The 23 best cold weather outdoor adventures

Blue lagoons and tropical islands may claim to be the poster destinations of travel, but stick to the hot-climate cliches and you miss out on all the varied landscapes, adventures and experiences that only winter can provide. In winter destinations, ice-encrusted wonderlands and alpine panoramas lend a pretty – and sometimes majestic – backdrop to Christmas markets, exhilarating ski runs and frigid but beautiful festivals.

Certainly, days are short and Jack Frost actively nips at your extremities, but those passing disadvantages are amply compensated by seasonal cheer, evenings aglitter with decorative lights, hearty restaurant meals and crackling fires.

There's something about winter, moreover, that makes us feel young again. We lurch through snow as if learning to walk, waddle about in penguin layers of clothing, feel the sudden urge to build snowmen, take toboggan rides and meet Santa. Yet winter has its adult attractions as well. Hot toddies, warm saunas, heated museums and apres-ski revels await.

Limber up, wrap yourself tight and head into the deep freeze with these great ways to create a winter wonderland holiday to remember.

Brian Johnston

OUTDOORS

SNOWSHOE ON GROUSE MOUNTAIN, CANADA

Grouse Mountain's proximity to Vancouver (it's almost in the suburbs) makes it a popular winter playground for locals, who come to ski, skate and sleigh ride. You can also hire snowshoes and take off into the forest, away from the crowds and into a wonderland of ice-encrusted trees and crunching snow. It's easier than skiing, and great exercise. Superb views tumble all the way to Vancouver and the ocean. See grousemountain.com

ICE SKATE IN STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Stockholm is frigid in winter but its harbour is just as beautiful as ever. Head out onto the ice with an experienced guide and ice skate against the backdrop of the church spires and gables of Gamla Stan old town, dusted with snow. You can also take a spin on ice rinks in historic royal gardens Vasaparken or Kungstradgarden. A glogg (mulled wine) afterwards counteracts the nipping of Jack Frost. See visitstockholm.com

GO DOG-SLEDDING IN JOTUNHEIMEN, NORWAY

Head into the mountainous heart of Jotunheimen National Park and get among its high peaks and frozen waterfalls on a husky tour. An altitude above the timberline provides spectacular scenery. After instruction on how to handle the small, dark Norwegian huskies, you're off with a sudden whoosh of runners and frenzied barking that soon settles into panting and the pattering of paws as you glide through a frozen landscape. See jotunheimen.com

SNOWMOBILE THROUGH THE BACK COUNTRY OF THE YUKON, CANADA

Explore the wild fringes of Kluane National Park off the Alaska Highway at high speed on a snowmobile. This is wild country, home to Canada's highest peak, the 5959-metre Mount Logan, as well North America's most diverse grizzly population and some of the world's largest non-polar glaciers. Cranking the throttle, you'll speed down woodland trails, past abandoned wooden cabins, frozen forests and snowy plains, pausing only for hot chocolate. See kanoepeople.com

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SNOW-SHOE IN INTERLAKEN, SWITZERLAND

So many winter alpine experiences are a case of adrenalin over appreciation, of speed over serenity, which makes snow-shoeing on the Brunni Trail, in the hills above the Swiss town of Interlaken, such a pleasure. The scenery doesn't whip by in a blur here; it passes at the gentle pace that walking in snow-shoes requires, allowing hikers to enjoy this wintry wilderness in peace. See myswitzerland.com

BRAVE A SWIM IN LAKE BAIKAL, RUSSIA

It's said by locals that taking a swim in Lake Baikal will add seven years to your life – though if you can manage this feat in winter, you'll deserve much more of a reward. This huge body of water in southern Siberia freezes over in the dead of winter, providing an extra challenge to swimmers who enter via special sections cut into the ice. Our recommendation: bring vodka. See russiatourism.ru

TRY TOBOGGANING IN QUEBEC CITY, CANADA

Standing in the shadow of Quebec City's beautiful old Chateau Frontenac, admiring the snow-covered scenery of the old town in winter, you mightn't think it can get any better. But then, you probably haven't seen the toboggan run set up just nearby: an icy slide where kids big and small can hit speeds of up to 70km/h while indulging in a decades-old local tradition. See quebecregion.com

