Xtreme: Ultimate winter adventure

Xtreme: Ultimate winter adventure

by Jeana Coleman
Stripes Europe

If you love winter and all things outdoors, why not tempt your taste for adventure with one of these ultimate winter activities? Because, really. Resort skiing and snowboarding can be so passé.

Winter swimming

Come on in, the water’s ice. Yes, that’s right. Enthusiasts of winter swimming (a.k.a. Avantouinti) love to take a dip in frigid waters that are at near or freezing temperatures, then slip into a hot sauna or bundle up and share a warm drink.

At some lakes or ponds, holes are cut in the ice or large sections broken to allow swimmers to take a dip or swim hole to hole under the ice. Members of the Avantouinti Society claim that the cold water refreshes mind, body and spirit as well as provides other physical benefits. That may be true. You’ll certainly get an adrenaline rush.

While winter swimming is prevalent in many locations, tourism is thriving for the Finnish Avantouinti Society. At least a dozen locations in Helsinki provide winter swimming facilities with saunas and dressing rooms. Check out the official tourism site for facilities.

For information on worldwide ice swimming events and locations, visit the International Ice Swimming Association. A few notes: don’t swim alone or in remote locations; don’t jump in head first; wear something on your head, hands and feet for added comfort; don’t linger if you’re a beginner; and don’t do it while ill or under the influence. 

Survival expeditions

For the extreme in winter camping experiences, forego the camper or tent and get a taste of how a survivalist like Bear Grylls would do it. Or, hike the paths of history-makers, even track dangerous predators while learning bushcraft skills. In these winter escapades, hike or ski through some of the most beautiful terrain, all while learning how to navigate through harsh elements and situations from professional instructors and guides.

Mountain and Sea Guides in the U.K. offers a three-day/two-night beginner/novice winter skills snowhole expedition along Scotland’s Cairngorm Plateau, Britain’s highest peak. Learn survival skills including how to use an ice axe and shovel to dig the snowhole that you’ll be sleeping in. Fees start at £199 per person and include meals, local transportation, specialist equipment and guide. Families of four or more are encouraged to book and will receive a 10 percent discount. For details visit www.applecross.uk.com/msg.

Ray Mears Bushcraft™ and The Joint Services Training Centre (JSTC) Evjemoen Norway offer a trek that retraces the steps of the heroic Norwegian saboteurs and their Telemark expedition during WWII. A small group of brave survivalists helped foil the Nazis’ plot to build an atomic bomb by sabotaging their access to a factory that produced “heavy water.”  The three-phase, challenging 13-day expedition along the Hardangervidda is mainly by cross-country skiing, just as the saboteurs did in 1943, therefore participants must be in excellent physical condition with novice skiing skills. Only 10 participants are allowed on the trek, and only one expedition per year is scheduled. The fee of £2,999 includes indoor accommodations, meals, survival ski training, professional guide services and more. 

Undiscovered Alps offers two different yet highly interesting adventure trips. First, spend the night in a self-made igloo after a day of snowshoeing through the Alps. Expeditions are available from December through April, and you should be in great physical condition. Or, take part in a three-day wolf tracking wilderness adventure. You’ll learn tracking techniques for these elusive predators as they hunt for the winter. 

Ice fishing

Cut a hole in the ice. Drop a line. Catch fish. Repeat. Several northern European locations are popular for the sport, including Sweden’s River Lule, near Boden, where anglers fish for salmon and trout species, and at Lake Torneträsk, where you may catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis while you reel in a big one. Both Finland and Latvia offer many prime ice fishing locations for a variety of species. You’ll need an angler’s card to fish there.

Falling through or being trapped on ice is a real concern. In March 2013, more than 200 ice fishermen became trapped on ice floes in Latvia and had to be rescued by helicopters. A few precautions:  don’t drive your vehicle onto the ice; never venture out if the ice has become brittle; stay off ice thinner than 5 centimeters; always carry an ice pick on a rope.

Orca safaries

Norway is the only European location that offers close-range, open-water interaction with orcas. During the winter, orca hunt for herring along Norway’s Lofoten Islands, providing opportunities for whale watching, snorkeling and diving interaction. Sightings depend on herring migration, so choose those guides who adapt or follow the whales and their migrations for the best chance at this once-in-a-lifetime experience.    

Lofoten Adventure AS provides snorkeling opportunities with orcas every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from December-January including New Year’s weekend. The fee of (approximately) $310 includes an orca lecture, transfer to safari boats and drysuits/snorkeling gear. Participants should bring a warm hat, gloves, shoes, thermal underwear and outerwear for the boat ride. 

Big Fish Expeditions and Strømsholmen Sjøsportsenter offer opportunities to search for these killer whale pods and free dive among them. Divers live aboard the 91-foot vessel M/S Sula during the experience. Other whale species spotted on past excursions include humpback, minke, pilot, sei and fin whales. Fees include meals, accommodations and evening diving excursions.


Experienced skiers can say goodbye to long lift lines and take a helicopter to the top of some of Europe’s most remote Alpine terrains. Then, at nearly 4,000 meters, descend in fresh powder down steep glacier slopes, through narrow chutes and along forest floors. Heliskiing is both a hot and controversial extreme sport, banned in Germany and France, with only a couple of landing spots still open in Austria. However, it’s thriving in Switzerland with more than 45 landing locations.

Swiss KI Safari offers four heliski safari packages to allow skiers the means to ski from country to country within the Alps. Their motto of “access the inaccessible” rings true, as they’ve found loopholes to allow helisking in France. 

Swiss Alpine Guides provides a heliski package that includes two helicopter flights with two runs, for a total of 35-kilometers of skiing, for 390CHF (around $440) per person. 

Whoever said it’s better to be safe than sorry probably didn’t try extreme sports. But before you book, know that beginners or novice adventurists should not attempt these activities without the presence of professional guides and expert instruction.

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