Whether you’re on vacation or you live in an area that freezes over in the winter, it’s best to know your options for sports and entertainment. Though they share a season and always involve something frozen, there’s a lot of difference between the sports you can find on offer. The sports available to you will depend on where you are since some areas will only be able to support certain sports when the cold weather comes in.
We’ve got sixteen of these sports for you to check out, and we’ve divided them into two categories based on whether they’re played on snow or ice, which is the main difference between winter sports. With some sports, this is merely a distinction since some winter sports are played on both snow and ice, while others are fundamentally different in how they’re played. We’ve also included an extra something at the end of the page, but you’ll have to see that for yourself.
With every sport we’ve covered, we’ve detailed that sport’s history and how the sport is played for those of you who aren’t familiar with them. You’ll see that we’ve also included references where appropriate too, so you can be sure all of the information provided is accurate and sourced from other sites that know their winter sports.
8 Snow Sports To Try
If you’re new to winter sports or just want some softer, snowy activities you can take part in, you’ll probably want to start off with snow sports. Here are eight of them, so have a read and see if any of them take your fancy.
Skiing is one of the most popular winter sports that still gets played today, so there’s no surprise it’s the first sport on our list. Everyone knows what skiing is and what it looks like, a person strapping long, thin skis to their feet and using ski poles to propel and control their speed and direction.
Skiing also has an interesting history that’s rooted in practicality. In fact, skis have been used for mobility more than they’ve been used as a part of organized sports. This is because skis have always been a great way to get around when the ground is tucked beneath a blanket of snow. Skis have been used by humans as far back as the prehistoric period, where hunters used them for increased mobility. They were a favorite for hunters in boreal and arctic regions throughout most of human history, but the cambered skis as we know them today were invented by woodcarvers in Norway in 1840.
Practical ski use resulted in them being integrated into the armies of Sweden and Finland. Skis have been used several times during the war to improve the mobility of soldiers in the field. The most modern and notorious example of this would be the Finnish ski soldiers that fought and successfully repelled a larger Soviet force in the Winter War, waging what would come to be known as ski warfare.
But enough of the history lesson, you want to know what skiing looks like today. Skiing is still used for transport in some areas, but most who play it do so as part of the competitive sport that’s recognized by both the International Olympic Committee and the International Ski Federation.
There are three main types of skiing, and it’s common for competitive skiing events to mix and match them to create more of a challenge. The first of these types is alpine skiing, which is probably what a lot of you think about when skiing comes to mind. This is the downhill skiing where you used fixed-heel skis to barrel down a piste or ski resort, so this is the kind of skiing most tourists to Aspen, Colorado, or Switzerland will have tried.
The other two types are Nordic and Telemark skiing. Nordic, true to its name, is a more rugged skiing type that involves cross-country travel and ski jumping. It can be played on both smoothened, groomed skiing trails or undeveloped land as long as it’s remote and snowy. Telemark uses the same equipment as Nordic, but it’s a discipline developed by the International Ski Federation. Telemark skiing is where you add turns into your ski movements, making more skilled maneuvers possible.
If skiing is the first sport people think of when they hear the words ‘winter sports,’ then snowboarding is the second. This is for good reason too, because snowboarding also has a lot of history behind it and is one of the most recognizable winter sports that still gets played.
For the few of you who haven’t come across snowboarding, it’s when someone straps a board to their feet and rides it around the snow, often pulling off tricks all the while. Think of it as surfing through the snow, on a board that looks a lot like a skateboard that’s very smooth on the bottom.
The history of snowboarding is largely shrouded in mystery and finds itself debated a lot between experts. That said, we do know some details on how historical snowboarding first took place. The first person to strap a board to their feet and glide down a snowy hill will never be known, but we know very similar devices were used in Turkey in the 1600s as well as Austria, called the lazboard and knappenross, respectively.
