New York’s ski resorts are the envy of the world.The service is reliably slick, the lift queues move quickly and there’s huge versatility, from the mellowness of Québec’s Most Treblant to the sophistication of Aspen, the rawness of Jackson Hole and the steep slopes of BC’s Fernie. But ploughing down perfectly groomed pistes all day long can feel restrictive, and while you’ll often find fresh powder in-bounds, there will always be the temptation to go out of bounds into the real wilderness. Here are six of our favourite ways to enjoy the backcountry bliss in Northern America.

Slow ski at Lake Placid

In upstate New York, just a few hours’ drive from Albany, Syracuse, Montréal and Ottawa, Lake Placid’s Adirondack Park is a convenient place to discover off-piste adventure. Nordic (cross-country) skiing specialist High Peaks Mountain Adventures runs several guided backcountry tours in the park, from a couple of hours’ introduction to snow-shoeing (and navigational skills) to a full-day’s Nordic skiing, ski touring or telemarking (free-heel skiing) in the rolling hills of the High Peaks region. There’s also a one-day course on ice-climbing, where you’ll climb up frozen waterfalls and learn the basics of tool placement and crampon footwork. Visit www.highpeakscyclery.com for more.

Dog-sledding in the Canadian Rockies

If pounding your way through the wintry beyond on a pair of snow-shoes or skis sounds too much like hard work, then why not be pulled along on a sledge by a group of husky dogs? Snowy Owl Tours, a family business based in Banff, runs circular dog-sledding tours along the mountain trails of the Spray Lakes Valley in the Canadian Rockies. The dogs are highly trained and exceptionally well-treated (the owners are working on standard criteria for the ethical treatment of working dogs in Canada). The tours begin with a lesson on safety, commands and the history of dog-sledding, and last from two hours to two days (staying overnight in a Sioux Indian tipi), beginning on soft powder trails and progressing to more advanced carving techniques through the spectacular mountain wilderness. Go mush! Visit www.snowyowltours.com for more.

Moonlit meanders in Oregon

Snow-shoeing at night through hidden forest trails can be a magical, eerie experience: the snow glistens under the light of the moon and the crunch of powder underfoot is all you can hear among the hush of the trees. For a few nights over the full moon from December to April, Wanderlust Tours runs several moonlit snow-shoe tours in the High Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. En route through the snowy forest, you’ll be shown how to look for signs of nocturnal animals as well as how to understand the different constellations of the night sky, before reaching a bonfire in the middle of an amphitheatre, hand-carved into the snow, where you can sit and enjoy hot chocolate and marshmallows amid the solitude of the forest. Visit www.wanderlusttours.com for more.

Cross-country skiing in Québec

Cross-country skiing is to the Québecois what rambling is to the rest of the world, and with over 4000km of trails across the province there are hundreds of ski areas and opportunities to go off-piste. The largest ski centre is at Mont-Sainte-Anne (www.mont-sainte-anne.com), which features 208km of trails, though to escape the crowds head to the Gaspé National Park (www.sepaq.com), where you can go cross-country skiing across the Chic Chocs mountain range.

Ski-touring in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The rugged terrain around Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is an excellent place to learn the art of backcountry ski-touring. The resort’s Backcountry Touring Clinic is a four-day programme for telemark skiers, snowboarders and alpine skiers, which focuses on avalanche awareness, safety and how to tour efficiently in the backcountry, including the rigours of Teton Pass. Visit www.jacksonhole.com for more.

Stay in your own private Idaho

The best way to get to know the backcountry is to stay overnight in the wilds, such as in the Tenth Mountain Division Huts in Colorado and the cabins run by the Alpine Club of Canada. A more novel way to do it is along the network of yurt-to-yurt trails in the mountainous backcountry of southeast Idaho, which is known for its wide powder slopes that are perfect for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. The yurts along the Portneuf Range Yurt System are spaced so you can reach each one in a day, or you could just make one your base from which to do day-trips into the backcountry. The lower-altitude yurts are accessible to beginners and families, while the higher yurts are designed for more experienced skiers. Each is basic but comfortable, fitted with a wood stove, gas cooker and lantern, pots, axe and bunk beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you got a personal favourite spot for backcountry skiing? Let us know below.

 

For hundreds more unforgettable travel experiences, grab a copy of Great Escapes.

