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Snowkiting, speed riding, skijoring....

New winter sports trends


A range of adrenalin-pumping snow activities have recently joined the classics, adding new zest to the world of winter board sports. Snowkiting, speed riding, skijoring, dog sledding and telemark skiing have been eagerly embraced by alpine resorts. True, snowkiting and speed riding already have a few seasons under their belt, and telemark skiing, skijoring and dog sledding have been going strong for a number of centuries, but there’s been quite a revolution in the way they’re practiced. Just put those skis and that snowboard down for a moment and come and discover these new, exhilarating snow sports with us.
Speed riding? Whatever’s that?
Speed riding takes a new approach to board sports, where the rider uses the unexplored space between the snow and the sky to play with gravity, weightlessness and natural obstacles. Speed riding is an extreme sport for adrenalin junkies, combining parachuting, paragliding and skiing. Attached to a paraglider and wearing skis, riders leap several dozens of metres over rocky outcrops, before skiing down the slope to the next leap into the unknown. Skiing while attached to a paraglider may look exciting and great fun, but it requires real expertise and a lot of practice. Playing with the mountain’s rocky relief, the snow and differences in height, not to mention paragliding from slope to slope, will really make the adrenalin flow. But take care, this sport is addictive!
You’ll definitely need to take lessons first. The sport is affiliated to the FFVL, the French Federation of Free Flight, which includes paragliding, delta plane, kiting and speed riding. The different resorts offer a range of lessons and if you’re an average skier with no free flight experience, it shouldn’t take you too long to catch on. You’ll learn to use the different equipment during the training course, and your instructor will tell you when to move on from the school slopes to the freeride areas. You need to be really committed though if you’re going to take up speed riding seriously; the speed rider’s slogan sums it up neatly: “You must have respect for the great sage Aeolus, otherwise …BANG!”
Snowkiting for a rush of adrenalin
Its summer cousin is called kitesurfing when you shoot through the water equipped with surfboard and traction kite. Snowkiting is easier to learn, the surfboard replaced by a snowboard or skis. At speeds of over 70 km/hr, you’ll get an incredible buzz as you jump off the moguls, when the slightest breeze can turn a small jump into a thrilling leap through the air. Far from the ski lifts, the noise and the crowds, snowkiters ride the wind, air and snow to get their adrenalin fix. Jumps can reach several dozen metres in height and several hundreds of metres in length… Freestyle is not all you can get out of snowkiting; it can also be used as a 100% natural ski lift. Riding up with wind power to come down as free as the air, isn’t that what paradise is all about?
Telemark skiing, a new sport?
Invented in 1868 by Sondre Norheim, a Norwegian farmer from the province of Telemark, the sport has recently seen something of a revival. This wonderfully aesthetic form of skiing is a hybrid of alpine and cross country skiing, spruced up with a touch of freestyle. Telemark bindings leave the skier’s heel free to make turns with flexed knees. Nothing new there … but with the wide skis, the skier moves fluidly in an innovative and quite exhilarating fashion. The Norwegian invention adds a touch of elegance to board sports and is ideal for skiers looking for perfect balance with borderline fall angles. The telemarker’s slogan is telling: “Free your heel and your mind will follow!”
Equestrian skijoring
In equestrian skijoring, the skier is pulled along by a pony. It’s a bit like a snow version of waterskiing and it comes direct from Scandinavia.
First invented as a means of transport, we can easily imagine a young, snugly-wrapped Norwegian being pulled along to school by his or her horse…
Today, skijoring is no longer just a means of transport but is a fast-growth and trendy ski resort sport. You’ll start with the basic techniques on short practice runs with a few moguls, and then out on the slopes. Once you’ve learnt to handle your horse, you can really get going. The basics are simple to learn and great fun. When your instructor launches the pony on the trail, you’ll feel it accelerating and turning as if you were riding it.
You can then move on to intermediate trails when your pony begins to gallop, and you can enjoy totally freestyle skiing as you’re pulled along behind it. As you increase your angles in turns, skijoring begins to feel like water-skiing with the same speed, acceleration and sliding techniques…
Once you've got the hang of it, you'll want to start trying it off-piste but real off-piste skijoring is impossible for the pony or with crowds of other skiers around. Some resorts offer skijoring sessions after the slopes have closed for the night, so from 5 pm, you and your pony can trot off for an hour or so of skijoring in total freedom. With no more mechanical lifts, few people, and the cold evening air enveloping you, the ponies gallop across the crunchy snow, pulling their delighted skiers behind them.
The Swiss are now specialists in the discipline. The best-known races are held in Saint Moritz on 15 and 16 January 2011. But many resorts like Risoul, Alpe d’ Huez, Val d’Allos, Villard de Lans, and Pays du Mont Blanc are promoting skijoring for all lovers of snow board sports.
Dog sledding
With the success of the Grande Odyssée, the famous dog-sled race across the Alps, dog sledding is now a common sight in ski resorts. Between one and eight huskies, Weimaraners, pointers, Labradors or even ordinary dogs rescued from the RSPCA may be attached to a sled. In some resorts, dogs are kept permanently on hand to take the tourists for rides throughout the winter.
Les Albiez resort is playing host to a stage in the Rhône Alps Challenge, and is currently building an introductory skijoring trail for dogs rather than horses.
For more information about the Grande Odyssée or the Rhône Alps Challenge, log onto and the international sled dog racing association website.
Enthusiasm for these new winter sports goes hand in hand with the desire to get away from the crowds and learn different activities that are environmentally friendly and off the beaten tracks. By varying their offer, ski resorts can look to the future with greater serenity, despite the widespread “mechanical skiing” downturn.
Interested in trying out these new sports?
Check out our guide to resorts.
Photos: N. Cuche E. Beallet
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