The modern snowboard is often attributed to two men at the beginning of the 20th Century, Toni Lenhardt’s monogleider invention in 1900 and Vern Wicklund’s bunker in 1917. Both were much like the snowboards we have today, the designs of which were very similar to Sherman Poppen’s snurfer 1965 design that’s often credited as the first. The so-called snurfer sold a million models in the next decade, cementing recreational snowboarding as a winter activity in the United States, after which Jake Burton Carpenter is credited with strapping one of these snurfer boards to his feet in 1977. Those in the know will recognize that name since Carpenter founded one of the largest snowboarding companies and came to be known as the godfather of snowboarding.
Snowboarding has barely changed since, save for becoming officially recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee in 1994. To the untrained eye, most snowboards will look the same, but there are slight variations in board types that have a drastic effect on how the board handles.
There are a whole bunch of snowboarding styles since a lot of snowboarders just do what they find comfortable and fun. This would be described as freeriding and is usually what most tourists do when they get their hands on a snowboard. If you can pull off tricks, you’re freestyling instead of freeriding. Alpine snowboarding, like alpine skiing, is when you descend through a groomed piste on your board. Slopestyle, on the other hand, is like alpine snowboarding if there was an obstacle course in the way. You can also have snowboard races if you think you’re fast enough.
As for the trickier snowboarding types, you can perform big air, half-pipe, boardercross, and jibbing tricks. Big air is when you’re trying to gain as much airtime and distance from ramped jumping, while half-pipe is performing tricks by going back and forth the ramp as if you were skateboarding. Boardercross is when you snowboard across the equivalent of a motocross track, a circuit-based obstacle course race essentially. Jibbing is just when you ride the snowboard on non-snow surfaces, which definitely isn’t advised for beginners.
Snowmobiling doesn’t have as storied a history as skiing or snowboarding because of its mechanical nature. If you want a winter sport you can have fun with, but you don’t want to end up sweating, then snowmobiling might be the best fit for you.
You can track the history of snowmobiles along with the development of the motorcar at the time. Engineers in the 1800s and 1900s experimented with steam-powered vehicles that can travel over snow, with O.C. Johnson being credited with one of the more successful prototypes. Racing these homemade machines developed into the 1920s where people used motorcycle engines strapped to sleds, with Carl Eliason being one of the names credited. The term snowmobile comes from earlier in 1913, after Virgil White added a track and skis to the Model T, the car of the period. There are other examples of car modification too, such as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia having a Packard truck and several Rolls-Royce cars converted into early snowmobiles.
Along with this invention, Russian inventor Igor Sikorsky also made the aerosani, a propeller-driven ski, so the idea to strap an engine to existing modes of transport seemed to come naturally to engineers once engines were commonly available.
Modern recreational snowboarding came into being in 1954 when David Johnson presented the modern snowmobile design to cousins Edgar and Allan Hetteen, the founders of a little company called Polaris Industries. Polaris is still a household name to those who are familiar with snowmobiles, and in the following years, other companies like Bombardier Inc., Alpina, and Buran expanded the market and types of snowmobiles that are on offer.
There are a bunch of snowmobile types depending on what you plan to do with them. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want a trail snowmobile since this is the easiest to learn and control. They’re also quite efficient, allowing you to grow your skill level with them without feeling held back by the machine. After a year or so you may want to graduate towards a more performance-oriented sports trail snowmobile.
If you need more performance, however, you’ll want to go for the aptly named performance snowmobile. This type of snowmobile prioritizes speed, smoothness, and aggressive driving power. If longevity is what you’re looking for, a touring snowmobile can be driven for hours before needing refueling. Mountain snowmobiles are exactly what they sound like, a lightweight but longer-tracked snowmobile for tackling upward slopes.
A crossover snowmobile combines many of the above snowmobile performance features. They’re great for driving on both powdery snow and harder, groomed winter trails without getting stuck. Lastly, there’s the utility snowmobile, a practical snowmobile intended for heavy-duty use in labor and transportation.