Switzerland can be an expensive place to ski. Yet, while certain resorts such as St Moritz and Gstaad appear exclusively populated by “Made in Chelsea” Hugos and Prada-clad Natalias, writing off the land of Toblerone as a playground solely for the rich would be a shame.

The Swiss Alps are the most beautiful in Europe, less crowded than the French and with more reliable snow than Italy or Austria (let alone slush-fest Slovenia). It’s also the easiest of all the Alpine countries to get around thanks to a fabulously efficient rail system, now conveniently linked to Eurostar’s ski train. Swiss tourism bosses have also finally realized that not everyone has a wallet stuffed with francs have cooked up a range of winter deals  from discounted ski passes to two-for-one packages.

So with dozens of resorts, running from A (Andermatt) to Z (Zermatt), where to begin? Here’s three that might be your cup of glüwein.

All photos by Switzerland Tourism

V is for Verbier

For the younger crowd it’s hard to beat Verbier, Switzerland’s answer to France’s Trois Vallées, though without the same amount of Brits on the piste. You’ll find a staggering 410km of red, blue and black runs in the surrounding 4 Vallées area, plus plenty of fresh powder to explore with a guide. With snug little bars and regular guest DJs, Verbier has the best après-ski in the country, while events feature everything from ski dating to snowboard film festivals; be sure to visit in March for the annual Freeride world tour. For a budget lunch between black runs (and “budget” means under £20 in Verbier) try La Vache (The Cow), a mountain restaurant dreamt up by celeb trio James Blunt, Lawrence Dallaglio and Carl Fogerty. Staying in Verbier itself will take a large bite out of your budget (for last-minute chalet deals try Verbinet). Nendaz, in the next valley north, is more affordable and part of the same ski area.

J is for Jungfrau

Known for its high-altitude railway and the classic silhouette of the Eiger, the Jungfrau region packs in four resorts – Grindelwald, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen and Mürren. As well as some of the most dramatic scenery in Switzerland, you’ll find a wide range of terrain from gentle nursery slopes to slightly unhinged black runs. Every January Wengen becomes the focal point for flag-waving, cow-bell clinking ski fans when World Cup racing hits town. The highlight of the competition is the butt-clenching 150km/h Lauberhorn Run, the longest downhill course in the world. Boarders will love the White Elements SnowPark, a perfectly groomed series of jumps and rails (just check your travel insurance before taking this on!). This winter the Jungfrau region is offering 20 percent off ski passes and two-for-one deals.

E is for Engelberg

This monastery town (it translates as “Angel Mountain”) sits in the geographical heart of Switzerland and offers some of Europe’s finest backcountry powder (Swedes and Norwegians discovered this decades ago and come here in their hundreds). Thanks to the glacier-capped Mount Titlis (accessed by the world’s first revolving cable car) the season here lasts all the way from October to May. Engelberg also hosts the annual Ski Jumping World Cup. Whether or not you have fond memories of Eddie the Eagle in action (see below), viewing this sport close-up is a jaw-dropping experience and attracts a good mix of Swiss fans and tourists. Check out engelberg.ch for last-minute offers and “White Weeks” package deals including seven nights accommodation and a six-day ski pass.

DEOGYUSAN, SOUTH KOREA

Formerly known as Muju, Deogyusan ski resort huddles at the bottom of wildly beautiful Deogyusan mountain in the Gucheo-dong Valley. Those with stamina should hit the Silk Road slope, the resort’s longest run at 6.1km, and if you harbour a fondness for steep gradients, The Raiders Course is for you. Soaking your muscles in the resort’s soothing hot springs is an enticing way to finish the day.

Timberline Lodge, Oregon

The longest ski season in North America – it’s closed for just 2 weeks in September for maintenance – draws a steady stream of pro skiers and boarders to Timberline Lodge near Portland. Experts are enticed by the massive jumps and training parks, as well as to the Golden Rose Ski Classic race in June, the oldest-known organised ski race in the States.

Girdwood, Alaska

For some of the best heli-skiing anywhere in the world, Girdwood in southern Alaska cannot be beaten. The picturesque Chugach mountains hold a reliably stable snow pack caked in sugar-soft powder, and while the more nervous skier or boarder will just about manage, this is the place to really challenge yourself.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

“Steep and deep” is the name of the game here in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, located in Wyoming’s Teton Village. It’s especially famous for its expert slopes, but beginners need not be afraid: various gondolas can wing you over to the more chilled out mountain sides. Après-ski entertainment is pretty vigorous, with something – live music, open art gallery evenings, barbecues and general merriment – going on every night of the week.

