White-tailed sea eagles roam in abundance at the Shiretoko Peninsula. Image credit: Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel Inc.
The wintry landscape always begets a quiet calmness as you gaze upon the blankets of soft snow stretching into the horizon where they meet rows of fir trees dusted with white powder or climb up grand mountains until they seem to blend with the wispy clouds up high. As winter whitewashes the landscape with its cool comfort, the blank canvas lends itself perfectly to your imagination; now is the time to go forth and seek new adventures.
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Join Quotient this winter as we highlight more unusual — and some more exclusive — activities for travellers to indulge in. Quirky, awe-inspiring or just downright exhilarating, these out-of-the-ordinary experiences are sure to captivate you. Let yourself be drawn in by the alluring magic of the winter wonderland — it’s the season to be jolly, after all!
Drift ice and eagle feeding cruise, Shiretoko Peninsula
The “End of the Land” is not a moniker easily conferred. Startling and even inspiring a smidge of trepidation, the nickname was coined for the Shiretoko Peninsula by the indigenous Ainu people. Surrounded by chunks of misshapen drift ice bobbing in the deep blue waters, a voyage in these lands aboard a cruise ship truly makes one feel as if they are venturing into the great unknown. With the peaks of the Shiretoko Mountain as your backdrop, get a front-row view as majestic eagles feast while the seaman feeds them from the deck and crane your necks in search of seals soaking in a spot of sunshine whilst flat on their bellies.
An entity as vast as the Okhotsk sea can only make one feel minuscule in comparison. As ice floes come together to form a mismatched jigsaw puzzle on the sea, don wet suits and attempt to cross a portion of the landscape on foot, at times soaking in the water for a quick dip. In winter, the snowfall in the region is also remarkably deep, so much so that walls stretching up to 20 metres high can form on either side of the roads once they are cleared. Stroll alongside these ice walls and be duly rewarded with panoramic views of the mountain range at the finish line. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Shiretoko Peninsula is acclaimed as being one of Japan’s most beautiful and untouched national parks.
Gourmet skisafari, Dolomites
The Dolomites are some of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges with its craggy snow-capped peaks forming nothing less than a picture perfect scene. Swoosh smoothly down the slopes of the Alta Badia ski resort, which lies snug within the mountain range, as you enjoy panoramic views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the way, cosy cabins located at different intervals beckon you to stop and refuel in the most indulgent way possible. Wafting with delicious aromas up to its rafters, guests can dine on an array of delectable wine and cuisine. Ranging from Swiss to South-Tyrolean selections, the gourmet dishes are prepared by skilled chefs of top international ski resorts.
As magnificent as the Dolomites are on the surface, they also conceal intricacies within that brim with unparalleled charm. Canter across the white-washed terrain on horseback as the cool breeze rejuvenates you or wander with snowshoes into the looming mountains, where forests with frosty trees and trickling creeks beckon with their serene beauty. In the hush quiet of the night, a moonlight sled ride adds a touch of mystique to the Italian countryside. Illuminated by the starry sky, the shadowy mountains evoke a haunting majesty.
Twilight zipline, Vancouver
Imagine whistling through the air on a harness as a breeze blows past and your eyes slowly adjust to the darkness around you, your path ahead only lit up by a singular headlamp. Gradually, you notice iridescent fairy lights twinkling beneath you, lighting up the treetops, while the stars overhead glimmer softly. As you slowly sway to a stop, you realise you are now at the base of the Blackcomb mountain. Your heart palpitates with the remnants of excitement as you turn back to gaze at the massif before you that is the Blackcomb Mountain. Surely, you could not have asked for a more perfect finish to the zipline activity with a twist.
The city of Vancouver lights up with a festive atmosphere during the winter season, chasing away any dreariness that might seep in on any cold day. Cross a suspension bridge fitted with thousands of lights and admire the 46-metre tree, the world’s tallest living Christmas tree, from up close on the other side. Alternatively, hop aboard a gondola and ascend 885 metres above sea level in just 10 short minutes. Along the way, sweeping views of Howe Sound and its surrounding mountains will awe you with their beauty. As sprinkles of light break through the fluffy clouds to cast a shimmer on the sea on a sunny day, you’ll find it difficult to tear your sight away.
Build and stay in an igloo, Swedish Laplands
Isolated and wild, the Swedish Laplands exude an inimitable raw beauty. The region is not only one of the best places to view the Northern Lights, but is also home to Gammelstad Church Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wade into the snow, scoop up fistfuls of soft powder and pack and carve it into blocks to craft your very own igloo, under expert guidance. As you alternate between constructing your cosy new home and sipping on warm beverages that slide soothingly down the throat alongside a kindling fire, your architectural feat will be complete before you know it. After you celebrate this rare achievement in the golden glow of the dusk, spend the night snuggled in your igloo under nature’s own canopy, or retire to a nearby mountain lodge for more warmth and modern comfort.
The occasional calls of wildlife can be achingly haunting in the midst of winter but they also signal ripe opportunities for animal encounters. Traverse Sweden’s highest mountain, the Kebnekaise, in search of moose and reindeer grazing the lands. Your trusty mounts, the Icelandic horses, may be petite but are equal parts sturdy and adorable. After hours, wind down with a chilly drink at the ice bar. The world’s first, the bar introduced in 1994 gets a stunning makeover by different designers each year. Admire the stark beauty of the intricate details on the décor as you perch yourself on the sculpted ice furniture and sip from your ice mug.
Ice blokarting, Lithuania
Colourful sails add a much-needed splash of colour to the snowy white expanse before you as you expertly steer your cart forward, racing your comrades to be the first to reach the finish line. As the wind lifts your sail and your ice skate carves into untouched territory, your speed gradually increases and a burst of thrill ignites within. The vast Curonian Lagoon is your playground and the sturdy elements your helping hands.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Curonian Spit, lies just adjacent to the lagoon. The 98-kilometre stretch of land is acclaimed for having the highest moving sand dunes in Europe and its beauty is particularly stunning when blocks of ice cluster on its coast. For an otherworldly encounter, carefully make your way on a trail through the woods to The Hill of Witches. A sculpture park with 80 different wooden carvings, the fascinating figurines at the rustic spot give a fantastical insight into local folklore.