RIDE A QUADBIKE NEAR INTERLAKEN, SWITZERLAND

You might think of quad-biking purely as a warm-weather activity: however, a little thing like snow isn't going to stop Daniel Seydoux from running his tours of the stunning area around Interlaken in central Switzerland. Simply don thick, insulated overalls, pull on some gloves and prepare to tackle the snow-covered scenery. It's a wild and highly enjoyable ride. See myswitzerland.com

EXPERIENCE DOG-SLEDDING IN ALBERTA, CANADA

You better be ready. The second you yell out "Hike!", you better be holding on, because when there's a team of Alaskan huskies harnessed to the front of your sled, bursting with energy, baying to run, the signal to go means you're going. Like it or not. This is one of the best ways to explore the snowy wonderland around Banff National Park in Alberta, sledding with your own team of huskies. Just make sure you're ready. See kingmikdogsledtours.com

WALK TASMANIA'S MARIA ISLAND

Tassie's chilly winter climate means its guided hiking tours are typically seasonal. An exceptional exception is 15-year-old Maria Island Walk, who now offer a shorter and more cosily accommodated "winter escape". You still get to explore the beaches, peaks and cliffs of this wildlife-filled island on foot but, for candlelit dinners and overnighting, heritage-listed and well-heated Bernacchi House takes the place of summertime's standing camp. See mariaislandwalk.com.au/winter-escape

SAIL NORTHERN NORWAY IN WINTER

Love a good dark 'n' stormy? Then sail the Norwegian coast between the dramatic Lofoten archipelago (around 68o N) and Kirkenes, which is 400 kilometres above of the Arctic Circle, during a northern hemisphere winter. You'll experience the thrill of sea travel at its most unstable, especially in December. And polar night season means far more chance of seeing the northern lights. This one's not for the faint of stomach. See hurtigruten.com

SEE WOLVES FROLICKING IN THE SNOW IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, US

In winter, Yellowstone National Park is transformed into an icy wonderland, a place of frozen waterfalls, steaming hot springs and metre-high snowdrifts. Frost glitters on bare tree branches and clings to the shaggy coats of bison. Explore the crowd-free vistas on Tauck's Yellowstone in Winter tour, where highlights include a snowshoe expedition and surprisingly good wildlife viewing, including coyote, fox and – most thrillingly – wolves. See tauck.com.au

TAKE A LUXURY CRUISE TO THE ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

Cruising past icebergs on a luxury ship in Antarctica, champagne in hand, is as close to Narnia as you can get in real life. You'll meet penguins, seals and whales, hike ice-crusted mountains to find otherworldly peace, explore iceberg gardens on zippy Zodiacs and, at the end of each day, be treated to spa treatments, four-course meals matched with fine wines, cabaret shows and other indulgences onboard. See aptouring.com.au

SEE THE TOUGHEST RACE ON EARTH, THE YUKON QUEST DOG SLED RACE, CANADA

Each year the Yukon Quest, a 1000-kilometre dog sled race from Whitehorse, Canada, to Fairbanks, Alaska, has spectators flocking to the Yukon to witness what many regard as the toughest race on earth. And those keen to see this rugged event first-hand can also try mushing a dog sled themselves. Just outside Whitehorse, Muktuk Kennels offers a host of dog sled adventures, ranging from a guided two-hour excursion to far longer customised expeditions. See yukonquest.com or muktuk.com

SEE POLAR BEARS, SNOW LEOPARDS, REINDEER AND WOLVERINES IN SCOTLAND'S CAINGORMS MOUNTAINS

You don't have to go to the ends of the earth for pulse-raising encounters with polar wildlife. About a three-hour drive from Edinburgh (or an hour's drive from Inverness airport), the Highland Wildlife Park offers an "Arctic" safari experience within the spell-casting confines of Cairngorms National Park. As well as a self-drive section, there's a walk-around area that's home to species like a Japanese macaque, Amur tiger and red panda. See highlandwildlifepark.org.uk

