16 Different, Off the Beaten Path Winter Activities to Try This Season
Go beyond sledding and skating and try a new kind of winter fun
Go Ice Climbing in the ’Gunks
Our region boasts world-renowned rock-climbing sites, and they’re exhilarating all year ’round.
“It’s a whole different experience to climb in the winter,” says Eric Waldron, manager of the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School’s office in Gardiner.
They offer a Winter Climbing 101 course that features the ABCs of the sport, including what to wear to stay warm, and advice about the best snowshoes and other gear to assure maximum grip in snow and ice.
“Winter climbing is simpler to learn than some people may think; we ease you into it. And of course, safety is always our top priority,” Waldron says. Courses are taught by experienced instructors for all skill levels. They also host guided winter climbs, snowshoe tours, full-day Catskill Peaks hikes and more, seven days a week, year-round.
Try ‘Golf with a Shotgun’
What’s the fastest-growing recreational sport among women? If you said clay shooting — and we’re betting you probably didn’t — you are right, at least according to Grace Amoroso, assistant manager at Saint Hubert’s Clays Academy in Marlboro.
In clay shooting, shotguns are used to take aim at flying clay targets, sometimes known as “pigeons,” that are catapulted into the air from towers or the ground in the clays court field.
The clays mimic the movement of fluttering birds or scooting rabbits, without involving injury to any real-life animals. “Some people call it ‘golf with a shotgun,’” Amoroso says.
While shooting is only open to club members and guests at Saint Hubert’s Lodge — a premiere bed and breakfast (it’s dog-friendly, too) on 165 acres in the woods — Amoroso says it’s becoming so popular they may soon offer public clinics. Individual and group lessons for all experience levels are offered year-round, weather permitting.
Cross-Country Ski Among Art
Along with its notable arts-related residency programs, the nonprofit Omi International Arts Center in Ghent features a 120-acre sculpture park that’s open to the public.
Omi is set on a farm property that’s 300 acres wide and carved with multiple free trails, allowing you plenty of space to hike, bird watch, go mountain biking (the visitors center even provides bikes to take out in warmer weather), or, after a snowfall, hop onto your cross-country skis or snowshoes and delight in a dose of nature at this rural, pristine spot.
To top it off, nearly 80 pieces of internationally recognized contemporary sculpture are sprinkled throughout six areas of the Fields Sculpture Park. Some pieces are tucked away in the woods for an added pleasant surprise during your jaunt.
Afterward, stop in to explore Omi’s art gallery; maybe catch a lecture; check out the visitors center for a concert or other event; and have a bite at the café, which prides itself on using fresh seasonal ingredients sourced from local Columbia County farms. Open daily except for major holidays. Check ahead for winter weather conditions.
Snowshoe in the Moonlight
Here’s a nifty nocturnal idea – enjoy a guided hike (on snowshoes, if the weather cooperates and offers a layer of powder) after dark.
Rosendale-based Alpine Endeavors escorts folks on these jaunts; they start in late afternoon, just as the winter sun is setting. Prepare to be dazzled by the sight of the rising full moon in a crystal-clear winter sky, glistening off the freshly fallen snow.
They lead half- and full-day winter hikes in the daytime, too. Or, if you want to try your hand at a more ambitious outdoor activity, Alpine Endeavors also features ice climbing and winter rock-climbing courses for folks of all ability levels (they’re often held in the Catskill Park in Greene County), led by licensed guides and instructors.
Hike a Historic Site
Olana State Historic Site, home of Frederic Church, a noted 19th century American artist of the Hudson River School, boasts superb views of the river, and the public is invited to enjoy the landscape, designed by Church himself. It includes miles of roads he laid out, surrounded by thousands of trees, a lake, meadows and a network of carriage roads to hike year-round; they’re all available to explore at no charge.
The Olana Partnership, which runs the site, located in Hudson, occasionally offers winter activities such as guided snowshoe hikes. Get some exercise, and then pop inside for a guided tour of Church’s fascinating home — it’s open on weekends in winter (book in advance; there’s a fee for house tours, and they often sell out).
