Winter comes with more than its fair share of seasonal annoyances. The transportation hassles alone are worth some grumbling; cleaning off and attempting to warm up the car before the arduous trek through slowed traffic and black ice.
And yet, there is also something magical about the snow and ice when it blankets the world and edges rooftops with glimmering icicles. If you haven’t discovered the silver lining of the snow clouds, consider venturing to different parts of the world, where the majesty of winter in all of its glory will take your breath away.
Lake Baikal, Siberia
One of the first countries that comes to mind when contemplating a true winter experience is Russia. Lake Baikal in Siberia presents a perfect combination of adventure and beauty. Hike, drive, or ice-bike, enjoying the view of a deeply frozen lake and the ice patterns that criss cross deep below the surface.
There are abundant tour companies in the area, offering everything from drives across the one meter thick ice, to museum tours and ice cave exploration, to the rugged ride of dog sledding. And, if you are worried you are turning into an ice sculpture of something vaguely resembling a human, finish the day off with a trip to the hot springs.
There are also milder ways to enjoy the winter, if the -13°F temperatures are outside of your comfort zone.
Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan
Japan may not immediately come up on your winter radar – but their ever growing snow festival captures the fun of winter as well as the majesty. Started over 50 years ago by the sculptures of six local high schoolers, has blossomed into seven days of snow and ice sculptures, sledding, snow rafting, and ice shows. This year, it takes place the week of February 5-11.
The more sedentary tourist can enjoy a walk amidst the towering sculptures, while the active population can ski, ice skate, and slide their way through the festival. Sampling the local foods and enjoying the mountain city of Sapporo will have you looking at Japan in a whole new way.
If driving across a frozen lake in Russia or flying to a mountain city in Japan is not quite your style, perhaps a boat trip through southernmost tip of the earth will be more the ticket.
Cruising the Antarctic
Typically starting in South America, these cruise ships venture the frozen south – getting to the tip of the white continent of Antarctica. While these cruise ships are not equipped with outdoor swimming pools and rock climbing walls, the breaktaking view of icebergs and winter animals is a much more organic type of entertainment.
There is no human colony native to Antarctica, but life abounds. Humpback whales, elephant seals, and many species of penguins are among the possible animal sightings. If landscape photography has ever been an interest, capturing the Lemaire Channel and the imposing natural ice structures will provide you with a photo worth framing.
Respect the Snow
Regardless of your experience with nature, winter, and travel, or any combination of the three, visiting these snowy destinations requires research and preparation. The risks of frostbite and hypothermia should be taken seriously – as well as the possible unreliability of weather reports.
With the appropriate gear, winter truly is a wonderland that can be exciting, fascinating, and even thrilling to experience.