7 Bucket List Winter Adventures

Adventure Climbing Paddling Skiing By Kühl Editor

Everyone has that one thing they want to try before they’ve seen the end of their last winter on Earth. For some of us, that list’s longer than the chair line on two-for-one lift pass day. For others, it’s “been there, done that… and let’s do it again!” We polled our crew here at KÜHL and these are the top ten winter adventures we want to experience before we kick the bucket—and places you can go to live the dream. So pack up your parkas. Winter’s not over yet, and neither are you!

1. Conquer the Eskimo roll

Find a local paddlesports club and learn the various self-rescue rolling techniques required for whitewater paddling and closed-deck sea kayaking. The best time to learn is in the winter when clubs and local paddle shops rent indoor heated pools for their classes. Look for small-group or private lessons that give enough one-on-one time to perfect your skills – sometimes it takes a while to get rolling.

2. Go mushing

Triple Creek Ranch, Darby, Montana: Iditarod competitors need to keep their dogs in shape, which is why they invite guests at this award-winning mountain sports resort to help out. Pro guides will introduce you to your team of world-class sled dogs, help you get them harnessed, and teach you the basics so you can mush your own dogs on a guided trip.

All Seasons Adventures, Park City, Utah: If you’re visiting Park City, you’ve got several reputable and well-reviewed sledding tours from which to choose. All Season Adventures is all that with a heart-warming bonus, as most of their dogs are rescued sledding breeds. It’s a family outfit run by wonderful people who put their furry employees first but leave plenty of love for their happy clients.

Eden Ethical Dog Sledding, Eden Mills, Vermont: Sledding champion Jim Blair maintains a network of mushing-exclusive trails, and his teams pull sleds in the winter and wheeled carts in the summer. You’ll hear about his approach to managing sled dogs on and off the trail, and how he’s been inspired by animal behaviorist Temple Grandin to use his Asperger’s as an advantage in the musher’s world.

3. Hit terminal velocity in a bobsled

Whiteface, Lake Placid, New York: Hop into a bobsled with a professional driver and brakeman to careen down this famous 1980 Winter Olympics course. If you survive the ride, check out the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and watch ski jumpers take flight on the mountain’s K-120 meter jump from alongside the launch platform.

Utah Olympic Park, Salt Lake City, Utah: After your dog sledding adventure, visit the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics for the park’s Winter Bobsledding Experience. As with the Lake Placid park, there’s a lot to do once you’ve wobbled off the sliding track—preferably not at velocity.

4. Check into an ice hotel

Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden: Hit the Arctic Circle and go about 125 miles north to visit the “OG” ice hotel. Between December and April, you can stay in the unbelievable architecture and etched ice art that the resort creates each season, or you can chicken out and bunk in their traditional accommodations year-round. We know a winter trip is on your must-do list, and there’s a good chance you can knock “see the aurora borealis” off your bucket list while you’re there.

sheets and pillow on the ice bed
Ice Suite in the Ice Hotel, Sweden. Photo by charley1965.

Hotel de Glace, Quebec, Canada: Can’t get to Sweden? Well, you won’t be left out in the cold if you chill in one of many theme rooms at North America’s only ice hotel. Warm up the next day on the nearby ice skating and Nordic skiing trails, or just hang out in a hot tub or sauna.

5. Learn to ice climb

Eastern Mountain Sports Schools, North Conway, New Hampshire: If you’re in the northeastern United States, EMS holds single and multi-day ice climbing workshops in New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Rental fees for most of the gear are included, and you can choose from private or group classes. They’ve been doing this since 1968, and mountaineers from all around the world trust them for skill building at every experience level.

American Alpine Institute, Bellingham, Washington: Adventurers west of the Continental Divide can choose their favorite mountain range: California’s Sierra Nevada, the Cascades in Washington, and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. You may have read about Ouray Ice Park and Ouray Ice Festival, where you can get a taste of ice climbing—but with American Alpine Institute, you can really dig in and learn essential winter mountaineering skills.

Utah Mountain Adventures, Salt Lake City, Utah: Join experienced UMA guides in SLC or Provo for classes set up for absolute greenhorns through advanced ice climbers looking to learn new techniques. UMA offers crampon and ice tool rentals and they’ve posted a list of recommended accessories, equipment, snacks, and winter performance clothing.

6. Go heliskiing

Bella Coola Heli-Skiing, Bella Coola, Canada: Just 70 miles from Vancouver you’ll find Bella Coola Heli-Skiing. Heck, you’ll find them wherever the powder’s at altitude in Alaska and western Canada, but the region for which they’re named is considered the best in North America. The World Ski Awards crowned them “World’s Best Heli Ski Operator” in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and they’ve built that reputation with an incredible safety record and top-notch pilots. And by the way… for Bela Coola Heli-Skiing, winter doesn’t end until well into April!

Telluride Helitrax, Telluride, Colorado: These backcountry airdrop experts have been in business for nearly 40 years, taking clients to the best powder the San Juan Mountains have to offer. They also service skiers and boarders from Aspen, Vail, and Steamboat Springs. Reservations.com voted Telluride Helitrax the “Most Adventurous Tour”, but given how seriously this family-run business takes safety, it’s not the “hold my beer, watch this” kind of adventurous.

7. Take the polar bear plunge

Plungefest, Annapolis, Maryland: Help raise funds for the Special Olympics at the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, the largest frigid-water dip event in the U.S. Plungefest is a weekend-long party held each January at Sandy Point State Park with entertainment, food, and daily swim events. (Forget the towel. Bring a blanket for some post-plunge comfort!)

Perchville USA, Tawas, Michigan: Want the old-school, hole-in-the-ice experience? Beer tents, fish fry, entertainment, barrel races, and a chili cookoff? You’ll definitely want to make the trek to this Lake Huron resort town, as do people from all over North America each February. The locals recommend insulated coveralls as part of their tradition but you won’t get kicked out for upping your winter fashion game.

New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, Brooklyn, New York: Hosted by the oldest “winter bathing club” in the U.S. (shivering since 1903), this swim will supercharge you after a night over-celebrating the ball drop. And we’ll completely ignore the double-meaning behind that last sentence.

people bathing in water in winter
The Coney Island Polar Bears. Photo by Invertzoo / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (2013).

You’ve got your bucket list. Now, how about your packing list?

Ponying up for once-in-a-lifetime winter adventures might be tough to justify, even for the most passionate dreamers. Investing in well-designed, high-quality outdoor clothing isn’t. Get strategic with moisture-wicking base layers, Merino wool or synthetic fleece mid-layers, and durable insulating, wind- and waterproof outer layers. Buy, demo, or rent the best sporting equipment you can afford, and check these event guides and outfitters’ websites for recommended accessories, safety supplies, and personal fitness requirements.

Start planning now. Life’s short, and winter’s even shorter!

Featured image: Dog sledding in Yellowknife, Canada. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

dogs pulling sled in snow
Kühl Editor