The other day I found a nice article by Amiee Maxwell on MatadorSports about non-traditional outdoor sports. The article had some interesting inclusions, and got me thinking about others that fall in the same category. I quickly came up with so many ideas, that I knew it was time to write my own article. While some of these may still be more of fringe activities than full-fledged sports, they're all pretty damn heart-pounding. Unlike more contrived alternatives (extreme ironing?) designed more for shock than authenticity, these sports all maintain that sacred connection to earth, air and sea that has been so preeminent in more traditional outdoor sports.
While still extreme, everyone's heard of heli-skiing at this point. Heli-biking, on the other hand, remains shrouded from the spotlight. Taking a little sting out of the legs, heli-biking provides a one-way ticket to a given mountain peak with stunning birds'-eye views of the terrain you'll be feasting on. From the top, gravity replaces chopper blades in propelling you 4,000 to 7,000 vertical feet back down to the base. Quite limited in comparison to heli-skiing, heli-biking operations can be found in big-mountain destinations like BC, New Zealand and the Himalayas.
I'm not sure if this one's a sport so much as a boys'-trip-turned-documentary, but it's epic regardless. I recently caught a piece of Aweburg!, a 2006 Banff Film Festival winner featuring climbing veteran Will Gadd on a 'berg climbing expedition off the coast of Labrador, Canada. In addition to incredible scenery casting dark, swelling ocean against bright, baby blue ice, the action is incredible. Climbing slick, freezing hunks of solidified water is pretty scaring on its own; now imagine hanging over a slice of frigid ocean trying desperately to grapple your way up an unstable, fragile ice buoy that could splinter at any moment. Yeah, climbing in the ocean isn't as easy as it sounds. Watch:
Not too hard to discern from its name, bikepacking is a combination of backpacking and biking. Unlike vehicle-supported rides offered by tour companies, the idea here is to tackle multi-day trips with all your supplies strapped to your back and bike. Bikepackers use all kinds of ultralight and self-modified gear to cut weight down as much as possible, so they can ride the tightest singletrack while towing along their entire camping set-up. They're able to tackle hundreds of miles worth of mountain bike trail over days and weeks, camping along the way.
There are plenty of vessels that cater the thrills and chills of whitewater. Traditionally, it's been rafts, kayaks and canoes. Boogie boards and river sledges are less conventional, more immersive options. While all exciting in their own right, I can't imagine any of those can be as difficult as whitewater paddleboarding. Imagine trying to stand up on a large, unwieldy surfboard while rolling over violent rapids. A few years ago, a company rep for ULI told me that whitewater paddleboarding had a growing, rabid fan base in river destinations like Montana. I didn't entirely believe him until I saw it with my own eyes:
I recently tried slacklining for the first time and I have more respect than ever for those that do it for real. Basically, rock climbing meets circus tight-rope walking, slacklining is a sport that requires cajones of titanium and stomachs of steel. I couldn't even walk a foot while suspended two feet in the air over a soft sand landing; I have no idea how people do this thousands of feet in the air on terrain that makes the stomach drop from the comfort of a desk chair. Here's a beautiful little piece of cinematography that shows how extreme the sport can be:
Another Alps-born, snow-based adrenaline sport, speed flying (or riding or gliding) is a hybrid between paragliding and skiing. If you ever get as good as the one of the sport's credited inventors, Francois Bon, you can point to pretty much any craggy mountain peak and say: "I'm going to ski that." Even if there's boulders, stones and unnavigable cliffs between the top and bottom. That's because when the terrain becomes unskiable, you pull on your paraglider and take off into the air. Ski extreme lines, straightline off insane cliffs and bring the ultimate one-upper to apres after you live the tale.
When I was a kid, I used to attempt to cure summertime snowboard lust with my board and a trampoline. I got to practice some airs and spins, but boy did I look stupid in shorts, tube socks and snowboard boots. A kayak may not fit on a trampoline, but kayakers that miss the thrills of their sport in the winter have devised their own way of practicing: snow kayaking. Kayaks may not be designed to navigate snow, but that hasn't stopped some paddle-fiends from 'yak-sledding their way through knee-deep drifts and off snow-covered cliffs. This is one of those that I think is more fringe than sport, but whatever you classify it, it's pretty enthralling to watch: