Bienvenue aux Alpes Maritimes. Further south than the Trois Vallees resort hysteria, and just an hour north of Nice, these ancient shepherds’ trails and waymarked hiking trails become sublime snowshoeing and cross country skiing terrain in winter. Wander through remote villages otherwise cut off in winter, conquer cols, track wolves, and explore lakes such as Lacs de Prals, a collection of five frozen fantasias.
One of France’s lesser known parks, let expert mountain guides help you snowshoe up to heights of Plateau of La Coche, around frozen lakes and through the St Leger Les Melezes larch forest. It is in fact, the largest national park in France with over 100 summits towering over the 3000m mark, so you can also go on mountaineering vacations here. But snowshoeing is still guaranteed to feed any Alpine addiction.
Slovakia and Romania are developing Carpathian winter vacations that protect the mountainous magnificence of, for example, the Tatras and Apuseni ranges, but also the ancient cultures of people still living in these remote regions. Go cross country skiing in Slovak Paradise NP, where snow wrapped forests and hills befit the name, or through Romania’s Tara Motilor villages, where Moti people lead traditional mountain lives.
Just read Jack London’s famous novel ‘The Call of the Wild’ to get a feel for it, and before long you will be rushing to ‘mushing’ or husky sledding vacation in the mostly aboriginal Yukon Territory of Canada. Choose anything from a few days to a few weeks on these serious mushing expeditions staying in lodges or winter tents and discovering snow covered space like you’ve never imagined. Feeling the call yet?
How is it that they’ve been around forever, but suddenly we all want to see them now? Although very zeitgeist, these ethereal delights live up to their name. Or names, to be precise. See the Fire Fox, Temperamental Lady or Aurora Borealis in Finland, Norway and Sweden, all top places for spotting them, adding snowshoeing, Sámi culture and sledding into the already magical mix. .
If hiking is your seasonal solace for spring, summer and autumn, don’t think you have to hang up your boots for winter. Snowshoeing is perfect for hikers, allowing you to avoid the posing piste posse and head off into remote Alpine arcadia, or discover countries such as Albania, Romania and Bosnia for a whole new cultural experience. Snowshoes aren’t like old tennis rackets anymore, but lightweight aluminium and very easy to use.
You don’t have to join the overheated chalets and overcrowded cable car queues to enjoy a family vacation in the snow. Head to the likes of Slovakia for snowshoeing and dog sledding adventures, the Spanish Pyrenees for a bit more space on the slopes, or Andorra for some cross country skiing and serious igloo building. And of course Swedish and Finnish Lapland, for a magical mix of Northern Lights and Narnia-like nirvana.
This dramatic landscape is shared between both Italy and Austria and, in particular the autonomous region of the Tyrol. The jagged rose-tinted Dolomites against a winter blue sky are simply dazzling. Cross country ski around Alta Pusteria where the Three Peaks Nature Park is a well deserved UNESCO site. The trails are endless and the views are too. As is the food. It’s Austro-Italian culture on a plate.
A slippery slope should be a good thing in skiing, but the environmental impacts of downhill skiing are just beginning to be revealed. And it is one badass slippery slope. From cutting down forests, overuse of groundwater for snow cannons, noise pollution, waste removal issues and congested, carbon filled roads, it’s all going downhill. Seek lighter impact and culturally more interesting cross country options instead.
Christmas might only be for Christmas, but Lapland is for life. So by flying in and out in one day is going to do no one and nothing any favours, with no immersion in indigenous, traditional Sámi activities for example, no learning to snowshoe, cross country ski, or sleeping in wilderness camps. And no Northern Lights. And where’s the magic in creating a horrendously high carbon footprint, just for a day trip?
Imagine wild swimming across a quiet bay and suddenly the loud whirrs of a jet ski invade the peace. That’s the same effect snowmobiles have. Swap it for snow shoeing, cross country skiing or a reindeer or husky led safari. You will see more of the landscape and wildlife that thrive on it. And hearing the howl of a wild wolf in the Finnish snowy landscape, for example, is so much better than a snowmobile.
Mountain safety should always be a priority and when you go cross country skiing or snowshoeing, for example, and head off the blanched, beaten path, you are best to do so with qualified experts. Such as an International Mountain Leader (IML) or one recognised by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). A responsible vacation company will have the details of their guides/leaders on their site.