San Juan, Colorado

Part of the famous Rockies mountain range, the San Juan Mountains are almost frighteningly steep, offering vast skiing terrain – from the major ski resort at Telluride and smaller Durango to Wolf Creek Pass and Silverton – that’s refreshingly free of crowds. Powder freaks are more than happy to eschew the lifts, and instead hike, snowcat or splitboard to the freshest and deepest snow.

Revelstoke, Canada

Revelstoke, west of Calgary, proudly declares itself to be the only resort in the world to offer heli-, cat- and back-country skiing from one village base. And that village could not (currently) be cuter or quainter. The resort is still being developed, but once completed, it’s going to be up there with the most exciting and varied ski destinations in existence.

Mzaar, Lebanon

Just over an hour away from its bustling capital city of Beirut, Lebanon’s Mzaar ski resort might come as a bit of a surprise. But the beautiful mountain scenery, high elevation ensuring great snowfall and a terrain that suits all abilities will obliterate any preconceptions. Plus, après ski in the nearby village of Faraya won’t break the bank, with tasty mezze served in restaurants and friendly and fun nightclubs providing undeniably great value.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

An alternative Moroccan experience, this. Titchy Oukaimeden resort, around 80km south of Marrakesh, is best visited as a day trip from the city. The longest run is 3km, and slopes aren’t the manicured beauties you see in Europe, but it’s certainly one to include if you want to say you’ve skiied beneath the African sun – an unlikely but perfectly possible claim.

Ben Lomond, Tasmania

Ben Lomond National Park, in the north of Tasmania just 50km east of Launceston, is home to the country’s premier downhill ski field. The slopes are not especially hard or fast, but the lack of crowds, wildlife and gorgeous views from the top of the mountain reaching out over to the ocean more than make up for it.

Alta, Utah

Snowboarders look away from this one – you’re not allowed: Alta, a sleepy mining town in Salt Lake County, and one of the oldest ski resorts in the States, is reserved just for skiers, and with its insanely deep powder (average annual snowfall hits 1306cm, due to excess moisture sweeping in from the Pacific) it’s a haven for experienced off-pisters.

Cerro Catedral, Argentina

Cerro Catedral in Spanish means “Mount Cathedral” – an apt name, since the imposing mountain summits 20km from Bariloche in southern Argentina, are shaped like the towers of a medieval basilica. The resort’s far-flung and flawless slopes have something for everyone – from first-timers and the not-so-bads to expert off-pisters and trick-loving boarders.

Treble Cone, Wanaka, New Zealand

As the largest ski area in New Zealand’s Southern Lakes, not to mention possessing the longest vertical slope, Treble Cone is generally acknowledged to be the best resort round these parts. Sheltered and sunny runs, excellent powder and challenging off piste terrain simply add to the appeal.

Hokkaido, Japan

The winter snow falls thick and deep on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, attracting skiers and boarders to its many well-regarded resorts. Niseko United is the biggest, overlooked by the dramatic cone-shaped Mount Yotei. Every February, the town of Sapporo puts on a magnificent snow festival, and it’s also a key spot on the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup circuit.

Sochi, Russia

As the host of the Winter Olympics 2014 (and the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup in 2012/13), Sochi in Russia has certainly proved its credentials in the snow department, and in the year before the crowds start arriving in earnest, the slopes are due to be relatively quiet. Advanced skiers and boarders are best catered for here, though it you’d certainly get kudos for saying you learnt to ski in an Olympic resort.

Lech, Austria

The passage of time has transformed Lech in western Austria from a little farming village, often cut off from the rest of the world by snowfall, to an exclusive and expensive ski resort, made up of Alpine-kitsch hotels, smart restaurants, bars and lively clubs. Mostly all the pistes are above the treeline and there’s a dismal number of challenging slopes, but it’s the place to come if you like your chairlifts heated, your runs manageable and your après ski quaffing champagne in classy hotel bars.

Jasna, Slovakia

If you are put off by the high prices in Western European ski resorts, then Jasna in Slovakia (a 40minute transfer from Poprad) is an absolute winner. While the skiing might not be as varied as the terrain in France or Austria, for instance, Jasna still offers plenty of scope and will test most levels. Plus, there are none of the crowds or queuing for lifts so typical of the west, and lift passes, ski rental, lodging and food are laughably good value.