Ogle the Bald Eagles
Wildlife experts say wintering eagles start arriving in the Hudson Valley in December, in search of unfrozen, running water; their numbers peak in January and February – and more eagles than ever now make this area their year-round habitat.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation works with other groups to maintain two marked public viewing areas in Sullivan County in the Mongaup Valley at the Rio and Mongaup Falls reservoirs (off Route 42). The Mongaup Falls site includes a small, rustic observation booth where eagle-eyed folks can often catch a peek of the beautiful birds without disturbing them.
A sample of other eagle-watching sites includes: the 102-acre Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point on Route 9W in New Windsor, which offers splendid views of the Hudson Gorge along a 2,000-foot natural riverfront; and the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Garrison, with public programs (check out their many activities for kids), offering a rare chance to view eagles in their natural habitat as the big birds roost in trees along the riverbanks and gather to hang out on the ice.
And don’t forget Teatown Reservation’s annual Eaglefest, based in Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson. This full-fledged community gathering — slated for February 11 — includes educational and fun events for all ages; they even offer heated tents and bus rides to top eagle-spotting areas up and down the Hudson River. 914.762.2912; www.teatown.org
Go Rock Climbing Indoors
Experienced rock climbers and non-climbers alike can enjoy working off some calories while staying in shape with a winter climb in the comfort of The Inner Wall indoor facility in New Paltz.
With 4,500 square feet of wall space and more than 100 climbing routes, you’ll be pleasantly challenged, and experienced instructors will (literally) show you the ropes if you’re a beginner.
Have a Ball With Bowling
An afternoon or evening of bowling is a winter ritual for lots of folks in the Valley, and it’s become trendier than ever. Today’s bowling alleys, including many that have evolved into full-on family destinations, feature everything from kiddie play areas to high-tech arcades and upscale eateries.
Among the options are new Spins Bowls, in Poughkeepsie, Wappingers Falls, Mount Kisco and Carmel. (An additional site is also slated to open in Peekskill in the spring of 2017.)
All Spins Bowl locations feature standard bowling-lane rentals, plus special “cosmic bowling” sessions complete with upbeat music and glow-in-the-dark lighting. They also offer off-alley game arcades, and “soft” lounges, where folks can settle in and play Scrabble, pool or darts and relax in a quieter atmosphere.
Food selections have changed with the times, too. They include craft beer, and the Poughkeepsie Spins Bowl even boasts a CIA-trained chef (offerings include Korean BBQ chicken tacos, crab-cake sliders and chicken wraps). In Poughkeepsie, there’s also a 4,000-square-foot laser tag arena.
Wappingers Falls: 845.297.8110
Mount Kisco: 914.241.3131
Climb Aboard a Snow Train
Combine a trip on a historic train route through gorgeous country with a skiing destination, and double your winter fun. The Pullman Ski Train, operated by the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, originates in Penn Station in New York City and stops at the Saratoga Springs station, winding up at North Creek, where passengers can head to Gore Mountain — the closest big mountain to Albany and the Capital District.
Free shuttles are offered from North Creek to Gore by the rail line, but you might want to browse around town before heading to the slopes. You can also haul your skis onboard the train, relax and have a bite to eat in the Pullman-style cars, and savor the lovely winter landscape outside your window. The Pullman Ski Train operates weekends from January 13 to March 26.
Ticket info: 877.726.7245; www.sncrr.com
Zipline Over a Winter Wonderland
Hunter Mountain is a well-known spot if you want to ski or otherwise glide or race down the slopes. But for an unforgettable, exhilarating viewpoint, try gliding above the entire winter vista on a zipline.
Located at the Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl and run by New York Zipline Adventures, the ride operates Thursdays to Sundays in winter. Buckle in (trained instructors are super safety-conscious), take a deep breath, and you’ll soon be soaring hundreds of feet above the snowy landscape at speeds of up to 50 mph. And don’t worry about the temperatures at that altitude; just dress as you would to ski or snowboard (minus the boots), and you’ll be all set to zoom on the zipline.
Plug into History
The Hyde Park Heritage Trail system offers super spots for winter hiking and cross-country skiing – plus, you can download six different podcasts for half a dozen trails to listen and learn about the region near where you’re strolling.
