Alaska (not Texas as is often assumed) is the biggest state in the United States. At more than 663,000 square miles, it could swallow England 10 times over. To put its white vastness into context, if New York had the same population density, there would be only 16 people living in Manhattan.
Many people’s image of the state is of an enormous, freezing wasteland. But Alaska’s wealth is built on white gold – the powdery, tourist-pleasing kind that falls from the sky. And the savviest way to enjoy this stunning, vast state in all its rugged, frozen glory is by snowmobile. Several companies offer “safaris” into the frozen wilds on these snorting mechanical steeds, and Alaska’s backcountry is perfect for long-distance snowmobiling.
On a three-day trip from the state’s biggest city, Anchorage, to the continent’s highest peak, Mount McKinley, you ride through stunning Denali state park, from lodge to lodge. These hostels-cum-petrol stations punctuate the crisscrossing trails like border checkpoints, and you sleep in creaking wooden bunks. Perfect, bright days are spent learning to ride: using your body weight to turn and carve and jump. There’s a knack to riding a snowmobile at speed: it’s more like windsurfing or riding a horse than driving.
Crossing deep, wide snow meadows beneath craggy, unnamed peaks at speeds of up to 80mph for hours on end brings an exhilarating, almost elemental sense of freedom. Then, when the engines cut, the silence is so perfect you can almost hear it.
Eight nights from $4,873 pp, including flights. Safaris run November-April. blacktomato.co.uk
Cliff camping, Colorado
In the US’s latest extreme sport, you can spend the night camped on the side of a sheer rock face hundreds of feet up as you contemplate the fragility of human existence. Or just enjoy the incredible views over the Rockies. Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park, Colorado, offers cliff camping from May-September.
Surfing in New York City
View the great metropolis from a new perspective: a surfboard. Check into the brand new Playland Motel in Rockaway Beach, Queens, the city’s first notable beachfront hotel. It’s a short walk from the newly renovated Boarders (boarderssurfshop.com), so rent some gear and hit some Big Apple barrels.
Two-hour lesson for two $115 pp. 718-496-3371, www.surflessonsnewyork101.com/Prices-and-Schedule.html
Get fit in Utah
Combine comfort with a bit of a challenge at Red Mountain Resort’s new Essential Fitness Retreat. The resort is just two hours’ drive from Las Vegas but a world away from the brashness of Sin City. Think mountain biking, trekking, rock climbing, horse riding and honest exercise against a stunning backdrop. As gambles go, it’s a win-win.
A seven-night break at Red Mountain Resort costs from $3,270 pp, through Health and Fitness Travel (020-3397-8891, www.healthandfitnesstravel.com) including full board and flights.
Wolf safari, Wyoming
The grey wolves of Yellowstone park were nearly wiped out before conservation began in the mid-1990s. A new trip with Exodus allows you to track the elusive creatures through magnificent park scenery. Binoculars in hand, you’re accompanied by a biologist as you scour the Northern Range for wolves and other wildlife, from pronghorn antelopes to coyotes.
Seven days from $4,682 pp including flights and most meals, departs March 15. 0845-863-9600, exodus.co.uk/holidays/afu/overview
Storm chasing, Texas to South Dakota
Storm chasing sees you hunting twisters down America’s Tornado Alley, reacting to satellite data as you race across the vast plains of the Midwest. From a base in Oklahoma City or Denver, you’ll spend six days speeding across a number of states, including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas, aiming for as many Tornado Alley strikes as possible. From your convoy, you’ll enjoy a front-row seat for one of nature’s most spectacular shows.
From $2,600 for early bookers, flights extra. Trips run early May to mid-June. 970 367 5395, stormchasing.com
Lumberjacking, New York state
Pack your favourite flannel shirt for a trip to the Adirondack Woodsmen’s School in upper New York state. You’ll sleep all night and work all day on this two-week beginners’ course covering everything from fire building to axe swinging, chainsaw maintenance to war canoe construction. You’ll not only be a master of dendrology by the end of the fortnight, but also have a physique that is seriously cut. Your “classroom” is at Paul Smith’s College on the shore of the Lower St Regis Lake, high up in the Adirondacks.
$2,190 pp for two weeks full board, flights extra. +1 518 327 6990, adirondackwoodsmensschool.com
Swim with salmon, British Columbia
Between July and September hundreds of salmon swim up Canada’s roaring Campbell river, returning to their mother stream to spawn. For a snorkelling experience like no other, try this trip with Beaver Aquatics, where you enter the water in a wetsuit, mask, snorkel and fins and watch the salmon as they leap upstream. You may also notice that you’re floating through proper grizzly bear territory – during spawning season they’re drawn to the water in anticipation of a salmon supper.
Walk with dinosaurs, Alberta
Paleo fans with deep pockets will love the new Walking With Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time tour. Developed by BBC Earth insiders alongside leading paleontologists and natural historians, it will lead guests through the heart of Canada’s dinosaur country, around the Badlands town of Drumheller. You’ll visit dig sites, learn how the “terrible lizards” lived via a series of workshops and presentations, and even get to experiment with dinosaur animation and green screen technology.
$3,190 pp for five days, including transfers from Calgary and most meals, from 17-21 July. 0800-961-834, www.tauck.co.uk/tours/canada-tours/western-canada-tours/dino-bc-2014.aspx
Ice climbing, Banff
Banff national park is arguably the best waterfall-climbing destination on the planet. If you’re new to crampons, there are plenty of beginners’ routes around the outdoorsy town of Canmore, where you can sharpen your ice axe and your skills. For the more experienced, there are a number of stunning technical waterfall ascents.
Two-day basic ice-climbing course from $325 pp with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (403 678 4164, http://yamnuska.com/)