Snow tubing is, surprisingly, the snow equivalent to tubing. Tubing is simply where you either free-float or get towed across a body of water, so snow tubing is when this is done on the snowy ground, usually slopes. Think of it as sledding, except with a much comfier inflatable in place of the sled.
Tubing on snow is as old as 1820, maybe older, where Alpine Mountains residents would go sledding and tubing at the same time. Sleds generate a lot more friction between the ground and you, so sledding tends to be slower than snow tubing. If you’ve been sledding before and have always thought you needed more speed, that’s exactly what you’ll find when snow tubing.
Tubing has become more popular in recent years and the soft inflatable makes it a child-friendly winter sport. Many ski resorts have tubing equipment lying around, which you can use to descend down natural slopes or get pulled along by a snowmobile. You can find examples of tubing resorts and what snow tubing often looks like here.
Snow biking seems like an obvious evolution from its cousin, snowmobiling, but you’d be surprised how often snow biking gets overlooked by holidaymakers and those looking for a new winter sport to try. It’s starting to get the attention it deserves in more recent years.
In the backwoods of Idaho, snow biking started when people made home-made “improvements” to their motorbikes so that they can hold their own in winter. Since their invention, snow biking has become a winter sport in the USA, Canada, the snowier parts of Europe, and even as far away as Japan.
So, what is a snow bike? As we said, it’s very similar to a snowmobile except it’s a high-performance, high-traction motocross bike that has been modified. Most of the motocross bike remains, such as the frame, engine, and suspension, but the wheels are removed. In their place are a single ski at the front and a track on the rear, much like a snowmobile.
It should be noted that snowmobiles and snow bikes are vehicles in a way that skis and snowboarding aren’t. This means you’ll usually need a license to use them. Here are some details on Colorado, Washington State, and Michigan’s registration processes, three of the largest states for winter sports. If snow biking, in particular, is what you’re after, then you’ll probably want to experience snow biking on its own turf in Idaho.
We’ve mentioned freeriding already when talking about skiing, though it’s also a form of snowboarding and is often considered a sport in its own right. To freeride, you need to ski or snowboard on ungroomed terrain. That means all-natural, so no smoothened pistes, plus the only rule is that there are no rules. Without a set course, established rules, or any goals, freeriding is just when you take on the natural difficulties that come with skiing or snowboarding, and you can attempt jumps and other snow tricks if you want to freestyle.
As you may have guessed, freeriding is something that only experienced skiers or snowboarders should do. You have to know the rules to break them, after all, and doing these activities in an uncontrolled environment is no small feat.
Snowboarders and skiers have been performing tricks since the 1920s but it was only in the 1960s that freestyle skiing started to take off. This is thought to be a result of the radical social changes that happened in the United States during this time, with freedom of expression causing skiers to experiment with new routines and tricks.
Freestyling was officially recognized by the International Ski Federation in 1979, though some regulations have been put in place to make it safer for participants. It then debuted at the 1988 Olympic Calgary Games as a demonstration sport. Since freestyle is a wide variety of tricks and skiing methods, the official recognition of freestyle has slowly been expanded since then. For example, the ski cross made its debut in just 2010 with the Vancouver Games, with slopestyle and half-pipe coming later in the 2014 Sochi Games.
Most people can describe a snowshoe if they need to, so how is snowshoeing a sport? Snowshoeing is when you hike, maybe running, while wearing snowshoes. It’s not the high-octane action of a busy piste, but if you’re a nature lover with hiking experience then snowshoeing may be the best option for you.
Like skis and snowboards, snowshoes had their beginning as a practical device that allowed humans to walk through treacherous landscapes thousands of years ago. We’re talking as far back as the Copper Age, making it the oldest device on this list. These shoes were just flat surfaces combined with wood and reed.
The modern webbed snowshoes follow the design of North American native tribes like the Cree, and other mountain-fairing tribes that needed protective footwear for winter travel. Many human populations across the planet used them solely for practical use until the indigenous Americans incorporated a snowshoe race and biathlon into their Arctic Winter Games.
