Calling all skiers: Get in your turns before the snow stops flying in the Northern Hemisphere and it's time to head south. From skiing Antarctica to a self-powered adventure through the Alps, here’s a collection of trips that should be on every skier’s bucket list. Plus: Get tips from some of the world's best ski guides. —Kelley McMillian
Photograph by Will Wissman
Ski Big-Mountain Lines
For big-mountain lines blanketed in mind-blowing powder, there’s no place better than Alaska. Thanks to Alaska’s thick and stable snowpack, you’ll ski lines you only dreamed were possible—3,500-foot faces, 1,500-foot spines, sweeping glacier runs—all while bald eagles circle in the skies above you.
“Heli-skiing in Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’re going want to do year after year,” says Reggie Crist, a professional skier and former U.S. Ski Team downhiller who has been guiding in Alaska for nearly 20 years.
What sets Alaska apart is the sheer size and scale of the terrain and the fact that it’s all covered in a thick layer of snow that sticks to even the steepest faces.
“You can do things in Alaska that you can’t do [in] other places because of the maritime snowpack and because of all the terrain that’s available," says Crist. "That’s what makes Alaska extremely unique.”
That’s also what makes Alaska a ski flick staple. Each year, pros from Todd Ligare to Ian McIntosh head to Alaska to reap its notorious bounty and shoot segments for the next season’s ski films.
While there's incredible skiing to be had anywhere in Alaska, Crist suggests heading to Haines, a funky fishing village on the shores of the Lynn Canal that serves up some of the best skiing in North America.
“From a terrain and snow-quality perspective, Haines is largely recognized as the best,” says Crist, who in 2010 opened Stellar Adventures Media, a boutique heli-ski operation and media company that offers trips in Alaska.
That’s because Haines lies in the foothills of the Saint Elias Range, the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Lying about 200 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Haines is protected from the storms that ravage Prince William Sound while also benefitting from them.
Be forewarned: Once you ski Alaska, you’re ruined for life. It’s hard to go back to resort skiing, so save this trip for the end of your ski career, or else you may go broke.
Expert Tip: “You don’t have to be an expert skier to enjoy Alaska," says Crist. "There are mountains as far as you can see, of all shapes and sizes, all different lengths and steepness, and you can pick whatever works for you."
Logistics: March and April are the best months to ski Alaska—that’s when the days are long, the temps have started to get milder, and the snow is prime. Visit stellaradventuremedia.com for more information on skiing with Crist in Alaska.
Ski Tour Hut-to-Hut
Photograph by Christina Falkenberg
Skiing at Its Simplest
There’s something immensely satisfying about skiing up to a hut that’s just popped into view right where the map said it would be and making it your own slope-side retreat for the night. A hut trip delivers self-reliance, barebones simplicity, and powder skiing, all in one easily attainable, do-it-yourself adventure.
“On hut trips, you get to hang out with friends all day and all night with the only objective being skiing and living life in the mountains. It's pure,” says professional ski mountaineer Kit DesLauriers, the first person to climb and ski the Seven Summits.
From South America to Europe, backcountry hut systems exist around the globe. One of the most well known is Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts, a network of 34 backcountry huts connected by more than 350 miles of trails in the north-central part of the state. These huts are well appointed—some even have saunas—and get booked months in advance. Try huts that are off the beaten path, such as the San Juan hut-to-hut system, a series of five huts linking Telluride to Ouray in southwest Colorado’s majestic San Juan Mountains. The European Alps boast well-established and very civilized hut systems (think multicourse prepared meals), and you won’t find better hut food than in the Italian Alpine Club’s huts in the Aosta Valley (pictured).
In the States and Europe, most huts feature a padded bunk, wood-burning stove, propane stove, and basic eating utensils, saving you from having to lug extra weight into the backcountry, though you generally have to bring your own food. In Europe, come mid-March, many huts are overseen by a seasonal hutkeeper, who prepares meals and serves cold beer and hot chocolate, a perfect topper for a day spent skiing powder or spring corn snow.
Expert Tip: “Make sure you know the terrain, or have good maps and the ability to read them, and that you are well prepared to interpret the avalanche conditions," says DesLauriers, who in January released Higher Love: Skiing the Seven Summits, a book about her journey to climb the seven continents’ highest peaks. "Someone on your roster should have solid wilderness medicine skills. Or hire a guide.”
