Naturalist Lars Anderson is a great guy—cordial, funny. But while paddling beside him in Kings Bay near the Gulf Coast of north Tampa, only one thing really matters: He knows where the manatees like to hang out—namely, in the warm flow of the springs that feed the crystal clear freshwater bay. First hint: Go slow. You’re waiting for them to come up for air. Second: Hold on. "Some are as big as our boats and about 1,500 pounds, and they occasionally rub their bellies against us," says Anderson. "That’s a pretty special experience." More than 300 manatees live in the bay and in the Crystal River, which is also included in the four-mile paddle. Count on seeing otters, dolphins, bald eagles, white pelicans, and maybe a leaping tarpon as well ($39; adventureoutpost.net). A good second-day paddle is the Chassahowitzka River, 15 miles south. "You get into a swamp where there’s no road access—nothing but palm and cypress and incredible forests of ferns."
Admit it. You’ve always wanted to try a biathlon, the arcane skiing-and-shooting combo that fits neatly between curling and skeleton during the Winter Olympics. Now the Lake Placid Olympic Center is giving you your chance—but be warned: "If people think shooting a target with a .22 rifle is easy, try it when you’re breathing heavily, like after skiing a mile. Your aim goes up, it goes down, and then you have to ski penalty loops for targets you miss," says a graduate of the Be a Biathlete Clinic. The course starts with a freestyle XC lesson on Olympic trails, followed by a gun safety clinic. Then you learn the kind of breath control that lets you squeeze off five accurate shots at five targets at 50 meters between stints of skiing ($20; orda.org). As a Walter Mitty Olympian, you can also dive into bobsledding at Lake Placid. With a real driver and brakeman in control, you get to experience the lower 11 curves of the 2000 Olympic trials track at a harrowing 50 miles an hour ($75). Good thing you don’t have to shoot afterward.
The average lift ride during Black Mountain Ski Area’s Chairlift Speed Dating Day is eight minutes (February 14; $39; women ski free; blackmt.com). That, according to a University of Pennsylvania study, is more than enough time to decide if you’ve met your match (most speed daters make up their minds in the first three seconds). No love connection? The faster you can ski down and ride back up, the more worthy candidates you get to audition. Afterward, retreat to the mountain’s Lostbo Pub to discover what your new friend looks like sans ski parka.
Are you a Coureur de Bois or a Tourer? In the Canadian Ski Marathon, the titles translate as "seriously intent on skiing 99 miles in two days" and "happy to complete a section or two a day" ($30–$290; csm-mcs.com). The marathon draws more than 2,000 skiers to the lovely rolling fields and forests between La Chute and Buckingham (west of Montreal, east of Ottawa), following a ten-stage course over private property that’s opened up only for this event. Two groomed tracks link five 15K sections each day, with checkpoints where skiers pause for snacks and midday soup. Halfway is Papineauville, where you can stay in a casual dorm ($95, including meals) or the Fairmont Chateau Montebello (weekend packages, $990, including meals). It’s a tour, not a race, but if you finish five times, you get your bib number retired. What greater reward could there be?