Enjoy winter sports without giving away all your coin.
The classic winter sports scenario is the stuff of fantasies. It usually includes a cold, crisp day spent skiing fresh powder at a gorgeous mountain resort, followed by an evening in front of the fire at the clubhouse lounge. The very thought of it is enough to warm your heart — while putting a chill on your finances. What’s more, with airline inconveniences, long lift lines, icy slopes and unpredictable weather, expensive winter vacations often fail to live up to the imagery.
Fortunately, winter fun need not be expensive. The beauty of the season and a full measure of cold-weather exhilaration can be had close to home for minimal dollars. Many winter sports require very little equipment, investment, or travel, yet they can be very enjoyable. Among them are snowshoeing, sledding, and ice fishing.
Snowshoeing? Didn’t that go out of style a few hundred years ago? Hardly. Snowshoeing has become one of America’s fastest growing winter sports. And it offers a number of benefits that have led to its rise in popularity.
First, a trek on snowshoes gets you moving in the great outdoors, and some of the best places to snowshoe are beautifully remote locations where others have not tread. Unlike skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing is easy to learn. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And you can do it for a minimal investment. Snowshoe prices start at less than $100, and even top-of-the-line models are affordable at around $300.
Finally, snowshoeing offers significant health benefits. It’s a low-impact sport, so your chances of injury are minimal. Long snowshoe walks build endurance and strength while burning calories. If you use poles while walking on snowshoes, you’ll build upper body strength as well.
Yukon Charlie’s, a major supplier of snowshoe equipment, says that while poles are not required they’re recommended, since they provide balance and stability on challenging terrain, while reducing stress on the knees and increasing overall cardiovascular activity.
Sledding offers much of the speed and thrills of skiing without the expense. If you have a hill near home that gets a good coat of snow in the winter, your entire family can enjoy this winter sport for a truly minimal investment.
H2O Recreation, a major supplier of sleds, says that inexpensive plastic sleds are among today’s top sellers.
“These range from the basic round saucer at less than $10 to 39-inch, 48-inch and 66-inch sleds, ranging in price from about $10 to less than $20,” H2O says. “They’re used for recreational sledding, but also see service for things like hauling wood and ice fishing. They’ve been popular for more than 25 years.”
Inflatable sleds and tubes have come more recently to the slippery slopes. They provide a soft ride, but do not offer much steering control.
H2O says that foam sleds are a fast growing category. They are lightweight and fun to ride. Many come with colorful graphics. They’re available in various lengths, and most are priced between $20 and $30.
Among other available snow toys that can provide thrills on hills are snow scooters, which combine a snowboard with a scooter-like hinged handle. Classic wooden sleds are available as well. While more costly than modern alternatives, they are a blast from the past.
Ice fishing is a fast growing sport that offers relaxing entertainment for countless anglers. In the cold northern regions of the country, it’s not uncommon to see a flotilla of fishing huts out on a frozen lake.
The first rule of ice fishing is “be safe.” The U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory recommends that only those in good physical condition should venture out onto the ice, because of the intense exertion that can accompany ice emergencies. Clothing should not restrict your ability to stay afloat. Hip boots and waders are taboo. A flotation vest or jacket is recommended. Ice picks that can help a fallen fisherman grip the edge of an ice sheet can be life savers.
When heading out on the ice, check the thickness every 150 feet or so by drilling a hole with your drill or ice auger. Check it more often if you find that the thickness varies. Determining how thick the ice has to be to support a load is complicated, as there are many variables. You can find detailed charts and specific recommendations on the U.S. Army web page at http://www.crrel.usace.army.mil/ierd/ice_safety/safety.html.
While elaborate ice-fishing equipment is available, you don’t need a lot to get started. South Bend Sporting Goods, says her company offers a kit that includes everything you need to start ice fishing. It’s called the R2F Panfish Complete Ice Fishing Combo, and it comes with a rod, pre-spooled reel, a tackle box, and more.
Of course, you can’t fish until you’ve cut a hole in the ice. For that you’ll need an ice auger. A sled to carry the auger is most helpful as well. An ice scoop — essentially a dipper with holes in the bottom — is needed to keep your fishing hole clear.
The dangers of frostbite and overexposure can be significant for the unprotected fisherman. If you plan on being out on the ice for more than a couple hours, a shelter is a good investment. Frabill, Inc., a leading manufacturer of ice-fishing shelters, says that hub-style shelters are lightweight and range in price from $150 to $300. Black in color, they retain quite a bit of the sun’s heat on a bright day.
Whether you snowshoe, sled or fish, you’re going to want to end the day just like those folks at the fancy resorts do: in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. It’s the perfect conclusion to a great day of active winter fun. And you don’t have to travel to Aspen to enjoy it.
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