Always wanted to climb into a bobsled, or shimmy onto a luge, and fly down a steep, narrow track at obscene speeds? Now’s your chance.
All three North American host cities for the Winter Olympics have opened their tracks to the public. At the Whistler Sliding Center, a bobsled ride with a trained pilot goes for $159. Or, for the same price, you can try the Skeleton—that means hurtling down the track face first, and solo. In Park City, the Utah Olympic Park charges $200 a head for a bobsled ride, or $50 to go through four curves of the track on a Skeleton sled. Lake Placid’s Whiteface charges a bargain $80 for the bobsled or $65 for the Skeleton.
Meanwhile, in Muskegon, Michigan, there’s a shortened luge track that was designed for beginners by a former Olympian—there, a luge ride (including two and a half hours of instruction before you slide) goes for just $40.
Summiting Rainier is a challenge any time of year. Making the climb in winter, when unpredictable snow storms and high winds hit the mountain, is substantially tougher. The National Park Service recommends that only experienced mountaineers who know their way around avalanche country attempt a winter ascent. The maximum winter group size is 12, and the NPS recommends a minimum of four climbers.
I know, I know. The cruise lines don’t sail to Alaska in the winter. But the Alaska Marine Highway System—better known as the state ferry—never hibernates. And wintertime really is the best time to sail the passage: There are no crowds in the ports, the chilly weather brings clear skies and big mountain views, and the only folks riding the ferries are friendly locals.
You can climb aboard in Bellingham for the full three-day ride north, or fly into Juneau, Sitka, or Ketchikan for a shorter cruise. Reserve a cabin, roll out a thermarest and sleeping bag in the lounge, or head outside and brave the solarium—a semi-covered area on deck where the air is fresh and cold and the heat lamps burn all night. And don’t forget to stop by the onboard bar, where you’re just about guaranteed to have someone tell you all about how they came up to Alaska for a visit 30-odd years ago, and they haven’t left yet.
Ditch the ice cubes and stir up a hot adult beverage instead. Try an Irish coffee—coffee with Irish whiskey, a dash of brown sugar, and a topping of cream, fresh or whipped. Or get medicinal with a hot toddy: whiskey, boiling water, and various combinations of honey, lemon juice, cloves, or cinnamon. Hot buttered rum is another classic, made by mixing butter, brown sugar, and spices (usually cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg) in a mug, and adding dark rum and boiling water. Mulled wine isn’t a cocktail, but it is delicious—and it’ll warm your soul. Finally, I like to keep it simple and festive by spiking my hot apple cider with a little spiced rum.
In the undying battle between skiers and skidooers, my sympathies lie with the non-motorized crowd. But here’s the thing: Riding a snowmobile is fun. Loud, stinking fun. And it needs to be tried at least once before you write it off. So gas up, bundle up, and make like Todd Palin. Snowmobile tours and rentals are found wherever snow and gearheads cross paths.