Initial thoughts on winter holidays always seem to produce the same ideas about skiing and snowboarding, but there’s a whole lot more to explore in the frozen, wintry world besides these go-tos. Try taking in the crystallised, icy scenery at a new pace; take a breath and step into a peaceful world, surrounded by glittering snow and the stillness of nature. Here are our favourite winter vacation ideas without a ski or snowboard in sight.
A dog sled is a glorious and traditional way to see the mountainous scenery at speed without having to don skis yourself. It’s certainly cosier too, as you’re tucked under thick pelts and blankets. It also gives a great insight into the local culture; your guide, or ‘musher’, will be able to answer you every question about mountain life and the history of the transport.
A more hands-on winter vacation idea is to learn what it takes to become a top ‘musher’ at Sweden’s Slussfors dog sledding school, with a week-long course in husky management and ‘sle-ettiquette’. You may find yourself dashing through the snow pulled by a reindeer at destinations like Igloo Village in Saariselka, Finland. You'll be transported into Santa’s world as you hear jingling bells and hoofbeats muffled by the deep snow.
These cumbersome-looking shoe-attachments are some of the most fun you can have in a snowy landscape. Snowshoes open up a whole world of wintry beauty, making breathtaking scenery and some of the most photogenic panoramas in the world suddenly accessible on foot. Explore frozen waterfalls, extensive mountain trails and peaceful forests at this delightfully slow pace of life. Plenty of ski resorts offer snowshoeing as a ski-alternative, like Banff in Canada, but there are also lots of places in Europe, like Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Finland, which offer specialised snowshoeing and walking winter vacations.
Not what first springs to mind when you dream up winter vacation ideas, but a whole new way to experience the frozen spectacle that winter offers. Hot air ballooning is special at any time of year, but getting a bird’s eye view of the Dolomites in the their winter clothing or Colorado’s spectacular peaks while toasting champagne, is an experience you’ll never forget. The Swiss Alps also make for an exciting winter ride. Cruise above beautiful chalets and traditional villages, speckled across snow covered landscapes, with the dark peaks jutting out here and there.
There’s something inescapably magical about staying in an ice hotel. You step into a winter wonderland, surrounded by ice and yet are perfectly warm and toasty. Hotels like the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, 200km north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, make for the perfect, peaceful break: a select few tourists, relatively few locals and no hustle and bustle whatsoever in the crisp, cold surroundings.
In these luxury, northerly hotels there’s a good chance of witnessing the Northern Lights put on their spectacular display. You can also indulge in some of the other winter activities too, like dog sledding and snowmobiling. At Igloo Village Kakslauttanen, Finland, you can choose between a traditional snow-built igloo or a glass roof for an unrivalled stargazing experience. To complete the luxury holiday, Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Norway and Hotel de Glace in Quebec, as well as the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland, all have a spa, steam room or sauna, which is a surreal but truly indulgent way to spend a snow-surrounded evening.
If you’re planning an extravagant winter getaway, why not roll in all of the above? Or try one or two of our winter vacation ideas each year, if you have a well-placed holiday home right in the heart of the magic to come back to.