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Olympics inspire winter activities

By Lisa Ziegel

Excitement is building for the upcoming winter Olympic games in Sochi, which begin on Feb. 7. Not only are exciting winter sports, such as ski jumping and snowboarding, widely covered in telecasts both on television and online, viewers may also watch events that normally get zero coverage. For instance, who follows curling when the Olympics are not on? Or luge or skeleton racing? And this year Sochi is upping the ante by including 12 sports that are new to the Winter Olympics: Mixed team biathlon relay, mixed team figure skating, luge team relay (one for all-male and one for all-female teams), individual men's and women's ski half pipe, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, parallel slalom, and women's ski jumping. However, these are simply re-configurations of existing sports, so they are not new per se. In any case, people will surely get excited and feel motivated about being outdoors and active in a winter environment as a result of the games.

In the never-ending quest to try something new and exciting, people are creating new sports that are popping up at a rapid pace everywhere there is snow and ice, some hills or a vast amount of flat land along with some simple equipment and imagination (with a spirit of adventure). The world of 'alternative' winter sports is mind-boggling in its ingenuity and in how it attracts people of all levels of fitness. Getting outdoors to 'play' during a time of year when staying indoors and remaining inactive until springtime is the norm can only be beneficial. So let's explore the best of some of the unique new activities that are 'springing up' and see how they can be integrated into any winter activity program.

Snowkiting The participant rides on skis while flying a kite ranging in size from 3-10 square feet. This is done by wearing a harness with the kite attached to cables attached to bar that you can steer with. This is a sport that requires training and special equipment, and, yes, there is risk involved since a wind speed of more than 30 knots can cause the rider to get 'yarded' or dragged, and this does not sound like fun. But at the right speed that can be controlled the experience can be exhilarating and a great upper-body and core workout. Special equipment must be purchased, and professional instruction is highly recommended.

Junkboarding A creative way to use an old snowboard (and pretty eco-friendly too) as well as a way to work with a lack of good snow while still getting some outdoor fun. The snowboard is cut in half, flipped over so the uncut edges are on the inside, and fitted with bindings. Participants can then find slopes (preferably grassy) dusted with minimal snow to allow for a great skiing workout. An old pair of snowboards (check classified ads, thrift stores), some tools and a penchant for handiwork is all that are needed, along with prior experience in skiing.

Airboarding Sounds similar to the inner-tube sliding I used to do as a kid on holidays in the snowy local mountains with my family. An air-inflated, raft-like sled is ridden down slopes in a prone position (body face-down). Slightly more sophisticated than an inner tube, the device can be steered with grooves underneath. Still, with speeds that can reach up to 60 mph, there is an element of danger to the sport. It can fulfill one's need for speed and thrills and a day of getting up and down on the slopes, while engaging in this activity is sure to burn a lot of calories. Special equipment is needed, instruction may or may not be necessary, but, of course, caution should be taken!

Kitewinging Another wind-propelled activity, this time using a large set of 'wings' that only weigh around 3 pounds and have to be held overhead as the participant skates or skis on ice or snow. This is gaining popularity as a competitive sport but, of course, may be practiced for fun. Holding the wings can be a test of upper-body endurance, and if an emergency stop is necessary, simply dropping the appendage is all that is needed. (Balance, flexibility and strength will come in handy to avoid injury.) Wings must be purchased, and there are special skates made for competition. Instruction may or may not be necessary (but prior experience with ice skating or skiing is recommended).

Fatbiking Named for the size of this specialized bicycle's tires, this is an adventure sport that can take riders through snow, mud or desert sand, or used in mountainbiking. This has actually been in practice since the 1930s but is re-emerging in popularity. The obvious benefits of cycling would apply here, but with snow providing extra resistance as well as the size of the tires (4 inches wide or more), this would make for a challenging workout. Special equipment is needed (both the bike and the tires). Instruction may or may not be necessary, but certainly experience of off-road biking would help.

Someday these activities may or may not make their way into the Olympics, but for now, they remain as fun ways to get outdoors and take advantage of the snow and not let the winter doldrums put your fitness regimen on hold. More information may be found by looking in your favorite search engine for resources for instruction and equipment.