Logistics: Start any hut trip by collecting information. Most huts have a website that features details on how to get there, the surrounding terrain, and local snow and avalanche conditions. For hut trips in the United States, try the Opus Hut in Colorado or the Cascade Huts in Oregon. Further afield, try the Club Andino Bariloche’s huts in Argentina and the Club Alpino Italiano’s huts in the Aosta Valley.
Ski La Grave, France
Photograph by Gabe Rogel
Pure Mountain Experience
Tucked in a valley in the Dauphiné Alps along the ancient road to Rome, La Grave, France, delivers an experience that you won’t find at any other ski area in the world—total freedom. One lift with rainbow-colored cabins rises from the 12th-century village and accesses over 7,000 vertical feet of ungroomed, unpatrolled, and unmarked couloirs, bowls, glaciers, and trees—all set against a wild and hauntingly beautiful landscape of windswept glaciers and jagged peaks.
“A ski experience in La Grave has the potential to change a skier’s outlook on true mountain adventure on skis,” says Chad Sayers, a professional skier who has spent eight winters in La Grave.
Equal parts authentic French village and hard-core ski town, La Grave’s charming main street is comprised of a smattering of bars, restaurants, hotels, and ski shops, where, in the evening, you’ll likely find locals toasting another day in paradise with a glass of home-brewed génépi, an herbal liqueur made from a flower that grows high in the Alpine mountains here.
La Grave gets an unfair rap as a mountain solely for extreme skiers, but that’s not exactly the case. Sure, you can find 50-degree lines off the lift and there are many couloirs you must rappel into, but there are options for advanced intermediates and above. However, there are unmarked hazards everywhere—crevasses, seracs, cliffs—so newcomers should hire a guide.
Expert Tip: “If it’s your first time skiing in La Grave, it’s best to hire a guide,” says Sayers, who recommends legendary guides Pelle Lang, Per Ås, and Joe Vallone. And always ski with all of your avy gear—beacon, shovel, probe—as there’s no avalanche mitigation work done in La Grave.
Logistics: La Grave is about an hour-and-a-half bus ride from Grenoble and serviced by the #35 bus, which makes the trip from Grenoble a few times a day. Once in La Grave, stay at the Skier’s Lodge, a cozy boutique hotel in the heart of town made by skiers for skiers. A standard package includes two meals a day, six days of guiding, and accommodation. Meals are served at a set time each day, with dinner being a delicious four-course affair served at two communal tables. The K2 pub downstairs, the center of the town’s nightlife scene, features bar food, drink deals, and live entertainment.
Ski Alta, Utah
Photograph by Lee Cohen/Corbis
The Best Snow on the Planet
For a taste of some of the best powder on the planet, head to Alta, a 2,200-acre resort in Utah’s Wasatch Range that gets slathered in more than 45 feet of snow each year, thanks to its favorable orographical perch at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, from which it collects the moist air that flows off the Great Salt Lake.
“There are two reasons Alta is a bucket list experience for any skier,” says Caroline Gleich, a professional skier who has called Alta her home hill for ten years. “The copious amounts of light, [the] fluffy powder snow it gets, and the quality and variety of terrain.”
It’s not uncommon for it to snow so much that visitors must by law stay inside—a fortuitous state of emergency called “getting interlodged”—because avalanche danger is so severe. But when the skies do go blue, you’ll never have a better ski day. While 35 percent of Alta’s terrain is expert, there’s plenty of intermediate skiing to be had, but quite frankly, a steeper pitch makes powder easier to ski.
Gleich’s right: Alta’s snow—light, dry, feathery—is hard to beat, but it’s the resort’s laid-back vibe that truly sets it apart. In this age of megaresort goliaths, Alta is a throwback to another era. Two lifts—a high-speed quad and a rickety old double—rise from the main Collins base area, which is devoid of the soulless commercialization that’s taken over most resorts today. There are no high-rise condos, cranes, or new housing developments, just a few quaint lodges where happy skiers congregate at day’s end.
One more thing sets Alta apart: It’s one of the last holdouts for skiers, as snowboarders are forbidden to ride the mountain.
Alta offers a ski experience like none other, one that’s distilled down to the sport’s finer points: good skiing, good friends, and good powder.
“It's simplicity at its finest,” says Gleich. “It's the kind of place you visit once and never want to leave.”
Expert Tip: “If you don't have powder skis, consider renting something that is at least 95 mm underfoot," says Gleich. "There are a variety of demo shops on the mountain so you can try and trade out skis throughout the day.”
Logistics: Stay at the Alta Peruvian Lodge, a cozy lodge at the base of the mountain that offers simple rooms, a lively après scene, two outdoor hot tubs, and a ping-pong table in the basement. This is the kind of place families come back to year after year, and you’re likely to make friends for life. Rates include three delicious meals a day.