In the 1970s, Bill and Gene Prater used aluminum, neoprene, and nylon to create the snowshoe as it’s known today. Nowadays, the World Snowshoe Federation acts as the global governing body for snowshoe running. The World Snowshoe Federation is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, too, making it a legitimate winter sport.
To finish off the snow sports on our list, here’s another one that most of you should be familiar with. Most children who grew up in or around frozen regions know what sledding is. Even in temperate regions, it’s not uncommon for kids to go sledding when the local hulls get covered in sheets of snow.
Sledding is exclusively when you slide downhill on a sled, also called a sledge or a sleigh. It’s a pretty simple activity and sleds themselves can be everything from a nearly flat board to an expertly crafted sleigh complete with a seat and runners that work like skis. Sometimes, when there aren’t any runners on your sled, it’s called tobogganing.
Much like skis, sleds and their ancient equivalents have been used for practical reasons throughout history. They weren’t exclusively used in snowy climates too, with sleds being useful in sandy regions like Ancient Egypt when a lot of stone needed moving. Toboggan sleds have been found in Innu and Cree tribes in the West, while old Norwegian sled models have been dated back to the Viking ages.
The historic use of sleds and sled-like transport was also instrumental in the relationship between man and his best friend. Malamute and husky dogs were among the earliest means of driving sleds in arctic areas, either for personal transport or the movement of resources through harsh, snowed-in areas.
Dog sledding still exists today in places like Alaska and Canada, which hold races for competition and fun. Sledding by itself isn’t an Olympic sport, but instead covers three Olympic activities, skeleton, luge, and bobsledding, which are all played on ice. We’ll be talking more about bobsledding later, so stick around if you want to learn more about sledding on ice in particular.
8 Ice Sports To Try
If you want some more kinetic sports, you may want to try out some ice sports instead. Ice sports are distinct from snow sports since they’re played on much harder surfaces, though there is usually a higher risk of injury with these activities. Here are eight popular ice sports that you can try next winter season.
Ice driving, otherwise known as ice racing, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when cars, motorbikes, ATVs, or sometimes snowmobiles race each other on hardened ice surfaces. It requires natural ice, so this isn’t the kind of sport you’ll find artificially created in countries in warmer climates unless they’re inside ice rinks. Instead, you’ll need to go to Canada, the northern USA, or northern Europe to experience ice racing.
Ice driving can either be done on road courses or designated racing ovals. These can also be dirt tracks that have had the snow plowed off of them but are still frozen over. If no natural snow is available to create the ice on these dirt tracks, ice is formed manually by spraying water onto the tracks and waiting for it to freeze. A classic ice driving location is a frozen lake, assuming that the lake is frozen enough to avoid any chance of breakage, of course.
The rules and regulations for ice driving vary between venues. For example, some ice drivers will have non-studded tires whereas others will have studded tires that help to increase surface traction and ensure a consistent speed level when rounding corners and completing circuits. If you have studded tires, there are a few regulatory hurdles that you may need to jump. Some of these include the addition of a roll cage into your vehicle, so know your local laws and make sure you’re in the clear.
Perhaps the most high-profile ice racing event in the modern day is the Trophée Andros series, a French championship where cars and motorbikes race each other on frozen-over tracks.
Under Ice Diving
This next ice sport isn’t so much played on the ice as it is under the ice. If you know your way around a diving kit, under-ice diving might be the next logical step when everything freezes over. Ice diving is when a hole is made in a sheet of ice, usually only the one, and divers explore the waters beneath the ice sheet. Under ice diving is performed for everything from recreation to scientific research, so calling it a sport is only really describing one of the many reasons people go diving.
Beginners can get intimidated by under-ice diving and this isn’t entirely misplaced since getting lost under the ice sheet and hypothermia are a possibility. Because of this, divers are usually tethered for their own safety. All of these safety precautions definitely make ice diving a difficult winter sport to get into, so you’ll want to do your research before even trying it out, as well as finding relevant instructors.
