful location for snowshoeing.  Grindelwald itself is a very pretty mountain resort and it has a high-speed lift to whisk snowshoers up the mountain with trails that wind down the mountain back to the village again. The Firstbahn cable car is located in the centre of town just a few minutes’ walk from the rail station. Evening snowhoeing tours are also available.

Snowshoeing in Val di Fassa, Dolomites - ©RBrunei/Val di Fassa

Snowshoeing in Val di Fassa, Dolomites

Copyright: RBrunei/Val di Fassa

Paragliding            

Paragliding, also called parapenting, is extremely popular in The Three Valleys. Described as the simplest and purest form of aviation, it is one of the fastest growing air sports in the world.

So how does it work? With some training, you can paraglide solo, but most people will fly in-tandem with a qualified instructor.

The pilot will manoeuvre the parachute while the passenger enjoys the flight and the phenomenal views. The only scary bit is during take-off when you both run downhill, and carry on gaining speed until the parachute lifts you into the air.

No particular level of skill is required, just the ability to chill, sit back and enjoy the ride, which means that the sport is open to everyone. You then peacefully float through the air, above the dramatic landscape below for ten to twenty minutes, aiming to catch thermals to keep you gliding for longer. Landing is low-impact and you’ll be returned smoothly to the ground.

For something more extreme, try ski-paragliding or speed riding which combines paragliding and skiing to enable you to ride and fly down the slopes at incredible speeds.

Head to Chamonix where cool nights and warm days produce large temperature gradients resulting in powerful currents and strong valley winds. Good flying conditions start in March, with near perfect conditions in May and June, and the season ends in October.  

Paragliding in Val d'Anniviers - ©Val d'Anniviers Valais

Paragliding in Val d'Anniviers

Copyright: Val d'Anniviers Valais

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