EXPLORE SURREAL NATURAL ICE SCULPTURES IN THE MALIGNE CANYON JASPER, CANADA

Scramble your way along a frozen riverbed marvelling at Mother Nature's staggering ice sculptures at Maligne Canyon, a natural phenomenon just outside Jasper. Geologists estimate it began forming 365 million years ago, carved out of mammoth limestone deposits. As part of an elaborate underground drainage system known as Maligne Valley Karst, it's considered one of the most extensive subterranean limestone cave systems in the world. See sundogtours.com

TAKE A GLACIER FLIGHT-SEEING TOUR OVER KLUANE NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

Home to Mount Logan – Canada's highest peak at 5959 metres – as well as the world's largest non-polar glacier ice fields, Kluane National Park is stunning. Though you can hike regions of the back country or even raft past glaciers, undoubtedly the best views are from the air. Flying through epic mountain passes that seem almost close enough to touch, you'll get the world's best view of a stunning alpine landscape carved out over millions of years. See rockingstar.ca

VISIT THE SALAR DE UYUNI, THE DAZZLING WHITE SALT FLATS, BOLIVIAN ANDES

Winter is a great time to take a 4x4 trip across this Instagrammers' favourite – the world's largest salt flats – with the days usually dry, sunny and crisp from June to September. Evenings can be bone-chillingly cold – down to -20C – but snuggle up in your salt hotel on the edge of the salt flats (or enjoy a massage or time in the steam room with a panoramic view) and all will seem well. See lunasaladahotel.com.bo

VISIT ICELAND'S VOLCANIC LANDSCAPES IN WINTER

If you come to Iceland in the northern summer, when the sun barely sets, things tend to feel a bit crowded. It's different in winter, though, with overseas visitors thinner on the (icy) ground, the island's dramatic lakes and mountains blanketed in snow and ice and its waterfalls eerily half-frozen. Take in this Narnia-esque beauty on Collette's Iceland's seven-day Magical Northern Lights tour. See gocollette.com

BE WHISKED BY CHOPPER TO A SNOW-CAPPED PEAK, QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

As you emerge from the chopper onto the snowy ground and start to absorb the gob-smacking mountain views, a possum-fur rug materialises, as does lunch. Cheeses, duck terrine, olives, chocolates. But wait, there's more. A bottle of Veuve is plonked in the snow beside you and you clink glasses in the sun. Our pilot says many people choose this moment to propose; others have burst into tears at the sheer beauty around them. This is bucket list stuff. Memorable moments such as this can be booked through the Hotel St Moritz, Queenstown. See stmoritz.co.nz/offers/memorable-moment

GO DOG-SLEDDING CLOSER TO HOME AT MOUNT BULLER, VICTORIA

This needs a healthy cover of snow to be at its best, so keep an eye on conditions and when they're good, hop aboard a sled and let the Siberian huskies do the work as you tour around Mount Buller. The mushing starts at Corn Hill and tours go as far as Howqua Gap for a  3½-hour run through the snow gums with excellent mountain views. See mtbuller.com.au

WALK ON THE ATHABASCA GLACIER, CANADA BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.

At 2200 metres above sea level, the Athabasca​ Glacier is the second largest to flow off Canada's Columbia Ice Field, spanning roughly six kilometres wide by a kilometre long. It's a spectacular sight and can be accessed via behemoth 25-tonne vehicles known as Ice Explorers. If you want to experience this you'd better be quick, it's receding at an alarming rate, an average of 10 metres a year, though recent seasons saw double that. Many scientists estimate that in 50 to 60 years, this glacier will have vanished entirely. See brewster.ca

WALK TASMANIA'S OVERLAND TRACK IN WINTER

The traditional bushwalking season on the Overland Track may end in May, but that doesn't mean Australia's most famous hike shuts down. Its huts remain open, and it's the only time of year it can be walked in either direction. Winter walks have gained in popularity in recent years, including guided trips, whether camping with Tasmanian Expeditions or in the warmer evening welcome of the private huts run by Cradle Mountain Huts Walk. See taswalkingco.com.au/overland-track and tasmanianexpeditions.com.au

CONTRIBUTORS

Andrew Bain, Elspeth Callender, Jim Darby, Anthony Dennis, Ben Groundwater, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Steve McKenna, Jane Reddy, Jane Richards, Craig Tansley and Guy Wilkinson

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