Winter is coming – but don’t let the end of summer stop you exploring far and wild. Embrace the chill and get outside one of my ultimate cold weather adventures, from a ski expedition aboard a sailing boat in Iceland to sleeping in a snowhole and hunting down the northern lights in Finnish Lapland.
The winter travel bucket list
CHASE THE AURORA BOREALIS, FINLAND
For: nature lovers
Finnish Lapland is a truly magical place. Home to more reindeer than people and deep pine forests clad in thick layers of snow come winter, its clear skies are also one of the best places in the world to see that elusive natural phenomenon, the aurora borealis. Travel there with The Aurora Zone, who handpick their locations based on how often the northern lights are seen in the sky (up to 200 nights a year in Finland) and lack of light pollution. They also pick expert local guides to show you the way, and you’ll stay in the cosiest log cabins or traditional Sami tents when you aren’t hunting for the lights. Whether you believe, as the Inuits do, that the fire in the sky is made up of the souls of ancestors, or the more prosaic science of a natural electrical phenomenon seen near the northern or southern magnetic pole, there’s nothing like finally seeing dancing ribbons of colour over an Arctic landscape.
GO ICE CLIMBING IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
For: adrenaline junkies
Keen climber? Swap your summer ascents on granite for ice climbing, the fine art of scaling cascading frozen waterfalls or the icy slopes of mountains for the thrill (and the chill) of it. Digging in with crampons and ice axes and learning to create belays and holes in what is essentially water is a whole new skillset, but there are courses for all levels of ability. The Canadian Rockies are considered a heartland of glacier ice climbing, and Mount Yamnuska is home to some of the finest, as well as to Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, who offer everything from newbie courses to multi-pitch instruction and even week-long camps where you can cut your teeth on the frozen Ghost River.
SKI ICELAND FROM A SAILING BOAT
For: active explorers
If a winter adventure doesn’t cut it unless you’ve got skis strapped to your feet, swap your usual Alpine chalet for a week aboard the Aurora Arktika, an Arctic sailing boat that plies the water of Greenland and Iceland. Head for the latter and you can go ski touring straight from the ship in the mountains and ridges above Iceland’s virtually inaccessible West Fjords, anchoring in a different harbour each night. Aurora isn’t just your cosy home – she’s also a ‘moveable backcountry hut’ allowing you to sail to places never skiied before. When you aren’t exploring Iceland’s wild tundras you can go SUPing, kayaking or even, if you’re feeling brave, swimming in the cold ocean. And I bet you’ve never been fishing for mussels for as an apres ski snack before…
SLEEP IN A SNOW HOLE IN SCOTLAND
For: the weekend warrior
There’s no need to venture abroad or take weeks off work for a proper ice adventure. Scotland’s wild Highlands become a snow-clad paradise in winter, where you can ski, snowboard, mountaineer and (claustrophobic? Read no further) even cut and then sleep in your very own snow hole, a very basic version of an igloo. Scot Mountain Holidays take you out into the Cairngorms for a day of hiking in the hills and practicing winter skills including walking in crampons and ice axe arrests, then everyone pitches in to create a roomy snow hole, lit by candles, and to melt snow ready to cook up dinner in your cosy new hideaway. There’s nothing like sleeping cocooned by silent snow, and waking up to sunrise bathing the mountains in light. A three day trip costs £475.
Image via Ramblers’ Walk magazine.
LEARN TO SKI OR BOARD
If you’ve always fancied shredding down pistes or exploring winter wonderlands but never taken the plunge, make this the winter you strap on bindings and take to the mountains. Skiing and snowboarding open up a whole new way to explore icy landscapes and to get outside in the winter months, and there are so many different ways to explore – you could try cross country or ski touring if you’re not into speedy stuff, or even progress to ski jumping or snowboard tricks if you love an adrenaline rush. If you’re not sure if skiing is your thing, sign up for a few lessons on your local dry slope or indoor ski centre before you book a trip to the mountains. Snowsports are most definitely not just for the posh kids and they don’t have to be punishingly expensive, either – shop around for ski deals, especially in the Alps, as flights to France and Italy can be pocket-friendly too. Going with a group of mates and staying in a big chalet can also bring prices down, or consider going for just a weekend with a company such as IGO ski – a good way to see if ski holidays are for you.
EXPLORE THE ANTARTIC
For: The traveller who has been everywhere else
Got a passport full of stamps? Ticked off active adventures on almost every continent? The final frontier for the adventurous of heart has to be Antartica. The Southern Land is remote, expensive to reach and long coveted by generations of brave explorers who fought nature to penetrate the interior of the peninsula. This is one of the last true wildernesses on earth, and the Antartic isn’t a barren tundra – its glaciers and oceans are home to astonishing wildlife, from minke wales to charming gentoo, Adelie and chinstrap penguins. It’s definitely not cheap to voyage to the ends of the earth, but Pura Aventura’s 17 day sail, £7,555, is perfect for the adventurously minded – once you’ve conquered the notoriously tough crossing of the Drake Passage, they’ll take you sea-kayaking, snow-shoeing, hiking and even mountaineering in the footsteps of Scott, Amundsen and their fellow explorers.