Bored with the usual skiing, snowboarding, skating and snowmobiling?
One of Mother Nature's most impressive winter playgrounds -- and home to a new lineup of winter extreme sports -- is hitting peak season.
The best time to explore the snowy, ice-cube cold Canadian Rockies is between March and May, when the weather's not so brutal.
As ski season wraps up farther south, Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, rev up for some challenging offbeat winter adventures: snow biking, dog sledding and ice hiking.
For those who have already mastered skiing and snowboarding and are searching for the next adrenalin rush, this is it. It's daring but the beauty is, even if you're not the most coordinated person in the world, no problem; you can easily scoot down the hill at your own pace. Once you figure out the balance issue, snow biking can be exhilarating. On the flip side (no pun intended), daredevils and BMX masters will be satisfied with snow biking's endless possibilities.
It's basically a combination of skiing and riding a bike. But instead of tires, your bike has skis, and you also wear special ski boots and snow blades (short skis). The bike is very light, so there's no problem getting on and off ski lifts. Snow biking downhill is similar to skiing; you make S turns and turn sharply to stop. The trickiest part is figuring out how far forward to lean. Go too far, and you'll fly over the handle bars into a classic "face plant."
Snow biking is allowed at all three ski resorts in Banff National Park, but the only place you can rent the equipment is at Sunshine Village. It's about $60 a day, which also includes a half-hour lesson -- a great way to go if this is your first time snow biking. Learn more at www.skibanff.com
If your legs and ego are worn out from snow biking, try getting some love and respect from man's best friend and sign up for a dog-sledding adventure. The tradition has been around for thousands of years, and, while there are several great sledding operations in the Banff, Lake Louise area, the only group allowed to operate inside the protected Banff National Park is Kingmik Dog Sled Tours.
On the two-hour trip you'll travel through the park's amazing landscape and get a chance to drive the sled yourself.
One of the first things you'll notice is how skinny the dogs are -- some just 30 pounds. But as guides like Geoff Kooy explain, these are Alaskan huskies, not the Siberian huskies you usually see in the movies. Alaskan huskies are bred to be fast, agile, smart and lean. They're called the "marathon runners" of sled dogs, which is why they're the breed used in the Iditarod.
Each sled holds two people, both bundled up in a cocoon of blankets to keep dry and warm. If the trail has bumps, you're going to feel them because there's only a thin piece of wood between you and the snow.
Once you're down at the dogs' level, you can feel their excitement. Before you take off, the dogs bark like crazy but as soon as they're given the command to go -- "hike up!" (not "mush!") -- they're off like a shot. After that, the only sound you hear is the sled swooshing across the snow and the dogs' feet flying across the trail. Make sure you have easy access to your camera because with the dogs traveling at about 15 mph it's tough to unearth it from the layers of blankets.