Laax, Switzerland

With no less than four huge snow parks, Laax is the largest base for Freestyle skiing and boarding, and along with the biggest ski pipe in Europe, it also has an indoor “Freestyle Academy” where you can practise your jumps and kicks all year round. The resort isn’t just for tricksters, though, as families and beginners can learn to ski on wide, forgiving slopes or in the excellent ski school, The Snow Wonderland.

Baqueira-Beret, Spain

Spain’s largest ski resort, Baqueira-Beret in the Pyrenees enjoys the caché of being a favourite among the Spanish royal family. The majority of runs are blues and reds, with a smattering of greens and blacks, but there is also plenty of off piste excitement. You won’t need so many layers up here as an extra hour of daylight (compared to the Alps) means the sun beats down for longer.

SAINTE-FOY TARENTAISE, FRANCE

Sainte-Foy sits in the Tarentaise valley in the Savoie, not far from the giants of the ski world, Val d’Isère, Tignes and Les Arcs. If you prefer a quiet, idyllic mountain scene with uncluttered slopes – great for beginners – and a serene après ski, Sainte-Foy is your kind of place. Boarders are particularly well catered for, as the mountain provides lots of drop offs, cliffs and natural jumps, and the powder-filled off piste terrain is irresistible.

San Cassiano, Dolomites, Italy

A quintessential Italian ski resort exuding elegance and luxury, San Cassiano resides at the foot of Mount Lavarela, in the Alta Badia valley. Fancy restaurants, expensive spas and deluxe hotels guarantee pampering and indulgence after a hard day on the slopes. Leave the baggy ski pants and hoodies at home – it’s diamante and fur round here, dahling.

Sogndal, Norway

Buns of steel will be the end result of a ski holiday here, as Norway’s Sogndal (on an inlet of Sognefjord) is the place to trek uphill in your touring skis. As well as a toned bod, the upside here is that you can also enjoy the downside…through the snow-licked trees right to the bottom of the mighty mountains.

Poiana Brasov, Romania

Poiana Brasov, in Romania’s stunning Carpathian mountains, is not just ideal for beginners (not so great for the advanced lot), with plenty of gentle nursery slopes and confidence-boosting red and blue runs, it’s also down-to-earth and great value for money, escaping the usual trappings of luxurious ski resorts elsewhere.

Zinal, Switzerland

The quaint and quiet larch wood ski resort of Zinal sits in the Val d’Anniviers, not far from Geneva, surrounded by dramatic peaks reaching up to 2895m high, like the Matterhorn. With its typically deep powder, it’s a great choice for off-piste skiers and boarders; brave souls might want to attempt a run by the side of the mighty Moiry Dam.

If you like your holidays with a dash of exercise, or perhaps even liberal lashings of adrenalin and white knuckle thrills, one of these excursions may appeal. From deep sea diving to Scottish skiing – via a quick go at zorbing in Dorchester – here’s a few essential outdoor pursuits on offer across Britain.

Tackling Cornwall’s Commando Ridge

It was at the turn of the twentieth century that the daddy of rock climbing, A.W. Andrews, put the far-western Cornish peninsula of Penwith down in history as the epicentre of sea-cliff climbing. It’s a dramatic landscape, where scrub-topped granite cliffs and gaping zawns plummet into the sea, and one which presents climbers with some thrilling challenges.

Famously dubbed Commando Ridge for its role as a training ground for marines during World War II, the route is adrenaline inducing without being a reckless undertaking. Waves lick your heels on the vertical slab jutting skyward from Porthmoina Cove, after which the gradient eases and the dragon’s back of rock arcs landward. While routes this awesome are often only accessible to experts, what makes the ridge a classic is that it accommodates all levels of climbers and offers lots of exit and entry points where less competent – or weary – climbers can dip in and out. Excellent hand- and footholds etched into the granite invite even novice climbers to have a go (in the hands of an expert), and there are several shorter climbs on the western side of the ridge.

Hotrock Climbs (hotrockclimbs.com) can organize rock-climbing courses and trips to the ridge.

