“It’s more of a novelty,” says Kevin Walker, manager of EMS on Comm Ave in Boston. “Nobody’s like, ‘Finally! Because my old competitive sled is totally worn out.’ It’s something else goofy to do in the snow.” Walker says competitive sledding is especially popular with adults who travel north frequently or own homes in New Hampshire, Maine, or Vermont.
Walker adds that snowshoe sales are up as well. Today’s snowshoes are customized for the type of terrain you’d like to tackle, from your backyard to ungroomed mountain backcountry. Competitive snowshoe racing is offered at ski areas throughout New England, and some snowshoe models have been developed specifically for running in the snow. Still, says Walker, starting out on snowshoes is easy: “You walk…that’s it.” How hard can it be?
New sports for the pros
In SNOWKITING, a large, power-kite pulls a snowboarder or skier (on Telemark or alpine skis) across snowpacked, icy terrain. Depending on the direction and strength of the wind, snowkiters can even be propelled up mountains. The sport evolved from kitesurfing on water and uses much of the same gear.
Jack Stevens, a snowkiter and snow-sports manager at Joe Jones Wilderness House on Comm Ave in Boston (which has a kite in stock) says snowkiting is in its fifth season as a mainstream, international activity.
“You need a wide-open area,” he says. “The best places are frozen lakes with snow.” He recommends going in January when the lakes have a solid snowpack but declines to elaborate on places to try it out: snowkiting is still underground in New England, and the best spots are the least populated.
If you’re interested in seeing snowkiting in action, check out a festival or competition. The Fifth Annual Stormboarding Kitestorm, one of the largest snowkiting festivals in North America, takes place each year outside Burlington, Vermont, and offers clinics and races. Curious beginners are welcome.
For an even more uncommon experience, you could combine snowkiting with SNOWSKATING, another extreme winter sport just bubbling into the mainstream. The snowskate is a skateboarding deck with small skis (or a single board, such as Burton’s Junkyard snowskate) attached to the bottom instead of wheels. It’s an easy transition from snowboarding or skateboarding.
Note that, unlike skis and snowboards, snowskates don’t have bindings, and for that reason, some ski resorts don’t allow them. Those that do permit snowskating require that you use an ankle leash (runaway snowskates can cause a lot of pain). However, the lack of bindings gives riders more jibbing possibilities on the deck, which is why snowskating is a popular competition at the Winter X Games: professionals can pull off true ollies, kickflips, and other tricks borrowed from skateboarding on the halfpipe and rails in a way snowboarders can’t. You can find a Flowlab snowskate at EMS ($89.99).
New sports for weirdos
Finally, some of the best strange fun you can have comes with a little creativity. Remember, someone actually put quite a bit of thought into each of the aforementioned sports, even the craziest ones (well, maybe not that much thought — “Dude! What if we take that big kite out on the lake?”). If you’re looking for winter sports inspiration, look no further than YouTube. When it comes to reckless and ridiculous ideas, the Web site always delivers.