Photograph by Jason Mack
Skiing at the End of the World
For a taste of true exploration, head to Antarctica to pioneer lines in a land still wild and unmarred by humans. Like the polar explorers of yore and today, you’ll trek across five-million-year-old ice, carve turns down virgin peaks, and lay tracks where potentially no human has gone before. Needless to say, skiing in Antarctica is adventure at its finest.
“It’s one of the most exceptional ski destinations on the planet due to the wildlife and the fact that you’re skiing this pristine, clean place that’s reserved for science and exploration,” says acclaimed guide and ski mountaineer Doug Stoup, who led the first snowboard descent of the 16,077-foot Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica, in 2000. “It’s really the last frontier.”
Ski with Stoup’s Ice Axe Expeditions, and you’ll take a 120-passenger polar expedition vessel named the Sea Adventurer from Ushuaia, Argentina, 600 miles (and 48 hours) through the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage—one of the roughest seas in the world—before reaching the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, you’ll cruise the coast, taking a Zodiac boat to shore each day to explore mountains that drop into the sea. Be prepared to hike and ski 1,500- to 3,000-vertical-foot lines, passing large groups of penguins and seals along the way, all while whales spout in the distance.
“There’s everything from backcountry 101 to extreme terrain,” says Stoup, who has guided more than 30 trips to Antarctica and holds the speed record for walking unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole in 18 days, four hours, and 43 minutes.
The best time to ski in Antarctica is November, which is springtime on the continent. This is when you’re most likely to find 18 hours of sunlight, stable weather, and the best snow conditions, which can be anything from knee-deep powder to spring corn snow.
“People don’t realize the ski potential [here],” says Stoup. “It’s a dream ski location.”
Expert Tip: “Bring your camera,” says Stoup. "There is so much jaw-dropping wildlife—thousands of penguins and seals, whales breaching—that you’re going to want a good camera.”
Logistics: Stoup is the world’s foremost expert on skiing Antarctica and leads trips to the South Pole every November. The 13-day trip includes skiing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and daily on-land expeditions, as well as meals aboard the Sea Adventurer and a four-to-one client-guide ratio.
Ski Tour the Haute Route, France and Switzerland
Photograph by Erin Smart
Ski Between Europe’s Most Famous Peaks
This legendary ski tour links together the iconic resorts of Chamonix, France, and Zermatt, Switzerland, via a stunning six-day, high-mountain traverse that starts in the shadow of Mont Blanc and ends on the flanks of the Matterhorn (or vice versa).
“It’s a classic ski tour that travels between two of the world’s most famous mountain towns,” says Miles Smart, a Chamonix-based guide who appeared in this year’s Warren Miller ski film, No Turning Back. “There is something special about skiing from the base of Mont Blanc to the base of the Matterhorn, as both peaks are spectacular and iconic.”
Along the way, you’ll ski up and down some of Europe’s most picturesque peaks and mountain passes, travel over glaciers, stay in Alpine huts, and ski a few turns in Verbier, which serves up some of the world’s best lift-accessed steeps. You’ll also get an inside look at the storied, centuries-old Alpine culture, which permeates all aspects of life here, from the food people eat to the languages they speak.
You don’t have to be an expert skier to embark on the Haute Route, but you should be very fit—comfortable skinning and skiing 4,000 feet per day for a week. You should be able to ski advanced intermediate slopes in all conditions, skate ski, side step, and do kick turns on hills up to 40 degrees in firm snow.
Expert Tip: “Get plenty of ski touring training in before you arrive in Europe. Although the Haute Route can be a good introductory tour for people who are new to ski touring, it is much more enjoyable if you are fit and have good ski touring skills,” says Liz Smart, Miles’s wife, and one of the only women to have ever skied the west face of Switzerland’s Eiger. She recommends dialing in your kick turns and skinning technique before tackling the Haute Route.
Logistics: Unless you're a veteran, expert ski mountaineer, hire a guide. Try Smart Guides, a Chamonix-based guiding outfit headed up by Liz and Miles Smart. Both are the late extreme-skiing pioneer Doug Coombs’s disciples. They are also extremely accomplished guides and ski mountaineers. Plus, they’re year-round Chamonix residents, which means they have good insider info on the terrain, the season’s snow, and avalanche conditions.
