These are not really ski trips; they’re pilgrimages. Being present in any of these places at some point in your life, and arcing turns down a local mountain are experiences that have no price tag. If you love mountains, specifically getting to the tops of them and sliding down on snow, here are seven places you must visit and ski in your lifetime.
Claim To Fame: The best snow covering the best terrain on the planet. When all the ingredients combine in just the right way-snow quality, stability, weather-there is nowhere you’ll find better turns, period.
Best Places To Go: Cordova, Valdez, Haines, Alaska Range, The Wrangles, Juneau, Turnagin Pass
How To Get There: The easiest way is to fly into Anchorage, and then depending on where you’re going, hop on an interconnect flight, rent a car, or jump on a ferry. You can also take a ferry up from Washington State or B.C., or take the path less traveled and do the drive from the lower 48 (highly recommended).
Dirt Bagging It: Get yourself to Valdez, pull into Thompson Pass, and post up. I haven’t been in some years, but ABA used to do heli drops for under $100 a run, and there’s world class backcountry skiing and snowmobiling right out your “door”.
High End: Get eight of your best friends together, give Points North Heli-Adventures a call, and revel in your access to 2,000 square miles of terrain via your own private A-Star B2 Helicopter.
Food/Drink: You can’t come home from a trip to AK without having enjoyed some freshly caught Wild Halibut or Copper River Salmon.
Personal Choice: Cordova. Having spent time skiing throughout the state, with a host of different operators, with a host of different objectives, there is no operation that has a better balance of professionalism, humility, and dedication to make your trip the most memorable of your life than Points North Heli-Adventures.
2. The Alps (Western Europe)
Claim To Fame: Mountain culture, the access, and the attitude. The fact that the roots of ski mountaineering lie directly in the heart of the Alps is profound. In this part of the world it’s the users responsibility to be accountable for where they choose to go and what they get into-even if they used a lift to get there.
Best Places To Go: France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria
How To Get There: An easy way to throw yourself in the middle is to fly into Geneva, Switzerland. From there a rental car, train, or bus can zip you away to literally hundreds of the most famous ski resorts in the world. What’s cool is the random mountain village you stop at on your way, and have never heard of, might be the most memorable visit of your whole trip.
Dirt Bagging It: Pick your destination and find the cheapest hostel in town. Find some bread and cheese, get your hike on in the a.m., and clip tickets in the afternoon.
High End: Throw down exorbitant cash for everything you can imagine from dinning to lodging and lift tickets in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Food/Drink: There is no substitute for a French boulangerie.
Personal Choice: Chamonix. While I hold a special place for the traditional setting and raw skiing of La Grave, Chamonix is to the ski mountaineer what Alaska is to the modern day freerider. There is no doubt about it, as much as it’s been popularized in recent years, Chamonix is classic, and it’s a must visit.
Claim To Fame: The bottom of the earth, the seventh continent is the toughest one to access, but provides arguably the biggest reward once you get there. The wilderness experience of traveling and skiing in Antarctica is unmatched by any ski trip in the world.
Best Places To Go: Anywhere you see and set foot on, with skis, will be some of the most memorable turns you’ll ever make. However, if possible, there’s a reason the Lemaire Channel is known as “Kodak Alley”. It’s almost hard to ski in this area due to the sheer brilliance of your surroundings.
How To Get There: In years past this would have been the crux of a trip to Antarctica. While it’s technically still not easy to get to, all you really need to do is get a hold of Doug Stoup who runs Ice Axe Expeditions and you’ll be on your way.
Dirt Bagging It: The best advice I have is hearsay from travelers I met while trying to plot my own path for getting to the frozen continent. Apparently, you need to find yourself in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, at the tip of Argentina. Most Antarctic trips start from there and as legend goes, if you find a welcoming cruise ship heading across the infamous Drake Passage, often times they need an extra hand or two performing various cruise ship duties en route. Your reward will be a ticket to Antarctica, and all you need to figure out from there is how to get them to let you go for a ski.
High End: Every Ice Axe trip is designed to be five stars in every possible way. The accommodation, food, people, and staff on our Antarctic trip in 2009 was almost as good as the wildlife, scenery, and skiing. There’s really just no other way to do it.
Food/Drink: Nothing beats a glass of quality scotch chilled by a chuck of glacial Antarctic ice.
Personal Choice: Ice Axe Expeditions. Since I’ve only had one experience down there, and I’m pretty certain I can say with almost absolute certainty that just about every member of the 2009 Ice Axe trip to Antarctica feels the same way, Ice Axe is your ticket to Antarctica. Every single penny you spend will pay itself back in experience 100 fold by the time you return.
4. The Himalaya
Claim To Fame: The diversity in cultures, the diversity in landscapes, and the plain fact that this mountain range holds the highest peaks known to humans. If you’re a snowrider, enjoy travelling, and love the mountains, linking turns somewhere in the Himalaya is a right of passage.
Best Places To Go: India, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan (anywhere in the range)
How To Get There: Each region framed by the Himalaya is unique, and likewise getting to where you are going can be the biggest adventure of your whole trip. Detailed research on where you plan to go is a must with any trip to the highest mountain range on earth. Minimally, to get there you’re going to need to book a flight, and then figure out how to reach your final destination whether by bus, private car, or another flight.