Riding with dogs in Thetford Forest

Britain is full of fringe outdoor pursuits pursued tirelessly by committed enthusiasts, but this one really is unusual – even for Norfolk. It’s husky riding, East Anglian-style: teams of Siberian huskies are raced through the expansive heath and woodland of Thetford Forest, pulling excited participants not on sledges (it doesn’t get cold regularly enough for that), but purpose-built “rigs”. It’s ideal terrain for taking the dogs out, and a great way for them to keep exercised on winter mornings. Be aware though that the huskies like it best when it’s really, really cold. It’s a great feeling, surging through the forest at speed, powered only by the dogs, and pure husky heaven too; they’re as happy as can be until the next morning’s run.

Contact www.huskyracing.org.uk for more information about husky rides.

Rediscovering Scotland’s ski resorts

Until recently, the unique exhilarations of skiing looked destined to become solely a foreign pleasure. That was until the winter of 2009/10. Every snow cloud, it seems, has a silver lining, at least in the Highlands: while the rest of us slipped and skidded to work, the Scottish ski resorts struck gold, with superlative cover right into summer, under blue skies bordering on the alpine. With a dismal exchange rate making foreign resorts even pricier, moreover, Scotland’s resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time. New runs were built, and beginners took up skiing like never before. It was a joy to see those slushy, rock-laced runs reborn.

Whether you’re an absolute beginner or an old hand, on snowboard or skis, you’ll do well to make your first stop Glenshee, the clan chief of Scotland’s resorts with an impressive 36 runs and 40km of piste, and a location readily accessible from Edinburgh. Though nearby Cairngorm boasts a funicular railway, and beginners’ favourite The Lecht the best snowmaking facilities, this place, on the edge of the Grampians, has been hosting skiers since the 1930s, and, if you’re lucky enough to experience blue skies instead of a klaxon-sounding whiteout, can almost feel like a continental day-trip.

More information can be found at www.ski-glenshee.co.uk, www.lecht.co.uk and www.cairngormmountain.co.uk.

Riding horses on Exmoor

Horses and Exmoor are a natural match: it’s long been a favourite terrain for hunting – a source of pleasure to some, embarrassment to others – and the habitat of the stocky Exmoor ponies that roam wild. More than three hundred miles of bridleways intertwine across the moor, allowing you to take in such beauty spots as Tarr Steps, Porlock Vale and Selworthy Beacon, and views stretching across to the Quantock Hills and over the Bristol Channel to South Wales.

Roads on Exmoor are scarce but access to its wildest depths is comparatively easy on four legs. Horses and ponies are readily hired from riding schools and stables that offer everything from simple treks and escorted rides for novices to more ambitious half-day hacks for experienced riders. At some point in your rambles, let rip and feel the rapture of a mad gallop over the heather. Sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating, there’s no better way of experiencing the moor.

Stables include West Lynch Farm, Allerford, near Porlock, Minehead, Somerset (exmoor-riding.co.uk) and Spirit of Exmoor, High Bullen Farm, Ilkerton, Barbrook, Lynton, Devon (www.spiritofexmoor.com).

Zorbing in Dorchester

Zorbing, or sphering as it is sometimes known, is generally pigeonholed as an extreme sport – but don’t let that put you off. The Concise OED defines it as “a sport in which a participant is secured inside an inner capsule in a transparent ball which is then rolled along the ground”. In an inflatable nutshell, it is the gloriously silly pursuit of travel inside an oversized beach ball – one of the most fun outdoor pursuits around – and the longest run in England is at Dorchester-based Zorbing South UK.

A clever piece of design sees two intrepid zorbonauts dive through an access window in the side of the transparent orb into the smaller inner ball, which is connected to the outer sphere by nylon cords. Here, seemingly suspended in space, they are strapped opposite each other into harnesses – go with a friend for double the fun – then eased to the lip of a grass piste. There are no brakes, no going back.

There should also be no surprise to discover that cartwheeling at speeds in excess of 20mph over more than 200 yards causes utter disorientation. Within a bounce or two, you lose all sense of direction. Yet nausea is rarely a problem for first-time zorbonauts, say Zorbing South operators. Extreme hilarity is.

Zorbing South UK (01929/426595, www.zorbsouth.co.uk) operates from late March to October.

Scrabbling up big Ben’s cold shoulder

Nowhere epitomizes the Scottish Highlands better than Ben Nevis. Massive and broad-shouldered, with a north face that plummets 650m from its 1344-metre summit, “the Ben” is an imposing sight, particularly in winter when snow drapes its ledges and buttresses, and ice falls transform its gullies and ridges into an ice-climbing playground.

