Nine great Winter Olympic sports - and where to try them

Nigeria has a bobsled team. That might just be the most exciting news to come out of the impending Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, which begins in just a few days – even bigger news than a combined North and South Korean ice hockey team.

An African nation with an average temperature that hovers somewhere above the 30-degree mark, and they've managed to qualify for the women's bobsled event. That's some feat. Possibly even more impressive than Jamaica so famously doing the same thing in the men's competition in the 1988 Games.

It also makes you think: maybe I'd be good at the bobsled. There's nothing like watching athletes from similarly unlikely countries competing on the world stage to think you could give it a bash. And it won't be limited to bobsled once the Olympics starts on Friday, either. I'll be watching figure skating, biathlon, ski-jumping, and pretty much every other event in Korea and thinking that I'd like to give it a red-hot go.

And if you feel the same way, there's good news: you can. You can try your hand at pretty much every Winter Olympic sport there is, if you know the right places to go.

Bobsled – Whistler Blackcomb, Canada

This is the real deal: a genuine Olympic bobsled, on a genuine Olympic track, with a genuine Olympic-level pilot. At Canada's Whistler Sliding Centre you can hop aboard a four-man bobsleigh and shoot through 10 twists and turns, travelling at up to 125km/h, on an icy track. It's a massive thrill, and all it requires of participants is to hold on tight.

Skill factor: Zero

Fear factor: Moderate

Downhill skiing – Wengen, Switzerland

There are plenty of places around the world to ski or snowboard on a genuine Olympic downhill course: try the Grizzly Downhill in Salt Lake City, or ski the Recoin de Chamrousse from the 1968 Grenoble Games. However, for the best taste of the fear-mixed-with-spectacular-natural-beauty-thrills that downhill skiing offers, I'd recommend Wengen in Switzerland, home of the famed Lauberhorn World Cup event.

Skill factor: High

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Fear factor: Huge

Curling – Kelowna, Canada

<i>Curling, Canada</i>

Curling, Canada. Photo: Alamy

The Canadians are oddly brilliant at curling. Canadian men have won gold in the past three Olympics; their women's team won gold in Sochi. So it makes sense that you would learn this gloriously bizarre mix of lawn bowls and housework in the land of maple leaves. Head to the small town of Kelowna, British Columbia, and you can learn the ropes from Kelly Scott, a former world champion, eh?

Skill factor: Low

Fear factor: Non-existent

Ski-jumping – Felix Gottwald Ski Jump Stadium, Austria

This is obviously not the sort of sport you can just – ahem – jump into. You're not going to line up at the top of a huge slope and attempt to land a 100-metre leap on your first go. Instead you're going to start off small, under the tutelage of expert coaches at the Felix Gottwald Ski Jump Stadium, near Salzburg in Austria. Even then, however, you're going to need a reasonable amount of skill, and some serious cojones, to even give this a go.

Skill factor: High

Fear factor: High

Speed skating – Across Australia

No need to travel too far to have a bash at every Australian's pet Olympic event (we all remember Steven Bradbury, right? We're world champions at this thing). You can give speed skating a go right here in Australia, where pretty much every major city has an ice rink you can visit to strap on the skates, or check out skateaustralia.org.au for info on inline skating races during the warmer months.

Skill factor: Moderate

Fear factor: Moderate

Biathlon – Torsby Ski Tunnel, Sweden

I'm kind of obsessed with biathlon, because to those from tropical countries it just seems so strange: a combination of cross-country skiing and shooting, a test of endurance and nerve, a battle to ski fast and yet to keep your heartrate low enough to be able to fire a bullet into a 45-millimetre target from 50 metres away. It's weird, and amazing. It's also something you can try in Torsby, Sweden, where you can hire full cross-country ski gear, plus a rifle and ammunition. Oh, and someone to teach you how to use it.

Skill factor: Moderate

Fear factor: Low

Cross-country skiing – Interlaken, Switzerland

It seems too much like hard work to me – this is why chair lifts where invented. Still, if you fancy the idea of propelling yourself across a mostly flat winter wonderland on skis, there are plenty of places around the world in which you can do it. Perhaps the most scenically spectacular would be Interlaken, in Switzerland, where you have the choice of more than 10 dedicated cross-country skiing locations within easy reach.

Skill factor: Moderate

Fear factor: Low

Half-pipe – Mammoth Mountain, US

Fancy yourself as the next Shaun White? Reckon you could blast off the lip of an icy half-pipe, spin three times while simultaneously doing two backflips and then just land and go on to the next trick like it ain't no thing? Obviously you're not going to do that. However, you can just dawdle through the pipe doing little ollies and pretending. Try it at Shaun White's home mountain, Mammoth in California.

Skill factor: High

Fear factor: High

Ice hockey – Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada

I get it. You're sitting there at home, watching the Olympics, kind of bored, thinking, "You know what I feel like? I feel like attempting to figure skate while six blokes built like the Rock try to splatter my nose across my face." It sounds like you're ready to try ice hockey. Most beginner hockey programs are aimed at kids; however, even big kids can slap a few shots at some of the world's great goalies at Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame.

Skill factor: Low

Fear factor: Low

Have you tried any Winter Olympic sports? Where's the best place to do it?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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