If you are coming from a country with a strong tradition in winter sports, the winter time in Belgium might seem like the most boring four months of the year. With no mountains in sight and rare snowfall, you could end up getting depressed while staring at the constantly grey skies and the famous Belgian drizzle.
But despair not – while Belgium is a far cry from the Alps or the snowy Finnish landscape, there are still options to enjoy some winter sports in Ghent or close by! Here are a few of our favourites.
The most traditional winter sport of the Low Lands, ice skating is how the locals have been enjoying winters since time eternal. In the past, the ice skating mostly took place along the canals, but more recently the winters have not been cold enough to allow this to happen safely. Instead of trying to recreate Bruegel-like scenes in the Flemish countryside, seek out the nearest indoor ice rink instead.
If you’re keen to get the winter season started early you can try your luck on ice in Ghent at the Christmas market under the stadshal at the Emile Braunplein. A more permanent option is the ice rink Kristallijn in the Moscou neighbourhood. You can reach it by car, bicycle or bus. The entrance to the rink costs 6 EUR and includes the ice skates.
If you would like to investigate the world of ice-related sports, there are several sports clubs in Ghent that can help you with that: the speed skating club LBSG, the ice hockey club Ghent Ghosts, and the figure skating club GSK. Unsurprisingly, all of them are based at Kristallijn ice rink.
Yes, no Alps in sight, but this doesn’t mean you cannot slide down a slope gracefully. Or start learning how to before you head out for a skiing weekend in Austria or France with your Belgian friends.
It is hard to believe, but until about 2003, Ghent had its own active skiing slope! The skiberg is located at Blaarmeersen and while the hill itself is obviously still there, it is no longer used for skiing. City authorities decided that warm Belgian winters were too mild to keep pumping money into artificial snow and upkeep of the short slope. However, I am sure you can find a proper way of using it if snow gods smile upon us! Or just enjoy the view over the city from the top.
Lack of suitable weather conditions means that all skiing opportunities nowadays happen under the roof of indoor snow centres. The closest one to Ghent is just across the Dutch border at Terneuzen. Skidome offers two snow slopes, a ski school and a slope for children. Don’t worry about not having the latest skiing gear – you can rent it all on the spot.
Two other indoor skiing options, both about about 40km from Ghent, are Ski Inn in Bruges and the slightly optimistically named Mont Blanc at Roeselare. Absolute beginners might want to check out the ski and snowboard school De Dam in Lokeren, where you can learn how to master the slopes on a sort of rolling blanket.
The only place where you can actually ski in natural surroundings in Belgium is in the Ardennes. The small skiing resort, which opens as soon as there is enough snow, is situated at Ovifat in the High Fens (Hoge Venen in Dutch or Hautes Fagnes in French). The ski centre Ovifat is about 200km from Ghent and consists of three slopes and four ski lifts. While going by car is probably be the easiest option, you can also reach it by bus from Verviers or Eupen. Once again, skiing equipment is available for rent at the centre.
Cross-country skiing (langlaufen)
Granted, this type of winter fun is hard to find around Ghent. For this one, you will need to wait for snow and head out to the Ardennes. Signal de Botrange, at 694m above sea level the highest point of Belgium, is the national cross-country skiing centre. The distance from Ghent is about 210km. The tracks are prepared as soon as there is enough snow. This is definitely a lovely area but be aware that it can get quite crowded, especially at the weekends and during school holidays. Here as well, skiing equipment is available for rent.
Mild Belgian winters actually mean you can simply continue doing all (or most of) the outdoor sports you are used to during the rest of the year. Running and cycling are both still an option, though extra layers of clothing are advisable. And a walk in a frosty forest will do wonders for your winter blues.
Traditionally, the most famous Belgian winter sport is cyclo-cross, which requires sportsmen on road bikes to cycle over different obstacles, including mud. The Cyclo-cross World Cup runs from October to February, which means you will be seeing the races a lot on the Flemish TV channels during that time.
Have we missed any other winter sports activities that you enjoy doing in Ghent? Let us know in the comments!