There are numerous ways to ascend the mountain, longest of which is the classic 600-metre Tower Ridge route. It’s not too technically demanding, but it’s not easy either, and you should have had some experience of winter hill scrambling (at the very least) before taking it on – wise heads employ the services of a guide.

As you set out en route to the crag you’ll have plenty of time to ponder the lie of the land and the wisdom of what you’re about to attempt. Ice climbing requires a mix of technique and brute strength – and you’ll soon be tested on whether you have sufficient of each. There’s very little let up in the exposure or the excitement, and throbbing forearms and wobbly thigh and calf muscles are unavoidable. Errors of judgement on the ridge have seen parties benighted, or worse. But when you eventually emerge onto the summit and out of the icy blue shadows of the north face you’ll have the sense of having engaged with the mountain’s winter personality in a way no mere walker ever could.

Ice Factor, Leven Rd, Kinlochleven, Lochaber, Highland (www.ice-factor.co.uk) has the largest indoor climbing wall in the world and offers both indoor and outdoor climbing courses, including trips to Ben Nevis.

Scuba diving in Scapa

Surrounded by the windswept Orkney Islands, one of the world’s great natural harbours conceals a dramatic episode of naval history that’s ripe for underwater exploration. Scapa Flow, Britain’s finest dive site, inspires awe in the most blasé of Aussie Scuba instructors and commands respect from seasoned deep-sea rig divers. In fact plunging deep into these chilly Scottish waters to explore the shipwrecks of Scapa is an unforgettable experience for anyone with the courage to attempt it.

This is the last resting place of the German High Seas Fleet interned by the British at the end of World War I. Rather than see the flotilla broken up, Rear-Admiral von Reuter ordered its scuttling – all 74 ships – on June 21, 1919, thus denying the Allies valuable spoils of war. Salt water, tidal currents and salvage efforts have all conspired in the intervening years to erode the fleet, but a dozen or so vessels still cling to the seabed, accessible to all with sufficient diving qualifications, equipment – and nerve.

Sunk in peacetime, and by their own commanders, these wrecks are not war graves, but even knowing that they conceal no ghosts, the ships have a powerful effect on the imagination. The intimidating scale alone of a dreadnought in dark waters sets the pulse racing.

For tuition or dive guides contact Scapa Scuba (www.scapascuba.co.uk).

Climbing the Via Ferrata at Honister

Famously, the Lake District features England’s highest peak (Scafell Pike) and its deepest lake (Wast Water) – and to that you can add the country’s most ridiculously thrilling high-mountain adventure, the Via Ferrata. The owners of Borrowdale’s Honister Slate Mine have taken a traditional alpine “Iron Way” fixed-cable system and married it to the precarious route that Lakeland miners once took as they scrambled up the rock face of Fleetwith Pike. Result? You get a hard hat, a clip-on belt and harness, and a safety briefing, and within twenty minutes find yourself hanging on for dear life two thousand feet up a Cumbrian mountain.

And it all starts off so innocently, trudging up the path from the visitor centre with the guide. There’s a bit of hands-and-feet scrambling as you first clip your belt onto the cable, and some walking and some un-clipping, and some more clipping and some fine views, and then… ah, yes, that would be the steel rungs and ladder across the exposed rock face would it? Everyone inches across, grimacing, hands white against the iron bars, not – under any circumstances – looking down, despite the cheery exhortations of the preposterously nimble guide to do exactly that.

Never has 2126 feet seemed so impossibly high – or so dramatically alluring that you can’t wait to do it all over again.

Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Honister Pass, Borrowdale, Cumbria, www.honister.com.

 

For hundreds more unique experiences, get a copy of Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain

 

If you like your holidays with a pinch – or even liberal lashings – of adrenalin, then you may want to check one of these life-changing experiences out. Taken from the pages of Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, here’s ten ultimate trips for thrill seekers.

Sand-skiing in the dunes, Qatar

Launching yourself down the slopes under a scorching desert sun is possible in Qatar, a small Gulf country midway between Kuwait and Dubai – but forget about snow machines and fake icicles. Here, the ski slopes are all natural. Jaded ski bums looking for a new thrill should take a 4WD trip to Khor al-Adaid – known as Qatar’s Inland Sea. This is a saltwater inlet from the blue waters of the Gulf which penetrates far into the desert interior and is surrounded on all sides by monumental formations of giant, silvery sand dunes.

