The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jan 2013

Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Test Drive the Continent's Best Terrain Parks

Sure, snowboarding got its start out east—look up “snurfing,” if you haven’t already, to learn all about Michigan’s (yes, really) role in its birth—but the western half of the continent has adopted the sport as its own. Vail was one of the first major resorts to embrace snowboarders instead of shunning them, and these days Colorado continues to provide some of the best terrain, for both boarders and jump-happy skiers. Check out Aspen’s Buttermilk, longtime site of the Winter X Games, head to Keystone or Breckenridge, and don’t forget the original home of the terrain park, Vail.

California is another terrain park leader: Mammoth Mountain and Tahoe’s Northstar and Heavenly are good bets. British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb and Park City, Utah, round out the top terrain picks.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Tackle a Winter Triathlon (Ottawa, Ontario; Canmore, Alberta)

This young sport may have been denied a spot in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but that’s not stopping the athletes who complete the grueling run-bike-ski combo races across a snow-covered course each winter. (In some events, the snow-biking leg is replaced by a speed-skating leg.) 

Want to give it a shot? Try Ottawa’s Winterlude Triathlon, held during the Canadian capital’s Winterlude festival each February. This year’s race takes place on February 2, and includes an 8k skate, 5k ski, and 5k run. The race can be run solo or as a co-ed three-person relay team. Another option is the Canmore Winter Meltdown, in the Alberta Rockies. The full-distance race includes a 10k ski, 10k mountain bike, and 5k run, and the novice course cuts the ski and bike distances in half. This year’s race goes on March 31.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Camp Out in the Cold

Winter camping is a rite of passage for cold-weather enthusiasts. And, as Buck Tilton and John Gookin point out in their National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) guide to winter camping, it has some clear advantages over the summer variety: no bugs, no bears, and no crowds. It also comes with its own dangers and challenges. Here’s Tilton and Gookin with a reminder that we’re not really built for extreme cold:

"Even though humans have lived—sometimes flourished—for thousands of years in regions where winter never leaves, they have not had eons to adapt physiologically. Some peoples with long cultural histories of exposure to the cold have grown shorter and chubbier, making it easier to retain body heat. Their cardiovascular systems may send warm blood to the exterior more readily, preventing fingers and toes from freezing. They may have higher-than-normal basal metabolic rates to generate more internal heat, even at rest. But they have yet to grow the dense, insulating fur or blubbery fat of arctic animals. To compensate for this lack of adaptation, humans have had to start using their brains—the only part of the body that allows us not only to exist but to live happily in winter."

Using your brain means knowing what you’re getting yourself into—think avalanche preparedness and crevasse rescue skills, if you’re in mountain and glacier country—and bringing the right tools. Outside’s Gear Guy breaks down his winter camping must-haves.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Lace 'Em Up for Some Serious Pond Hockey (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Call me biased (or just call me Canadian), but I say there’s no more iconic winter sport than hockey—and hockey done right means hockey played outdoors.

Find yourself a frozen pond, lake, river, or oversized puddle, lace up your skates, drop a puck, and go. But if you really want to get serious, sign up a team for one of North America’s major annual pond hockey tournaments. One of the biggest, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, takes place each year on Lake Nokomis, in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Open Division usually includes a bunch of one-time pros but there are also 40-plus, 50-plus, women’s, and “rink rat” divisions—that last one is for those who “may not have the skills to take on former NHL players.” This year’s tournament runs January 18-20, 2013.

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Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Drive (and Carve) B.C.'s Powder Highway (British Columbia)

Skiers in southeastern British Columbia are spoiled rotten. The “powder highway” runs through the heart of the region: It’s a loop (actually made up of several different roads, not one single highway) that spans a couple hundred miles, and it’s home to no less than eight traditional ski resorts, nine heli operations, 16 cat-ski outfits, and 20 backcountry skiing lodges. The resorts include Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, and Fernie—you might have heard of them?

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