Bobsledding, or bobsleighing, is a group-oriented winter sport that’s ideal when you and your squad need a new seasonal activity. Where ordinary sledding is relatively simple and literally straightforward, bobsledding tends to involve more twists and turns along a lubricated, icy track. These can get so twisted that the bobsled ends up traveling sideways along the track surface or even performing loop-the-loops.
So, as you can imagine, bobsledding is quite a kinetic sport that’s a brilliant way to get the adrenaline pumping. Switzerland is the historic home of the bobsled, which was invented there during the 1860s. This was achieved by combining two other sleds together along with a steering mechanism and later an external chassis to officially make the first bobsleds. There were some teething problems as the weight of bobsleds was changed during the 1900s, during which bobsledding entered the Olympic Winter Games in 1924, as well as the 1932 Lake Placid Games.
Bobsledding is regulated by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, the highest governing body that exists for the sport. The States is regulated by the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation whereas Canada is governed by a body called the Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
Ice skating is the most graceful winter sport, being the subject of many movies and TV shows throughout the years. Ice skating can be as simple as moving around a rink in circles with the whole family to complicated professional figure skating routines that have been chosen with wowing a crowd in mind. Whichever one you go for is up to you, though we’d expect readers will gravitate towards more relaxed ice-skating types over speed skating or figure skating.
Like the skis, early ice skating occurred in Finland thousands of years ago, where it was used to save energy since it’d cut down on your steps. The Dutch then added edges to ice skates in the 13th Century and it was since held in high regard by the population of the Netherlands. During and after this Dutch exploration of ice skating, it was also being practiced in China during the Song and Qing dynasties. Since 1892, the International Skating Union has governed ice skating, including figure skating, out of Switzerland.
You must have known this one was coming. Ice hockey is one of the most recognizable and popular winter sports in North America thanks to the very successful Canadian hockey circuit up north. It’s also infamous for the fights that often occur during games, solidifying its reputation as a kinetic, full-contact team sport.
So, what makes ice hockey full contact? For those of you who aren’t aware of how ice hockey is played, two teams face off against each other in an ice rink. All of them wear heavy layers of clothing and armor and wield crooked sticks to carry and strike a puck. This puck is hard, being one of the most dangerous sports projectiles to get struck by, which is why ice rinks have large panels separating the audience from the action. If you get the puck into the opposing team’s goal, you score points, simple as that.
Field hockey has been around for longer than ice hockey has, with “hokie” being banned in 1500s Ireland. Instances of “hockey on ice” then started to get documented in the 1700s, and there’s evidence early forms of ice hockey were played on the frozen River Thames during one of the big freezes that occurred back then. These games followed British soldiers over to Canada and the fledgling United States of America.
In the States, ice hockey is managed by the National Hockey League while in Eastern Europe it’s the Kontinental Hockey League that’s in charge. These are both advised by the International Ice Hockey Federation that organizes the big-name events in the ice hockey world.
Now we know what some of you are thinking, ‘is fishing a sport?’ Fishing competitions exist, and the sparse regions where ice fishing takes place is perfect for pitching one angler against another. Sportfishing, whether it’s for pleasure or for the purposes of competition, exists and is its own sport, if a fairly relaxed one. If you’re looking for a chilled-out activity you can do on the ice without barreling around in a sled or on ice skates, then ice fishing might be more your speed.
To call ice fishing a sport may be downplaying its historical importance, however, as arctic communities have long relied on ice fishing to survive. The Inuit peoples in Greenland are a popular example that you may be familiar with.
Modern ice fishing has come a long way from using sticks and spears to catch fish through a hole in the ice, though there are places where you can still hunt with old weaponry for those who want to get in touch with their primal side.Otherwise, ice fishing is easier than ever with the addition of sonar fish finders and other fish detection tech that makes it easier to identify when fish are within catching range. There’s a whole host of gear that’s available to the modern ice angler, too much for us to write about in full here, so check some of them out here if you’re interested in this sport.
Ice climbing is another of those pretty mundane activities that have developed into a recreational sport. If you already have experience with rock climbing, ice climbing is the perfect transition when the winter season rolls in.