These are almost all crescent-shaped barchan dunes. Both points of the crescent face downwind; between them is a steep slip face of loose sand, while the back of the dune, facing into the breeze, is a shallow, hard slope of wind-packed grains. This formation lends itself particularly well to sand-skiing or, perhaps more commonly, sand-boarding, both of which are almost identical to their more familiar snow-based cousins – without the woolly hats but with a softer landing for novices.

Khor al-Adaid lies 75km south of Doha, the Qatari capital. No roads run even close. The only way to get here is in a 4WD vehicle organized by any of several tour companies based in Doha: try www.gulf-adventures.com or www.nettoursdubai.com.

Ice climbing in the Cordillera Real, Bolivia

You’re halfway up a sheer ice wall in the high Andes, with crampons on your feet, an ice axe in each hand and your stomach quavering somewhere around knee level, when you sense that there are some things humans were not meant to do. Yet if you don’t mind the odd moment of panic, the Cordillera Real, strung across Bolivia between the barren Altiplano and the Amazon basin, is a wonderful place to begin mountaineering. For one thing, it’s substantially cheaper than Europe or North America. More importantly, this harsh landscape, with its thin air, intimidating peaks and snow-covered ridges, is an unforgettable one, a world away from hectic La Paz and another planet from the one most of us live on.

The Cordillera Real is a few hours’ drive from La Paz – guides and equipment can be organized here or in Sorata.

Skiing beside volcanic vents, Russia

An average ski run in Kamchatka is not like that of your regular ski resort; it’s not unusual to get in more than 10,000m of “vertical” in a single day. You’re pumped full of adrenalin before you even start, thanks to the half-hour ride to your first run in a huge, ramshackle Russian-built MI-8 helicopter.

Your guide will head down an enormous, open powder-field running 180m or more down the flanks of a volcano and you’re then free to follow, with almost infinite space in which to lay down your own tracks. You may pass beside hissing volcanic vents (the most recent eruptions in Kamchatka occurred in 2010) or alongside glinting blue glaciers or just bliss out on endless turns in shin-deep fluff. You may even end up on a Pacific beach where you can take a frigid skinny dip. And then you’ll clamber back into the helicopter to do it all over again – and again, and again.

For packages, check out www.eaheliskiing.com.

Finding perfect powder in Kashmir, India

The subject of a long-standing bitter territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, Kashmir was once dubbed “the most dangerous place on Earth” and talk of the region still largely remains focused on its politics, obscuring the fact that Kashmir, with its verdant valleys and towering mountains, makes the Alps look like a cheap film set.

It’s on those mountains that perhaps its biggest secrets can be found, and the biggest joys for thrill seekers. The Himalayas jut into Kashmir from Nepal, boasting light, dry powder in absurd quantities. Kashmir, or rather the small ski town of Gulmarg, seems set to explode onto the ski resort radar. Opened in 2005, its gondola is, at just shy of 4000m, the third highest in the world, and the powdery terrain that spreads out before it is limitless and untracked.

Topping it off are some very unresort-like qualities: you’ll ride a pony back to a hot shower and a warm bed; if it’s chicken for dinner you can pick one from the yard. The secret won’t keep for long.

From Srinagar it’s a 2hr, 200km taxi ride to Gulmarg. Dec–April is the best time to visit, although check the security situation with your foreign office.

Off-roading to Khor al-Adaid, Qatar

In southern Qatar, the roads simply stop, swallowed by fuming waves of sand. Every weekend, countless Qatari 4WD enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the desert to push their vehicles to the limit and find solitude in a shifting world of shimmering heat and rolling dunes.

Tour drivers whisk tourists out of Doha, Qatar’s main city, down to the desert for a day of adventure. After an hour’s drive south on a pot-holed freeway, huge sand dunes looms on the horizon marking the end of the road. Loud hip-hop and techno blares from an assembled entourage of expensive cars, Qatar’s modern day equivalent of the camel – gone are their plodding steeds of yesteryear, exchanged for faster, gruntier and air-conditioned contemporaries that are thirstier and also tend to roll more often.

There are numerous tour companies in Qatar offering 4WD trips into the desert; Arabian Adventures (www.arabian-adventureqatar.com) is well established and drivers often speak English.

