The ‘cool’ thrill of winter extreme sports

Despite the heavy boots, layers upon layers of thermal clothing, intensive equipment and an arsenal of protective gear – from helmets, face masks and goggles to ankle braces, knee pads and wrist guards – the snowy mountains call loudly to extreme sports enthusiasts. Below-freezing temperatures, blue skies and icy runs are somehow the perfect combo for those adrenaline junkies taking to the slopes. 

And It really doesn’t matter what your winter extreme sport of choice may be: snowboarding, ski jumping, snow kiting, ice diving or snocross (just to name a few). The common denominator is three-fold: the challenge, the unmatched thrill of the experience and gritty determination. 

The immense speed, the power, the magic of man vs nature and the feeling of departing the earth and taking to the sky are just some of the sentiments extreme winter sport risk-takers will mention after a day on the slopes. 

The popular outlier winter extreme sports

When seeking a winter outdoor extreme sporting thrill, there is a broad variety to suit every level of risk taker. Besides the obvious – snowboarding and skiing – there are a few winter extreme sports that really push the limits.

  • Snowkiting (aka kiteboarding) is a hybrid discipline that mashes up snowboarding and kitesurfing. As long as there is enough wind, this can be done up and down snowy hills. The speeds that can be reached are dangerous and physical strength is required. 

Snowkiting winter extreme sport

  • As long as there is a snowy hill and you are prepared to haul a kayak up a slope, then snow kayaking should make it onto your extreme sport wishlist. Be warned: as soon as you gain momentum, the kayak is harder to maneuver than when on water, but you do have a paddle to help with the control. 

Snow kayaking extreme sport

  • Ice surfing is a popular sport for those who love windsurfing in the summer months and want to adapt their skill to a frozen body of water in winter. What makes this an extreme sport is the speeds that you can reach (up to 70mph). 

Ice surfing winter extreme sport

  • If you love rock climbing, then perhaps ice climbing will appeal to any risk-taking enthusiast. Special tools and equipment have been developed for scaling high-altitude icy rock faces and 100-ft icy waterfalls. High fitness levels are a prerequisite for this winter extreme sport.

Ice climbing extreme sport

The psyche of winter extreme sports athletes

Adventure winter extreme sports are dangerous, life-threatening and risky. But it is not madness that motivates adventure enthusiasts to pursue such pastimes. There is something more than high-risk athletes blindly chasing the thrill. 

“Research by Bruce Ogilvie PhD. – sometimes referred to as the Father of North American Applied Sport Psychology – suggested that risk-takers push their physical, emotional and intellectual limits to escape the tensionless state associated with everyday life. And according to 2013 research in the Journal of Personality and Psychology, feeling trapped or stressed out are some of the most common reasons people continue an extreme sport, in addition to the physical sensations and the ‘buzz’.”  Men’s

Obviously, the relationship between fear, courage and risk-taking is highly complex. But stamina, perseverance, focus and self-directedness are a few character traits that extreme athletes score high on. They are not motivated by fearlessness but rather by the challenge to test, respect and master nature. 

Ski jumping extreme sports athlete

“I think you’re always scared. You don’t lack fear—you have to have fear out there. That’s what keeps us safe and helps us make the correct decisions. For most people, it’s going into a bad neighborhood at a certain time of night that may be scary. I just think we play on a different scale.” Cody Townsend Professional free skier driven by the challenge and beauty of the mountains. 

The protective gear required for winter extreme sports

Winter extreme sports and associated cold-related injuries – including hypothermia and frostbite – are serious factors when taking to the slopes. Extra demands are placed on the body in extreme temperatures. 

“The one time I went flying off the side of a mountain on skis, I certainly didn’t mean to. Before I hit the ground, there was a surprising amount of time for reflection—and more on the long painful schlep down to the ambulance.”Hilda Bastian

When it comes to winter extreme sports injuries, snowboarding ranks the highest with bobsledding, luge, ice hockey and short-track skating all coming in at a close second. 

Because cold muscles and connective tissue have less elasticity in below-freezing temperatures, sprains and strains are more common. Head injuries are also more likely due to the high speeds of snow extreme sports.

Protective gear for winter extreme sports athletes

But most winter and snow sports injuries can be prevented with adequate preparation, the proper equipment and the appropriate protective gear. 

  • ALWAYS use the proper equipment and wear multiple insulating layers of lightweight clothing with an outer layer that is a wind or rain blocker as well as warm, waterproof and breathable gloves, and blend socks that keep sweat away from your skin. (Keep spare gloves, beanies and socks in your kit in the event of yours getting soaked).
  • NEVER overlook investing in adequate protective gear: helmet, goggles, and wrist guards (especially for snowboarders who are more likely than skiers to injure their arms and wrists). Knee pads – to absorb impact – are popular among snowboarders to help prevent bruising and swelling and ankle braces are ideal for absorbing impact for skiers and ski jumpers.
  • Learn how to fall; factoring in the skis or other extreme sports equipment. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, an adventurous outdoor life is associated with heading for the slopes and taking part in some form of winter extreme sport. The challenges, the people, the thrill and the glorious scenery all make it worthwhile and keep the enthusiasts coming back for more.