Inspired By Sochi? Here's Where to Learn Winter Sports from the Games
Skeleton, curling, bobsleigh, snowboarding, ice hockey, even luge, here's our guide to Winter Olympics sports, where you can learn them or take a holiday and improve your technique
What is it? It may be one of the more recent Olympic disciplines – making its debut in 1998 – but snowboarding is undoubtedly one of the most popular. Among the 10 snowboarding events in the Games is the gravity-defying halfpipe competition, in which athletes fly out of the rim of a halfpipe shaped slope, performing tricks while in the air in order to score points, while the aggressive snowboard cross sees groups of athletes race against one another down a course made up of obstacles, banks and jumps. Team GB's Billy Morgan is a hopeful in the slopestyle event, which involves doing jumps and tricks on obstacles including quarterpipes and rails.
Where to learn: Morzine, France
Morzine loves snowboarding and while you won't get any summer training camps held on glaciers (it's way too low for that) you do get a resort which heartily embraces the sport. Mint is a snowboard-only school run by Roxy-sponsored rider Tammy Esten whose camps and lessons will take you from a nervous beginner snowboarder to a full-on ripper on the huge jumps in the Arare park or the Burton Stash. You'll forget they ever invented twin-tip skis …
Where to practise: Northstar, California, USA
Shaun White's home mountain should be on the bucket list of every snowboarder. The resort has seven, yes seven, different terrain parks with features rated from small to large so you know what you're in for before you take off. It also hosts a 7m superpipe designed by White himself, which presumably means most of us will stand at the lip and weep instead of riding it.
What is it? Perhaps one of the most popular and accessible winter sports, alpine skiing describes a variety of events in which athletes race down steep courses on, you guessed it, a pair of skis. In the downhill event these fearless individuals can hit speeds of 75mph as they compete for the fastest time, while in the slalom events athletes have to swerve their way through gates marked out with flags.
Where to learn: Tignes, France
Tignes may lack the charm of its sister resort Val d'Isère but that means you get slightly lower prices and an altitude that almost always provides snow. As part of the Espace Killy ski area, you get 186 miles of slopes and a plethora of runs in the greens and blues. Experienced skiers have the pick of the race camps that utilise the glacier in winter and summer for ski-race training. Tignes-based ski school New Generation runs regular clinics catering for everyone from beginners to advanced skiers.
Where to practise: Kitzbühel, Austria
Any resort that hosts a World Cup downhill event would be a great place to practise your high-speed carving but one of the most legendary has to be Kitzbühel. The Streif, named after the Streifalm meadow on the upper part of the course is infamous for its blind corners, uphill sections and high-speed jumps compounding the difficulty of a technically extreme course. Regular punters can pit themselves against it whenever they want, while a "family Streif" course signpost directs you away from the more extreme sections.
What is it? Banish all thoughts of cross-country as the genteel cousin of downhill skiing. In the mass-start races, 60-80 competitors jostle for position using various tactics before sprinting to the finish line, while the skiathlon sees skiers race the first half of the course on classic technique skis, before a Formula One-style pitstop to change into skating skis for the second half of the event. There are also individual races, sprints, and a relay.
Where to learn: Söll, Austria
Söll is situated in the Wilder Kaiser region of Tirol which, being part of a nature conservation area, gives access to one of the most beautiful areas for cross-country in the whole of Austria. The softly undulating terrain – and plentiful sunshine – is perfect for beginners and the 44 miles of trails link Söll to three other villages making frequent stop offs for fortification easy.
Where to practise: Jotunheim, Norway
Once you've got to grips with cross-country and you're looking to pit yourself against a stunning environment, landscapes don't come much more dramatic than the Jotunheim region of Norway. The classic route through the area is from north to south, taking in plateaus and superb views of Norway's highest peak Galdhøpiggen, and while days may be long, the skiing level is not as technical as you'd think.
What is it? Despite originating in the icy hills of Switzerland, thanks to the success of the classic film Cool Runnings, bobsleigh is now most strongly associated with Jamaica. The sport involves rocketing down an icy track in a bullet-shaped sled – a bit like a rollercoaster – in an attempt to make the fastest time in this notoriously dangerous event. Teams consist of two, or four, athletes, who make a sprint start before hopping into the bobsleigh to begin their descent.