Climb and Ski a Fourteener
Photograph by Christopher Davenport
Find First Tracks
Climbing and skiing a 14,000-foot peak, or fourteener, is the ultimate earn-your-turns adventure. You’ll likely rise before dawn, then watch the sun come up as you hike, skin, and boot pack—and maybe even ice climb—to what seems like the top of the world before plunging down a track-free descent.
“The feeling one gets at the summit as you step into those bindings with a 3,000-foot descent before you is pretty tough to beat,” says professional skier Chris Davenport, the first person to climb and ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in a year.
To ski a fourteener, head to Colorado, home to the majority of the United States’ 89 14,000-foot or higher peaks (pictured is Colorado's Capitol Peak); the rest are in Alaska, Washington, and California. Wait for spring to roll around—and for the snowpack to stabilize—to hit classics like Gray’s and Torrey’s, two mountains within a two-hour drive of Denver that make for good rookie outings. Or try something more extreme and committing, like Davenport’s personal favorite, Pyramid Peak, a sheer 14,025-foot monolith just outside of Aspen, where he lives, which serves up a direct 4,000-foot drop to the valley floor via the east face’s Laundry Line.
Whether you’re an expert ski mountaineer or a rookie backcountry skier, skiing a fourteener delivers a taste of true mountain adventure and exploration that few other ski outings can beat.
Expert Tip: “The main thing one needs to accomplish a fourteener ski descent is knowledge—knowledge of the weather and snowpack, knowledge of the route and conditions, and a clear understanding of expectations for the day," says Davenport. "Be conservative. Never be afraid to turn around if conditions don't feel right.”
Logistics: The most difficult parts of skiing a fourteener are route finding and assessing the snowpack and avalanche conditions, so you may want to hire a guide, like Marcus Beck of Alpine World Ascents, who offers personalized ski trips worldwide. If you’re confident in your abilities and familiar with Colorado’s notoriously fickle snowpack, pick up Davenport’s book Ski the 14ers, an immensely helpful resource for skiing Colorado’s highest peaks.
Ski Portillo, Chile
Photograph by Christopher Davenport
Chase Endless Winter
Once in every skier’s life, he or she should aspire to chase the endless winter. For most, that means skiing during the North American summer, and you won't find better “summer” skiing than in Chile and Argentina. Stretching down the spine of South America, the Andes are the highest mountains in the Western Hemisphere and like no others on Earth—jagged, tall, desolate, and impossibly beautiful.
Tucked in a remote corner of the Andes, about two hours from Santiago and surrounded by 19,000-foot peaks, Portillo delivers 1,200 acres of high-alpine terrain—treeless bowls, steep chutes, and rolling groomers—all of which funnel down to the yellow, 450-person Hotel Portillo, an iconic lodge where ski lore runs deep.
“Skiing in the Andes is like nothing else in the world, and Portillo is a perfect place to experience these high peaks and wide-open runs,” says professional skier Ingrid Backstrom, who coaches the Skiing With the Super Stars camp in Portillo every August.
What makes Portillo so special is that it’s both a ski resort and a hotel, which means that everyone on the slopes is also staying at the hotel, creating an unrivaled sense of camaraderie among guests. The vibe is old-world elegance meets down-home ski charm: There’s high tea, a rowdy après-ski bar with live entertainment each night, and autographed photos of Aksel Lund Svindal and Daron Rahlves lining the basement walls.
Sure, the hotel experience is divine, but it’s Portillo’s slopes that keep Backstrom coming back year after year.
“It’s a huge valley with lifts on both sides, so no matter what the conditions are there's always good skiing—either south-facing winter snow or north-facing spring corn (remember, it's South America so things are opposite), all on steep, long runs,” she says.
Portillo also boasts some of the best backcountry skiing in South America. Try the Super C couloir, a stunning 4,500-foot, 40- to 50-degree line that delivers mind-blowing turns and views of Aconcagua.
At day’s end, kick back in the hot tub overlooking the lake, Laguna del Inca, and watch the sun go down while sipping a pisco sour. That’s life at its finest.
Expert Tip: “For advanced skiers who like adventure, the lake run at Portillo is not to be missed,” says Backstrom. “It requires a small hike or traverse to get the longest fall line, and then you're making wide-open, swooping turns all the way down to the crystal clear Laguna del Inca.”
Logistics: Portillo is open from June to late September, and August historically gets the most snow. Guests must book by the week, Saturday to Saturday, and rates include room and board, three multicourse meals a day, and a lift ticket for the week.
Photograph by Adriane Lochner
Ski the Silk Road
With its combo of blower powder and rich culture, it’s hard to find a destination that delivers the experience of a ski adventure quite like the former Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan does. Lying at the crossroads of Russia and Asia along the ancient Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan is a country comprised predominantly of mountains—which are covered in the kind of snow that gives "Silk Road" new meaning.
