First snow: Eight winter activities for budget friendly fun

With the first snow comes thoughts of winter’s smorgasbord of budget friendly travel options. Fall festivals and foliage tours are long gone. What was missed has been moved to next year’s got to go agenda.

The first snow is a reminder that winter, like other seasons, has a timetable that waits for no one. To make the most of winter, create a checklist of what you’d like to do. Plan for those winter outings before it’s too late. Don’t be left behind wondering where the winter went.

Here are 8 winter activities to put on your list of things to do before the spring thaw comes and crocus appear.

1. Go tubing: For anyone who wants the thrill of speeding down a snow packed hill, but is not fond of the idea of falling (count me in on this one) tubing is an excellent option. If you have the physical skills to sit on the ground and get back up again with or without help, you can tube. The beauty of tubing is that people of various athletic abilities and ages can enjoy the same experience at the same time.

Many ski resorts have added tubing hills to their repertoire. From the Poconos in Pennsylvania to Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, the cost for tubing is quite a bit less than the cost of a ski lift pass. Plus, there’s no equipment to rent and you can enjoy the warmth of the ski resort’s lodge like any skier who forked out more money than you did.

2. Take a winter hike: Although hiking might seem more suited for warmer weather, winter hiking offers another look at outdoor beauty. Plus, there’s a level of solitude for reflection, part of what winter months invite. Sections of the Appalachian Trail are one possibility. For options that offer the opportunity to find out more about nature and natural history of an area, check your state’s park system. Many have an organized winter hike like Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio does. This park’s winter hike is January 16.

3. Go cross-country skiing or snow shoeing: Where there is snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. City and town parks, logging roads or trails that have been specifically for either sport are waiting for you. The Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico is one such place. To see if either sport is a good fit, head to a trail on Winter Trails Day. This winter, January 9th is the day to bundle up and strap on skis or snowshoes. Rentals are available.

4. Build a snowman in an unusual place: Where there’s snow perfect for packing, you can build a snowman. By building a snowman in a place that’s more public than your yard, you add to other people’s winter fun. A favorite memory of mine is watching people build a snowman on the Great Wall of China.

For people who live where it never snows, don’t pass up a chance to indulge in a snippet of childhood if you happen to have traveled to a place where it does–London, England, for example.

5. Sip hot chocolate, mulled wine or another hot beverage made extra warm by alcohol by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. This is where you enjoy a winter wonderland by looking out a window. Where does one find such an experience? Ski lodges and hotel lounges and lobbies are perfect places for indulging in an afternoon or evening of relaxation in a comfy chair. Going solo? Bring a book. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy such pleasure.

6. Visit an historic village to learn about winter life in the olden days. At an historic village, costumed interpreters demonstrate how life was lived in yesteryear. Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is one of the more extensive historic villages. The sticker price is not exactly budget friendly. For the cheapest option, head to the Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Ohio. It’s free. I repeat. Free.

7. Bird watch at a local park, a nature center, a refuge or another area known for bird watching. Check out Critter Watch, for best winter birding spots in Colorado. In Ohio, the newest bird watching place is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, one mile from the heart of downtown Columbus. It’s located on an important migration stop next to the Scioto River.

8. Ice-skate at a city’s outdoor rink or a frozen pond. Many cities open skating rinks in their downtown’s to attract people. One of the most famous is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. There are other less touristy skating options in New York City, however.

If you’re planning to head to any other city, see if there is an outdoor skating rink there. Skating on a city’s downtown rink is an active way to enjoy the city’s architecture while becoming part of the city’s scene. Skate rentals are available.

Some city parks and zoos like Buhr Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus Ohio, also offer ice-skating with skate rentals available.

Colorado offers free 3-month trip to “snow virgins”

My four-year old niece, who lives in Florida, once detailed for me all the places she’d been in the world. “I have been everywhere,” she said. “I have even been to snow!” (For the record, that means she has been to Michigan). If you aren’t as “well-traveled” as my niece and haven’t yet experienced the icy wonder of snow, Colorado wants to hear from you.

Colorado is looking for “snow virgins”, people who have never been in an area with extensive snowfall (entrants may be subjected to a background check) to enter its “Snow at First Sight” contest. Contestants must be at least 21 years old and residents of the US. To enter, they’ll need to submit a 60 second video explaining why they should be chosen to win a 3-month trip to Colorado to experience their first snowfall.

Entrants need to get their friends and family to vote on their video – finalists will be chosen according to popularity and creativity. Ten finalists will then go to Colorado for the official audition.

So what does the winner get, other than the chance to make their first snow angels and snowmen? They’ll receive a free trip to Colorado for three months (January 1 through March 31, 2010), an $800 stipend for each month, and attendance at promotional events arranged by the sponsors. They’ll get to take part in winter activities like skiing, snowboarding, and dog-sledding and will get to blog all about their adventures in Colorado’s winter wonderland.

Austrian Ski resort kicks off the new year with Europe’s largest snowman

To celebrate the start of the new season, and to promote their newest ski resort, the Galtür region in Austria built Europe’s largest snowman. The 53 foot tall snow sculpture is called Emil, and stands at the bottom of their new kiddie slopes. The Ski resort used to be a collection of various challenging slopes, but for 2009, designers divided things into 6 different zones and renamed the area “Silvapark

Three of these six zones are “kid friendly” and offer beginning skiers a chance to get used to sliding around on their ski’s. The junior slopes even feature traffic lights, as a way to teach kids how to be considerate of other skiers.

Of course, a 53 foot snowman is nothing compared to the 122′ Olympia SnowWoman made in Bethel, Maine in 2008.