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Winter Fun and Games

dogsledding
Ever picture yourself driving a team of powerful sled dogs through the frozen countryside?Gunflint Lodge in Grand Marais, Minnesota, can make that fantasy come true. During its intensive Mushing Week (participants must be at least 12 years old), you'll learn to care for and handle the dogs while making 20- to 25-mile daylong forays into the Canoe Area Wilderness. Younger kids may sample dogsledding during the lodge's Best of the North weeks, which also feature cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowman building. Adventure Quebec, at Mont-Ste.-Anne in Beaupré, organizes 11/2-hour outings in which adults learn to drive a dog team. Children ages four and up are welcome to ride along. More ambitious mushers can take a guided overnight trip with Dog Sled Adventures in Mammoth, California, which includes a scenic ride through the woods and a kennel tour, with time for puppy petting.

bobsledding & luging
Hit speeds of 70 mph or more at Utah Winter Sports Park while riding a four-man bobsled manned by a professional driver and brakeman. The mile-long ride ($125 per person) must be booked ahead; call after October 1 for this season. Passengers must be at least 16. The park also offers Rocket rides ($27) aboard recreational luges designed to reach speeds of 40 to 50 mph on the Olympic luge track. (Kids must be at least 50 inches tall to ride.) At the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex on Mount Van Hoevenberg in New York, half-mile or faster mile-long plunges with bobsled pros are available throughout the season ($30-$100 per person). Children must be at least 48 inches tall to ride a bobsled. Lake Placid's similar luge course has rides on modified, self-steering sleds. Vail's amusement-park-like Adventure Ridge has a brand-new track for single-rider luging. For a different kind of thrill, non-lugers can take part in the latest winter sports, from snow biking (including a guided night ride with headlamps) to snow skating with a pair of sled dogs.

animal tracking
If you dream of being able to tell a beagle's footprint from a beaver's, check out the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, an 1866 hotel and Nordic ski center set on 15,000 acres in northern New Hampshire's Dixville Notch. This resort offers naturalist-guided tracking expeditions in which participants ski cross-country through stands of maple and birch, keeping their eyes peeled for the tracks of pine marten, moose, and foxes. Attitash Bear Peak at Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire will teach you and your family how to track moose, otters, mink, beavers, and deer during two-to three-hour snowshoe hikes led by a staff naturalist. Children as young as five can participate. A more challenging tracking expedition, which in springtime yields evidence of the resident bear population, leaves from the summit of Bear Peak and is for experienced snowshoers over the age of 13. The $35 fee includes snowshoe rental; reservations are suggested. Lone Mountain Ranch gives guests the opportunity to join wildlife biologists researching the effects of the newly reintroduced wolves in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. You'll travel with the biologists to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in the park, then spend the next day tracking radio-tagged animals, learning about wolves, and examining wolf-killed elk. Through Telluride Ski & Golf Club in Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service runs ranger-guided snowshoe tours, taking visitors from the top of the gondola to explore the area's geology and wildlife.

indoor fun
When the day comes—and come it will—when it's too cold, too wet, or too windy to go outside, wouldn't you give anything to have one of these places just around the corner?The $4 million La Source Aqua Club, at Mont Tremblant, Quebec, is an indoor water park designed to resemble a Laurentian lake—with three pools, rope swings into the water, and "cliffs" to jump from. Colorado's Silverthorne Recreation Center, centrally located between Copper Mountain, Keystone, and Breckenridge, has four wonderful indoor swimming pools, including one for toddlers and one with a 140-foot corkscrew slide. Mountain World, at Whistler in British Columbia, is a huge virtual entertainment center with simulated ski, snowboard, and golf machines, and lots of video games. The Avon Recreation Center, near Beaver Creek, has a full fitness center plus a 15,000-square-foot aquatics area with lap pools, a deep diving area, and a 150-foot slide that dumps into a lazy river.

skating
Gliding on ice in the great outdoors is one of winter's finest pleasures. So what if you spend half the time on your derrière?Squaw Valley USA takes the sport to a new level: in order to reach the ice, you must first ride the tram up to the High Camp summit recreational area (rental skates available). From the mountaintop rink, the highest in the world, you'll gaze down on Lake Tahoe. For scenery, only Chateau Lake Louise, in Alberta, can rival that—part of the frozen lake in front of the hotel is devoted to skating, cross-country skiing, and broomball (rental gear available). An ice castle serves as the rink's centerpiece; the glorious Victoria Glacier is the backdrop.

Keystone Lake, in the village at Colorado's Keystone ski resort, is the largest outdoor skating rink in North America—so big it can accommodate recreational skating at one end while a hockey game goes on at the other. Skates, pull-sleds, hockey sticks, and other gear can be rented lakeside; lessons are also available. Also in Colorado, at Beaver Creek's new village rink, on top of the subterranean Vilar Center for the Arts, skaters can warm themselves by an open-pit fireplace. Idaho's outdoor Sun Valley Skating Center, built in 1936 behind the venerable Sun Valley Lodge, is as romantic as ever, especially at night. Instruction and skate rental are available.

the ultimate snow fort
On February 13 at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont (802/649-2200), an Arctic explorer and U.S. Army research engineer will share his expertise in constructing snow houses. Then you and your family are invited to help cut, carry, and stack blocks of snow to build a real igloo ($5 adults, $4 children, includes museum admission).

sugaring off
Stop in at Sugarbush Farms (800/281-1757 or 802/457-1757; free) in Woodstock, Vermont, to see how maple-sugaring is done. Watch sap being collected by workhorses, take the Maple Walk trail, and taste fresh syrup on snow. Call first: Depending on the weather, sugaring takes place anytime from late February to mid-April.

MEG LUKENS NOONAN, a correspondent for Outside magazine, lives in New Hampshire.

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