Where to learn? Whistler, Canada
There are only 15 tracks in the world sanctioned for competition by the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing and one of the newest is in Whistler. The Whistler Sliding Centre runs daily public bobsleigh sessions where complete beginners will be taken through an initiation, orientation, track etiquette and mock run before meeting their pilot and crew and hurtling down the 1,700m track at speeds of up to 80mph.
Where to practise: St Moritz, Switzerland
A difficult sport to practise unless you belong to a club or team but it's definitely worth riding the world's only naturally refrigerated bobsleigh run in St Moritz. The 1,722m track is open until 2 March and while you can't just turn up with a tray and ride, you can book guest rides that include a voucher for a glass of prosecco and a certificate noting your "Bobbaptism".
What is it? Bobsleigh's crazy cousin, skeleton involves going face first down an ice track on a sled. And, apparently, the Brits aren't too bad at it: Team GB's medal hopeful Lizzy Yarnold has been notching up the fastest times during practice. There's no steering devices on the sled – athletes have to control themselves using spikes on the tips of their shoes, which they can drag into the ice as they speed down. Hitting speeds of up to 85mph on their way down, the daring athletes can experience up to 5g of g-force … that's more than your average rollercoaster.
Where to learn? Salt Lake City, Utah
If the thought of skeleton bob already unnerves you, the addition of the phrase "g-force" to an intro session probably isn't going to help. Housed in the Olympic Park created for the 2002 Games, the 1,335m track has five starts to accommodate beginners, so you're not thrown totally in at the deep – and icy – end. The "G-Force fantasy camp" includes up to three runs, a track walk with Olympic coaches who will also train you in basic driving skills.
Where to practise: Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
The problem with falling in love with a sport such as skeleton bob is that you need a track and those aren't easy to come by. British Skeleton has its base in Bath where there is a 140m track for you to practise your push-offs from. But if you're looking for the real thing Cortina d'Ampezzo, which hosted the first televised Winter Olympics, in Italy, in 1956, has a vibrant bob club and track set against beautiful Dolomites scenery.
What is it? Just like bobsleigh, ski jumping is another sport best-known for its underdogs, in the UK's case it was Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. Edwards was our first-ever Olympic jumper, meaning he was best in Britain but, sadly, worst in the world. The sport, most recently popularised by Channel 4's push-a-celeb-down-a-slope show The Jump, consists of speeding down a huge hill and seeing who can fly the furthest off the end of it. The longest distance reached can be between 100m-140m, depending on the size of the hill. The event has been in the Winter Olympics since 1924, but this year women will compete in the event for the first time.
Where to learn? Oslo, Norway
OK, well not exactly to learn as it's not really a sport many people do on a ski holiday and in most cases you need to belong to a club to get started. The Holmenkollen jump is one of the more architecturally significant jumps having been completed in 2010 and created using 100 tonnes of steel. It houses a ski museum in the base of the tower and has a ski simulator so you can get a pretty good idea of what you'd be in for.
Where to practise: Steamboat Springs, Colorado USA
The Howelson ski area opened in 1915 making it Colorado's oldest continually operated ski area. It has also trained a fair few Olympians and is home to the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America. Jumps range from 20m to 75m while kids can get a taste for flying on the miniature "Bump Jump".
What is it? This aggressive sport – known as much for its shoulder barging as it is for its highly skilled, rapid plays – sees two teams of six battle to score goals by hitting the puck (a small rubber disc) into their opponent's net. Ice hockey is thought to have originated in Nova Scotia, after being taken to North America by the English, and the first formal rules for the game were established in 1879.
Where to learn: Sheffield, UK
Sheffield plays host to two ice hockey teams: the Steelers and the Steel Dogs, as well as an ice hockey academy, so it's fair to say it has a vibrant hockey scene. Once you've completed the intensive learn-to-skate session on one of the two Olympic-sized rinks at Ice Sheffield you can progress to its six-week learn-to-play course, which builds on your skills and takes you through the ins and outs of the game.
Where to practise: Toronto, Canada
On New Year's Day, 105,591 fans packed Michigan Stadium to see the Toronto Maple Leafs win the NHL Winter Classic. It's safe to say they love their hockey over there. If you've got your own equipment and you want to get a taste of playing in a nation that adores the sport, then Hockey Toronto will sort you out to play in one of its "pick-up" games or skills sessions. It will also help you get hold of tickets to NHL games.
What is it? For this event, first conceived by Norwegian soldiers, athletes compete at ski jumping and cross-country skiing to win one medal. The jump takes place first and the points scored determines the order that the athletes get to start the cross-country section. The point difference between each athlete determines the gap between when each can start, so a 15-point lead in the ski jump gives the skiier a one-minute head start. The first skier to cross the finish line wins the event overall.
Where to learn: Saalfelden, Austria
Let's face it, when it comes to Nordic Combined, most of us are going to be stressing over the jump part rather than the cross-country ski part. Besides Saalfelden has the latter sorted with 95 miles of perfectly groomed trails as well as a dedicated ski school (+43 6583 8353). On top of this the resort also runs two-day ski jump courses, which include theory lessons, video feedback, beginner steps on dry slopes and then progression to one of four height slopes. Easy!
Where to practise: Seefeld, Austria
Seefeld is a pretty little Austrian village that just happens to be in the middle of the Seefeld Olympiaregion, home to a whopping 175 miles of cross-country trails. Seefeld often hosts stages of the Nordic Combined World Cup, with jumps taking place on its two slopes in the Casino Arena. While the jumps themselves aren't open to the public, you can still access the area to watch the pros train.
What is it? Britain has history with curling, literally – it originated in Scotland in the 16th century – which may explain why we're so good at it. The sport is one of the few in which the British teams – both the men's and women's are headed up by Scottish curlers – have a real chance of bringing home a medal. The game is played with two teams of four players each, the idea being to get the stone as close to the target or "house" as possible. Fun fact: players wear special shoes with different soles – one for sliding and one for gripping.
Where to learn: Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland has 22 ice-skating rinks that are equipped for curling and A LOT of curling clubs. Edinburgh Curling Club is running 50-minute taster sessions throughout February and March at Murrayfield ice rink for an affordable £3pp. If the bug takes you after that it has a weekly drop-in session from 12.30pm-2.45pm for all levels for £5pp.
Where to practise: Tunbridge Wells, England
England's only dedicated curling rink resides in the not-very-cold region of Kent, where it's open from October to April every year. You can hire a lane – there are three, each accommodating eight people – for £152 per two-hour session and with six sessions seven days a week, that's a lot of curling if you really get the bug.
Figure skating Meagan Duhamel (right) and Eric Radford of Canada perform during the Team Short Program Pairs of Figure Skating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Photograph: Wang Haofei/Corbis
What is it? The oldest discipline in the Winter Games: it was included in the 1908 London Olympics – is also the most controversial: it's fair to say the golden couple of skating Torvill and Dean weren't always best of friends, and documentaries are still being made about the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan saga. But of course Team GB 2014 – none of whom were even born when Torvill and Dean won gold at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo – will be purely focused on the present and the very real chance of winning a medal.
Where to learn: Nottingham, England
The National Ice Centre in Nottingham is a great place to go to learn any of the ice rink sports but seeing as British ice-dance legends Torvill and Dean met in Nottingham it seems appropriate to note it now. The centre's Learn to Skate programme is a six-week course that will take you from absolute beginner to a confident skater, able to diversify into your chosen discipline.
Where to practise: Minneapolis, USA
Of course, you could practise your new moves at any number of ice rinks the world over but why not try at one of the oldest? The railroad depot was built in 1899 in downtown Minneapolis and now houses a modern (heated) ice rink from which, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling glass walls, you can glide past the city's skyline while attempting that triple lutz.
What is it? The Luge – sounds so much better than sled (the English translation of this French word). According to the official Sochi site sleds were used as far back as Viking times but they probably weren't hurtling down a track feet first. However, the sport is older than you might think: the inaugural international luge competition took place as long ago as 1883 in Davos, four years after the first course was built in the resort. Today luge is one of the most dangerous winter sports, with athletes speeding down the course at up to 85mph. At the 2014 games, for the first time, there's a relay, as well as singles and doubles events.
Where to learn: La Plagne, France
La Plagne is one of those chirpy little French resorts that often gets overlooked because it's not one of the big hitters in the Trois Vallées, say. But it does have a world-class skeleton, luge and bobsleigh track and you don't even have to commit to a full-on open luge experience. While the speed luge will still have you reaching speeds of up to 55mph, you're protected in a vehicle halfway between a luge and a bobsled. Perfect for beginners and scaredy-cats.