Bungee jumping the Bhote Koshi, Nepal

The worst part is the wait. Standing on a footbridge spanning a spectacular Himalayan gorge, it’s impossible not to glance down at the churning Bhote Koshi River, which races down from the nearby Tibetan border. Every so often a cheer – or a scream – sounds, as someone plummets towards the water on the end of a disconcertingly thin rubber rope.

Operated by The Last Resort, a tented camp and adventure sports centre, this 160m bungee jump is one of the highest in the world – to put it into context, the Statue of Liberty only measures 93m from its base to the tip of the flame. The mountains ahead appear briefly in your line of vision, before vanishing as you plunge down at what feels like an impossible speed and, for a few terrifying, exhilarating moments, you feel as though you’re flying.

The Last Resort is a 3hr drive from Kathmandu. For more information, visit www.thelastresort.com.np.

Heli-biking Ben Cruachan, New Zealand

Ben Cruachan, a 2000m peak tucked behind the Remarkables, the mountain range that flanks the picturesque resort of Queenstown, is a favourite of many backcountry mountain bikers. It’s no surprise why: it offers 1600 metres of pure downhill adrenalin. And that’s after the rush of flying up to the top.

The trail follows a rough 4WD road down the ridgeline from the summit. Littered with loose shale, it demands both balance and patience to navigate. After a few kilometres the route veers left onto a vertiginious single track snaking 6km down a steep valley. The upper reaches of the track are fast and fun; further down, shallow streams cut across the trail and you need to concentrate hard to avoid flying over the handlebars when your tyres come to an abrupt halt in a muddy bog.

Heli-biking trips up Ben Cruachan are run by Vertigo Bikes (www.vertigobikes.co.nz) in Queenstown.

Canyoneering in Karijini, Australia

Canyoneering through Karijini National Park is an Indiana Jones-style adventure through a rarely seen world of towering red rock canyons, trickling waterfalls and hidden pools. Be prepared for half a day of walking then crawling, wading then swimming, climbing along ledges and up waterfalls and jumping into freezing pools. The trails are graded by how extreme the terrain gets. Classes 1–3 can be handled by most but 4–6 are where the excitement lies and should be tackled with a qualified guide.

One of the best is the “Class 4” Knox Gorge. Descending the steep track into the ravine you’ve little idea of what waits ahead. Paths and ledges peter out and you’re forced to swim across a couple of pools until the walls narrow suddenly into a shoulder-wide slot that never sees sunlight. You enter the chasm, bridging over jammed boulders, deafened and disoriented by water running through your legs until it seems there is no way ahead. There is, but to continue you must hurtle blindly down the “do-or-die” Knox Slide into an unseen plunge pool below. Later, pumped with adrenalin and teeth chattering from the icy water, you look up to see tourists pointing and staring at you from a viewpoint, wondering how on Earth you got down there.

West Oz Active (www.westozactive.com.au) offers a range of tours into remote parts of Karijini.

Taking the plunge with A.J. Hackett, New Zealand

Ever since speed skiers and general daredevils AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch invented commercial bungee jumping, New Zealand has been its home, and Queenstown its capital. So if you’re going to bungee what better place than here? And if it’s the classic experience you’re after, then the original Kawarau Suspension Bridge is your spot. At 43m it’s only a modest jump by modern standards, but you’re guaranteed an audience to will you on and then celebrate your achievement. So are you going solo or double? Dunking or dry? Shirt on or shirt off?

AJ Hackett Bungy (www.ajhackett.com) operate three bungee sites around Queenstown.

Ski from the sky in the Rockies, British Columbia

Heliskiing got its start in the Rocky Mountains of BC, and this is still one of the best places on Earth to take part in this terrifically expensive, fairly dangerous and undeniably thrilling activity. It’s a pristine mountain wonderland filled with open bowls and endless tree runs, all coated in a layer of light and powdery snow. Accessing these stashes by helicopter, with its odd mix of mobility and avian fragility, only intensifies the feeling of exploration and isolation. From the air, you’ll eagerly envision making your signature squiggles and carve lines in the untouched powder fields. And once the helicopter recedes into the distance, leaving you alone atop the mountain, you’ll feel every inch the pioneer.

Contact CMH Heli-Skiing (403/762 7100 or 1-800/661-0252, www.cmhski.com).

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month