Dirt Bagging It: The Kullu Valley has remained off the radar from most major international ski outlets and I can’t understand why. Also know as “The Valley of The Gods” here you’ll find some of the more adventurous, unexplored, mind-blowing ski mountaineering imaginable, and you can do it relatively cheap. Fly to Delhi, survive the bus ride to Manali, and live richly for as long as you want with affordable lodging and food, with 20,000-foot peaks and the Great Himalaya making up your backdrop.
High End: Go for the big one and sign up for an expedition to Mt. Everest. Skiing might be another story, but if you have enough cash, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to do whatever you want.
Food/Drink: In India, there’s nothing like a traditional curry dish paired with some authentic chai tea.
Personal Choice: The Kullu Valley. People have been ticking off descents in the region for some time now, but there is enough big, rowdy, unskied lines in this zone to keep you busy for several lifetimes. However, on the lower flanks, there are opportunities to ski reasonably mellow chutes, bowl, and ramps with a backdrop unlike any other mountain range in the world.
5. The American West
Claim To Fame: The diverse mountain ranges, ski culture, and snow consistency make the American West one of the most classic regions to live and visit in the world.
Best Places To Go: The Cascades, Sierra Nevada, The Rocky Mountains
How To Get There: Like a lot of these places it all depends on where you want to go. There are a few centers that must be hit like Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole, and the Wasatch, but places like Mt. Baker, Bridger Bowl, and the San Juan’s shouldn’t be overlooked either. Either pick one and commit, or do it up right, rent a worthy vehicle, and road trip while chasing an epic storm.
Dirt Bagging It: For the most salient experience commit to one season at the locale that speaks to you the most. Figure out how to make ends meet as simply as possible (work, rent, transportation, gear, ski pass, relationships) and ski as much as you can. After a taste of living the dream you’ll either head out of town for the money like most, or revel in the high quality of life you’ve found, make it work, and never look back.
High End: As long as you have the cash spending it in any one of the major ski centers of the American West is no trouble at all. Lift tickets, high end restaurants, luxury lodging, top of the line equipment, private jet transportation between regions-if you can think it, someone out there will make it happen for the right price.
Food/Drink: It’s tough to beat a powder day followed by some locally brewed beer, sushi, and a hot tub session.
Personal Choice: The Sierra Nevada. The people, snowpack, snow quality, length in season, unequivocal beauty of Lake Tahoe and the grandeur of the Eastern Sierra is something that elevates the “Range of Light” above the rest. Every time I leave to travel, I come home with a sincere awe and thanks that this is my backyard, and that the skiing really is THAT GOOD.
Photo Credit: panoramio
6. Western Canada
Claim To Fame: Cold smoke, classic mountain characters, and infinite opportunities to log some of the best vertical of your life.
Best Places To Go: Whistler-Blackcomb, Pemberton, Red Mountain, Nelson, Fernie, Revelstoke, Roger’s Pass, Golden, Banff/Jasper
How To Get There: If you’re not driving, fly into Vancouver for easy access to the Coast Range to the west, or Calgary for reasonable access to the interior.
Dirt Bagging It: The hostel at Whistler is cozy and some of the cheaper digs you’ll find in the area, but then you’ll miss out on the magic of the interior. For a trip to the interior an RV or something similar that you can travel in, and live out of is highly recommended.
High End: There are more heli-ski and cat-skiing operations in Western Canada than anywhere else in the world. If you want to drop some money really fast with style, this is the best way to do it.
Food/Drink: If you like good beer, try something else when you’re in Canada. If you like cold, watery beer, which always has its time and place, you’ll be stoked to crack a few after a long day out in the snow.
Personal Choice: This is a really tough call as there are easily several places that are the definition of world class and why Western Canada is a must on this list. However, a purer Canadian experience than Nelson is tough to find.
Claim To Fame: The best available snow in the Southern Hemisphere identified by one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world, the Andes.
Best Places To Go: Portillo, Las Lenas, Bariloche
How To Get There: Fly into Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Dirt Bagging It: Once you make it there the buses are pretty cheap, reliable, and comfortable. They’re a good way to see both countries and visit a bunch of places. I didn’t get hassled once for skinning up any resort, and it’s never too hard to play the clipping a ticket card in the afternoon if you want to access lifts and don’t have much cash. Just remember to practice some Spanish first.
High End: Go big with the higher end accommodations and options available in Portillo. They cater to this sort of thing. You can definitely have your share of massages, gourmet meals, and entertainment with a side of skiing if you so choose.
Food/Drink: Argentinian beef is famous, as are the pisco sours in Chile. Take caution on the piscos, they really pack a punch!
Personal Choice: Las Lenas. Skiing the Super C Couloir, with help from a lift (a shady ride that’s worth the experience), with Cerro Aconcagua (the highest peak outside of the Himalaya) behind you while hiking up is worth the trip to Portillo and Chile for sure. However, with the Marte lift running, and the accessible backcountry that comes with it, Las Lenas is unbeatable.