Where to practise: Schönau am Königsee, Germany
Schönau am Königsee is beautiful. The town rests on the banks of crystal-clear Lake Königsee, itself set in the Berchtesgaden national park. But you won't see any of this as you hurtle down 1,300m of technically demanding world cup track at inconceivable speeds. The track was the first artificially refrigerated one to be built ever, but whether you'll care by the time you hit top speed is questionable.
What is it? Taking skiing to the next level, the freestyle events see athletes performing breathtaking stunts, spins and leaps as they compete in this extreme discipline. Among the events are the aerials competition, where skiers perform jumps and are then marked on technique, and ski halfpipe: in which skiers fly out of the slope while executing tricks in much the same way as the snowboarders do. It's a modern sport – first gaining popularity in the late 1960s – but one that is likely to remain popular with spectators.
Where to learn: Manchester, UK
Taking "freestyle skiing" to mean moguls as opposed to all of the disciplines encompassed in the heading, there are few things that show up rubbish technique – and destroy your knees - faster. Luckily Manchester's Chill Factore indoor real snow slope creates a mogul field once a month and runs open and intro sessions alongside performance and competitive mogul coaching.
Where to practise: Verbier, Switzerland
Fancy making an intermediate skier break out into a sweat using just two words? Tortin, Wall. Formidably steep, breathtakingly long and with moguls the size of small cars, the Tortin – or Swiss – Wall is not for the weak of thigh. The Col des Gentianes cable car will pick you up at the bottom and deposit you back at the top so you get to read the warning sign again before you drop back in for another lap.
What is it? In spite of the rational assumption that skiing while in possession of a firearm is a risky endeavour, the athletes that take part in the biathlon prove it can be done with style and finesse. Originating in the ancient hunting practices of northern Europe, the event combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. The biathlon events at Sochi includes the individual competitions, in which competitors ski laps of a loop that's 1.8-2.5 miles in length, while stopping to shoot targets. Missing the targets means a one-minute penalty is added to the competitor's time.
Where to learn: Le Grand Bornand, France
Sitting on the western slopes of the Aravis range, Le Grand Bornand is a pretty ski town that has access to some great off piste in the shadow of Mont Blanc. But it is also a great place to learn biathlon with discovery days running every Wednesday throughout the season for €13 per hour. Following that you can book group, family, improver's or private lessons through the Ecole du Ski Francais, eventually working up to a full stage Biathlon (20km cross-country ski, skied in five laps with four opportunities to shoot).
Where to practise: Ruhpolding, Germany
Something of a biathlon hotspot, practising the sport in Ruhpolding gives you the opportunity of testing your skills on a world-cup stage. The Chiemgau Arena is a regular fixture on the world cup circuit and while it's not open to amateurs, tours – that include the chance to shoot on the range – can be arranged via the Fritz Fischer biathlon camp; an organisation that also offers twice-weekly "biathlon for everyone" training sessions and the opportunity to practise your gunmanship using laser rifles.
What is it? Speed skaters are like sprinters on ice. Racing in a range of distances: from 500m-10,000m. The sport encompasses individual and team events with athletes speeding around an oval rink. The team pursuit sees two teams of three racing against each other, starting at different sides of the track. As with like cyclists in velodromes, the skaters take it in turns to lead the pack and take on the brunt of the air resistance.
What is it? This form of speed skating involves fast, aggressive races in which athletes skate round an oval-shaped ice track as quickly as possible. In the individual event, races are up to 1,500m in length, while in the relay, races are up to 5,000m. Just like at your local ice rink, everyone has to go in the same direction – and crashes are frequent.
Where to learn speed skating and short track: Cardiff, UK
You may not have thighs the size of your torso yet but you probably will when you've finished one of Planet Ice's learn-to-speed-skate courses. Spread over six or 20 weeks with a 45-minute session each time, the course will have you upping your speed and tucking your turns, as well as learning about the ins and outs of the different speed disciplines.
Where to practise speed skating and short track: Davos, Switzerland
Davos is famous for many things, most of them quite expensive, but it can also lay claim to the biggest natural ice rink in Europe at 18,000 square metres. The speed skating course complies with international standards and has hosted nine speed skating world championships. The track is open to the public every day from 10am-2pm.