Active Outdoors: Snow sports for non-skiers

  • Want to enjoy snow without skiing? Try a Hammerhead Sled. TIM JONES

  • Snowshoe If you can walk, you can enjoy the snow on snowshoes. (Tim Jones photo) TIM JONES—

  • Riding a Snow Bike down a ski slope is about as much fun as you can have sitting down. (Tim Jones photo) TIM JONES—

  • Try riding a Fat Bike this winter. You’ll never look at snow the same way again. (Tim Jones photo) TIM JONES—

For the Monitor
Published: 12/25/2019 6:25:45 PM

I was in a store the other day (a rare occurrence for me, which is perhaps why it was memorable), and the clerk and I were chatting as she rung up my purchase. Through a large window near the register, we could see the first flakes of a building storm filtering down.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, “but that’s the only thing I like about snow.”

There were people behind me in line so I didn’t have a chance to chat more, but her statement has been niggling at me. Yes, snow is beautiful, but it’s also fun and, often, a great excuse to get outdoors and get some exercise. Loving snow keeps you healthier in winter.

Skiers and snowboarders, of course, love snow – so much so that we actually pay to have it made for us if Mother Nature doesn’t deliver it where and when we want it.  That’s true love.

But even I will admit skiing (even cross-country skiing on gentle terrain) and snowboarding are not for everyone. Some people just don’t enjoy the sensation of having their feet sliding beneath them, or don’t enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with that sensation. Some folks fear being hurt in a fall (skiing is actually very safe if you take lessons and approach it with due caution). Some folks, too, have issues with mobility, balance or vision that they think will keep them from skiing or riding. If you fall into the latter category, please look up the nearest adaptive ski program and contact them – you are likely to find that you can ski if you want to.

But even if you just plain don’t want to ski or snowboard, there’s a whole lot you can do to have fun and stay active in the winter.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!


If you can walk, you can snowshoe. It’s that simple. On packed trails, it’s really not much harder than walking on a road – you just have to get used to having bigger feet.

If you don’t own snowshoes, you can borrow from your friends – lots of people have an extra pair. Some of us have several. Most cross-country ski areas and many outdoor specialty retailers will rent them for very little money. It’s a great way to try out the sport and see if you like it. Also, look on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Some people move south and no longer need snowshoes. Others upgrade to a better pair, so there are always perfectly serviceable snowshoes being sold for cheap money. You don’t need anything fancy to get started.

A couple of tips on snowshoeing:

■Make sure you have ski poles or trekking poles with snow baskets.

■Snowshoes don’t go in reverse – always walk forward.

■If you are going to try walking on untracked, unpacked snow, start where it’s flat – going uphill in deep, untracked snow is fun, but hard work.

Sleds and tubes

If you’ve seen the movie Citizen Kane, you know the impression that sledding can make on young and old alike. It’s just plain fun, and great exercise if you walk up the hills under your own power. Sledding is the least expensive winter sport – you can buy a sled for a few bucks at any discount store. Then, all you need is the ambition to walk up and slide down as many times as you want to.

If you don’t want to climb, almost every ski area has a tubing hill where, for a few bucks, you can ride a lift up the hill and slide down. It’s a great family outing.

I happen to have a passion for high-tech modern sleds: Hammerhead (, Airboard ( and Mad River Rocket ( The only problem is that they each work better in certain conditions, so you really need to own all three.

The Hammerhead prefers packed snow; the Mad River Rocket likes deeper powder, and the Airboard is at its best on corduroy or a dusting of powder on top of packed or settled snow.


Riding the new fat-tire bikes on packed snow (snowmobile and cross-country ski trails are ideal) is not only great fun but also great exercise. If you can ride a bike, you can do it. You’ll never look at a snow-covered bike trail in quite the same way again. If you don’t want to buy right away, a number of cross-country ski areas rent bikes now or have nearby bike shops that rent.

But if you like to ride a bike and want to try a ski slope, the snow bikes (basically a bike frame with skis instead of wheels) are pure fun – about as much fun as it’s possible to have sitting down. I know of several ski hills with snow biking rentals and instruction (it’s really easy). Try Powder Ridge ( in Connecticut or  Pats Peak ( in Henniker.

Any or all of these will get you outdoors and enjoying the snow. And all of them are better for your physical and mental health than looking out the window and wishing for spring.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at

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