19th Century mountaineers in Europe, the most significant of them being Oscar Eckenstein, started to develop ice climbing as a sport after designing claw-toothed boots that helped with gaining a secure footfall on icy mountain surfaces. These rudimentary crampons were adjusted in 1932 by Laurent Grivel that allowed climbers to kick the ice for stability. Thirty years later in 1966, Yvon Chouinard and his company Patagonia pioneered ice axe designs that made ice climbing a reality for the modern man.Ice climbing is monitored by the UIAA, a French acronym for International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation. They’re also recognized by the International Olympic Committee, too.
Curling is quite a visually distinct sport, so many of you will already be aware of it. Players play curling by sliding specially designed stones towards concentric circles. Along the way, the slider’s team members use brooms to influence that stone. The closer that stone stops to the center of those circles, the more points the team gets. It’s a chilled sport that’s light on the body and great for training your spatial awareness.
Curling is quite a unique sport that’s very closely associated with Canada, though it had its beginnings in 16th Century Scotland where the weather was so cold it was played outside. Modern curling is usually played in controlled ice rinks, especially when it’s an Olympic event.
Olympic curling debuted in the 1998 Winter Olympics, but this was overshadowed by an unprecedented decision by the International Olympic Committee. In 2002, the IOC ruled that a curling competition almost a century earlier in 1924 was to be officially recognized as the first Olympic curling event. This meant Olympic medals had to be issued almost eighty years after that competition had ended.
3 Activities Just For Fun!
Now that you’ve made it through all sixteen of our winter sports suggestions, here are some lighthearted winter activities that are especially perfect if you have a child in tow or can’t spend too much on renting official winter sports activities.
Make Snow Angels
For those who don’t mind getting their backs cold, and possibly wet depending on the type of ground you’re lying on, snow angels are a totally free means of having some fun during the winter period. Some animals, like Weddell seals and pheasants, create snow designs that are also described as snow angels.
For those who don’t know, all you need to do to make snow angels is lie on your back and spread your arms and legs. This creates what looks like a body with a gown and two angelic wings. The current Guinness World Record for the most snow angels in one location is held by Bismarck, North Dakota, where 8,962 snow angels were created in one day.
Have A Snowball Fight
Snowball fights are a classic physical game where people throw balls of snow at one another, simple as that, but hopefully not too hard.
Like with the snow angels, Guinness World Records had a recorded largest snowball fight. It was between 5,834 people in Seattle, Washington, but was broken by a 20,000-participant snowball fight in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada.
The legalization of snowball fights has always been an issue. As far back as the 1400s, the Netherlands had instituted a ban on snowball fights between men or unmarried women. In more modern times, the town of Severance in Colorado used to have snowball fights banned. Wausau, Wisconsin hit headlines in 2019 when public attention was drawn to their own law that outlawed snowball fights. Know the laws near you since, while it may be unlikely, you need to know if snowballs can come under stone-throwing laws that a lot of places have.
Build A Snowman
If you prefer to make things over destroying your enemies with snowballs, then building snowmen might be more your speed. A snowman can be as rudimentary or advanced as you want, is made from just snow or improved with stones as buttons and eyes, sticks or branches as arms, a carrot nose, and clothing items like a hat and scarf.
When sculpting with snow, the possibilities are almost endless. You don’t even have to make a man, with some creating snow rabbits and other animals that can be sculpted using snow.
Snowmen have been around for hundreds of years. The first documented snowman was in a Christian book of hours from 1380 that’s kept in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague, Netherlands. As for the first photograph taken of a snowman, that was taken by Mary Dillwyn in Wales in 1853.
Between the sixteen winter sports and the three extra activities we’ve outlined above, we’ve given you nineteen options to keep you occupied when the winter season arrives. Some of them need some research and training before you can even hope to compete in a casual game, while others are much easier to pick up, so whichever one you choose will depend on your skill level or your willingness to try new things.