“The winter snow of the Tien Shan is the epitome of cold smoke powder, unlike anywhere else and nothing like you've ever skied,” says Ptor Spricenieks, acclaimed ski mountaineer and subject of ski outfitter Salomon’s recently released documentary Dream Line, which details his quest to pioneer beautiful descents in the world’s most spectacular mountains.
“Combine that with the friendly people of the exotic Kyrgyz culture in a land that is 90 percent mountains, containing some of the largest glaciers in Asia, and you have a scenario that's a must do for the backcountry skier in search of travel adventure,” says Spricenieks, who has spent the last five winters living and working as a guide in Kyrgyzstan.
Head to northeastern Kyrgyzstan to ski with 40 Tribes, a tour operator that offers guided and unguided ski touring trips from the Jalpak Tash yurt in the Issyk Kul valley, a zone that overlooks the second largest saltwater lake in the world. Founded in 2010 by American Ryan Koupal, 40 Tribes launched ski trips in partnership with the region’s locals in hopes of helping the area develop its winter tourism economy.
A trip with 40 Tribes offers an inside look at Central Asia’s centuries old nomadic culture. First, you’ll spend the night with a local family in the tiny village of Ichke-Jergez, then load gear onto horses and put on skins and skis for the 3.5-mile skin to the Jalpak Tash yurts, two traditional Kyrgyz dwellings surrounded by 12,000-foot peaks. By day, you’ll ski first descents and plunder the region’s light and dry powder; by night, you’ll gather around a wood-burning stove to eat typical regional fare (dumplings and mutton are staples), play Yahtzee, and swap tales with guides and cooks, slowly soaking in the Kyrgyz way of life.
Expert Tip: “Skis over 115 mm underfoot are mandatory to do the Tien Shan’s cold smoke right,” says Spricenieks.
Logistics: 40 Tribes offers guided and nonguided ski touring trips from January through March. Four- to seven-day guided tours are available from February 1 to March 1. Bring a winter-rated sleeping bag, skins, touring gear, and avalanche kit. Skiers should be advanced to expert and have one year of backcountry skiing experience.
Sail and Ski Norway
Photograph by Kim Havell
Sail and Ski in the Land of the Midnight Sun
There are few places left in the world that offer up the experience of pure exploration; Svalbard, Norway, is one of them. Lying 600 miles south of the North Pole, Spitsbergen (population 2,000), the largest island in northern Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, delivers about 15,000 square miles of untrammeled mountain wilderness, a lifetime of first descents, and, come spring, 24 hours of daylight—all accessed by sailboat and skis.
“Untracked lines, no people, first descents, polar bears, summit-to-shore-to-ship skiing, stunning scenery, and a variety of terrain for every type of skier,” says professional ski mountaineer Kim Havell, who pioneered a new zone in Svalbard in 2013. “That’s why Svalbard is a bucket-list trip.”
A typical trip to Svalbard goes something like this: After boarding the 62-foot, steel-hulled Arctica II sailboat in the small port town of Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen, Norway’s largest island, you’ll sail north to explore the island’s 2,000 miles of coastline, where mountains rise from the sea, reindeer roam the vast interior, and walruses bob by on miniature icebergs.
“You sail up the coast, see a line you want to ski, take a Zodiac to shore, climb up and ski down with views of magnificent mountains all around and the glimmer of the ocean below. It will most likely be a first descent. You can ski at midnight or at noon, whenever you want with 24 hours of daylight,” says Havell.
Svalbard serves up a mix of open bowls, glacier runs, some of the most aesthetic couloirs on the planet, and steep descents that plunge into the sea—all covered in a thick, maritime snowpack. Be forewarned that the weather can be bad—stormy, wet, and cold—so don’t forget your Dramamine.
Expert Tip: “One person in the party must ski with protection, just in case a polar bear turns up in the distance,” says Havell. “Book an extra day or two on the front end so you can ski above the town of Longyearbyen before you board the sailboat to head north. It gives you great perspective of the town, stretches the legs off the plane, and allows for delays in travel (weather) flying from Oslo via Tromsø to Longyearbyen.”
Logistics: The ski season in Svalbard runs from April through June, and several guiding outfits offer the sail-and-ski trip. Try Ice Axe Expeditions or Arctic Guides. SAS offers direct flights from Oslo and Tromsø. There are about 24 hours of sunlight from mid-April to mid-August.
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