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The other side of the mountain

New winter-sport challenges for snow-klutzes and hotshots
By ASHLEY RIGAZIO  |  December 10, 2007

If you don’t ski or snowboard, winter is the longest, loneliest season. While your friends plan powder-packed mountain getaways and daring backcountry adventures, you're left alone on the couch, beer in one hand, chalupa in the other, filthy and weeping into an old copy of US Weekly. Or perhaps that’s just me.

Regardless, it’s time for a change. No matter how abysmal your athletic abilities, if you try enough winter sports, you’re bound to find one you’re good at — or at least one that your friends are bad at, too. So what if you’re a wreck on the slopes — why should that prevent you from finding a little happiness during a bitter, cold New England winter? Snow-klutzes can shake off their mantle of inferiority and level the snowy playing field by dabbling in any number of cutting-edge, sometimes bizarre, winter activities offered throughout New England.

But hotshot skiers and riders can also explore odd and unfamiliar snow hobbies this year. Some of the weirdest, most wonderful new winter sports do require skills on the slopes and can offer more of a rush than ordinary skiing or riding. Snowkiting, for example, blends skiing or riding with kitesurfing; snowskating ushers you down slopes and through terrain parks on specially adapted skateboards. And those aren’t the strangest options.

This year, let’s all try something different.

Fight pet obesity
Scandinavia is a great source of off-the-wall snow sports. Take SKIJORING, a sport that involves convincing animals to pull you around on cross-country skis. Skijoring is traditionally done with reindeer, and in the American West, some ski resorts use horses. But at the few cross-country ski areas in New England that offer it, the sport is done with dog — specifically your own dog. Okay, skijoring does conjure images of little Max in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! straining at the burden of a sled full of Whoville’s Christmas presents, but keep in mind that pet obesity is an escalating problem in this country. Think of skijoring as an interesting way for both you and your dog to get exercise. Besides, your lazy mutt should earn his Kibbles ’n Bits for a change.

Unfortunately, this cartoonish activity isn’t quite as easy for the human as it sounds. There is training involved for both participants, and you will work up a sweat.

“You’re still putting in some kind of work,” says Jane Carpenter, manager of the Cross-Country and Snowshoeing Center at Gunstock in Gilford, New Hampshire, which launched its skijoring program last year. “You’re still getting a lot of exercise. But if you have a big dog, he can help you up the hill.” Lazy folks take note: bring Labradors and German Shepherds, not pugs. But for those who don’t mind exerting themselves, Carpenter says that little dogs enjoy the sport as well.

Gunstock has four kilometers of groomed trails especially for skijoring, including a loop of training lanes, and rents harnesses and leashes. If you like to pamper your skijoring dog, Eastern Mountain Sports sells doggie outdoor gear, such as Kelty’s K-9 Gift Pack (a practical and portable kit containing a food dish, leash, and collar customized for outdoor use, $39.99) and the adorable all-terrain, all-season Bark’n Boots Grip Trex Dog Booties by Ruff Wear ($59.95 for a set of four).

Before you take your dog to more challenging backcountry, make sure he or she is well-trained on the beginner’s loop; if your dog doesn't know to turn with the trail, you could run into problems (or trees) later on. Carpenter recommends starting out on snowshoes, then progressing to skis.

Cycling in the snow
But with or without dogs, skiing is tough, and some of us tumble easier than we glide. Most adults, however, can ride a bicycle, and if you can balance on a bike, you can probably skibob. SKIBOBBING (also known as skibiking) is a little more common around New England than skijoring. In fact, you may have seen a skibob during your struggles at some ski resort. The contraption is essentially a low-to-the-ground bicycle with skis where you’d expect wheels. This allows riders to fly down slopes — no pedaling required. The handlebars are used to steer and control speed.

Though it initially gained popularity as a gentle means of transportation in the Alps, skibobbing is now a competitive racing sport. It is especially popular in Europe (particularly Switzerland, Germany, and England), where the Federation Internationale de Skibob has sponsored the annual Skibobbing World Championship since 1967. Other races, including those at the yearly International Skibike Festival in Colorado, have started up since skibobbing’s revival in the 1990s.

So why hasn’t skibobbing, a sport that’s been around in its current form since the 1950s, caught on in the US? It’s too pricey for casual skibobbers; a skibike typically costs around $500, and they’re not available through mass retailers. Also, like with most gear that isn’t skis or boards, trail access can be limited. In New England, skibikes are allowed at Shawnee Peak, Black Mountain, Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley, Yawgoo Valley, and Sugarbush. Check with your favorite mountain, as each has different (and constantly changing) regulations and requirements.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Bobsledding, Cross-Country Skiing, Culture and Lifestyle,  More more >
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