The podcasts explore the history of local spots including Roosevelt’s Farm Lane, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill, and the Top Cottage Trail, where Franklin D. Roosevelt constructed his personal retreat. Look for the signs on the trails, dial the listed number, and listen away.
“Winter is a great time to go hiking along these trails,” says Kathleen Davis, recreation director for the Town of Hyde Park. “They’re for the most part about a mile in length – long enough to get some exercise without making your hike too long or strenuous, and especially good for families and seniors.” Cross-country skiing is also permitted, although trails aren’t groomed after it snows.
Get a Bird’s-Eye View of the Valley
For a unique vantage point, or to celebrate a special occasion, consider hopping aboard a helicopter for a winter flight. Passengers are guaranteed to ooh and ahh as they ascend over the Valley in all of its seasonal splendor. “It’s especially beautiful after a snowfall, when everything is white and sparkling,” says Heather Howley, chief pilot and CEO of Independent Helicopters.
Trips leave from Stewart Airport in New Windsor (they also fly out of Saratoga, by appointment only). Three passengers per flight can view West Point from above, get a glimpse of Mount Beacon, admire the Shawangunk Mountains and circle over the Hudson River for an unforgettable half-hour ride. The price is $300 for three passengers.
Check Out These Specialized Skating Centers
The Valley boasts ice rinks in nearly every county, offering open skating sessions, lessons, and hockey leagues. But for something a little different try these rinks, which offer the above and more.
Ice Time Sports Complex in the Town of Newburgh has DJ skate nights, with pulse-pounding music that will get your heart pounding, too. Wanna go really high-octane? Weekly open speed-skating sessions offer an opportunity to take it up a notch.
The McCann Ice Arena at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, in Poughkeepsie, offers therapeutic skating for people with disabilities. It is also home to the Special Olympics New York Winter Games, which returns with its opening ceremonies on February 17. This year, two of the skaters from the therapeutic program will be competing in the Games.
Slide Down an 800-Foot Hill
Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Montgomery is one of the best facilities for snow tubing in the Valley. The park’s setup includes rope lifts and groomed tubing lanes; lighting allows for nighttime runs. The fee varies; Orange County residents get a break on the price for the 90-minute tubing sessions. The park also features ice skating, a sledding area, and cross-country ski trails. A cozy lodge at the top of the tubing hill offers a sweeping view of the countryside, plus there’s an indoor concession stand and a big stone fireplace where you can warm up.
Orange County Department of Parks: 845.457.4949; www.orangecountynyparks.com
Give Curling a Whirl
To many folks, curling is that rather odd-looking Winter Olympics sport where folks use a broom-of-sorts to sweep a disc, known as a “stone,” across the ice and try to score points.
But those who take part say it’s actually tons of fun. “I had no experience, and I tried curling for the first time six years ago, when I was in my mid-50s,” says Ed O’Neill, now the membership chairman of the Albany Curling Club. The group boasts about 140 members — male and female, kids, teens, and adults.
No ice-skating experience is needed – you can even wear sneakers to start out: participants just strap a special sliding device on your shoes. Teams are made up of four members, and if you’re a newbie, trainers will show you the optimum way to balance and slide on the ice.
The Albany club holds two free annual open houses during its October to March season, in its indoor rink. This season’s winter open house is scheduled for January 7 and 8. “It’s good exercise, and we have a great time, too. It’s mostly all about the fun,” says O’Neill.
Take a Gymnastics Class with an Olympian
The flips and bends of gymnastics are a great way for kids and teens to blow off winter energy and get started in a sport that boosts strength, flexibility and stamina. Dynamic Gymnastics in Mohegan Lake was co-founded in 1995 by the husband-and-wife team of world-class gymnasts Sorin Cepoi and Teodora Ungureanu-Cepoi. Teodora, who trained with noted coaches Marta and Bela Karolyi, was a member of the Romanian Olympics team in 1976 and was also inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
She notes that their gym offers classes for kids starting as young as 18 months of age. “You’re never too young to start gymnastics; lots of kids begin with our Mommy & Me courses, and train with us up till about age 16 or 17,” she says.