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10 Ski Tours That Will Blow Your Mind in the Best Way Possible

Hauteroute

Sure, we know there are probably more than ten, but we believe that you won’t be disappointed with this list of ski tours. We’ve compiled the tours (in no particular order) from our own wish lists, though we’re highlighting the areas with at least minimal infrastructure to support your trip. Ten ski expeditions to not see any evidence of humanity? That’s a noble, but entirely different list.

1. Japan: Hakkoda-san Range.

Why: Massive snowfall. If you haven’t caught the Japan skiing bug yet, what are you waiting for? The moisture-filled air from the South Pacific collides with Siberian cold fronts and results in over 550-inches of snow per year. Near the better-known Niseko resort area, Hakkoda-san is range comprised of eight mountains. There is a single gondola and guides are available, or you can slap on your skins and head out on your own. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $5.24

2. France/Switzerland:The Haute Route.

Why: It’s a classic for good reason. Bonus: wine and cheese. We could be contrarian and leave the Haute Route off the list, but that only serves to omit one of the most storied and gorgeous tours on the planet. Routes vary from primarily skiing to full-on winter mountaineering with mandatory roped climbs. So don’t mistake the popularity of this 6-8 day tour for ease or accessibility. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $6-7

3. Norway: Sognefjord Region.

Why: Because you’d live here if you could. The skiing history of Norway makes it a must for any skier anyway. For touring, the city of Sogndal is the epicenter of day-tripping at its finest. The town sits directly on the water of the fjord, yet you can still ski out your front door. A relatively stable snowpack and some of the highest peaks in Norway are right behind you. Enjoy. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $10.10

4. Romania: Bucegi Mountains.

Why: Options, options, options. Bonus: who doesn’t want to ski in Transylvania? In the Southern Carpathian mountains, butting against Transylvania, lies the Bucegi Range. From a touring perspective, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Once you reach the high plateau, you have a 360-degree choice of open mellow sweepers to steep adrenaline lines down. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $1.45

5. Chile: Volcano Touring the Andean Lake District of Southern Chile.

Why: Boatloads of snow on a “normal” year. Exquisite views. You know that feeling when you look into the distance and know that you need to ski a certain line or aspect? Now imagine if each of those lines was off the side of a free-standing, perfect triangle of a volcano pushing into sky. Scattered refugios and ample hostels make this an affordable region for travel, too. Best time of the year is typical mid-September to mid-October. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $2.22

6. New Zealand: Tour the “Other” Alps.

Why: Everyone familiar with the area insists the Southern Alps are one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. Traverse the heart of Middle Earth in a four-day trip across glaciers, mellow pistes and endless views. The New Zealand hut system is extensive, easy-to-use and highly affordable. So if planning isn’t your forte, this is a worthwhile spur-of-the-moment style tour. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $3.71

7. United States: Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Hut System.

Why: Steeped in history and with varying degrees of luxury, this system of 34 huts links 350-miles of backcountry terrain. Between Colorado snowpack being predictably unpredictable and the popularity of the huts, most people book a single hut for a few nights as opposed to touring from place to place. Either way, you’re promised a high likelihood of Colorado’s finest attributes: solitude, blue skies and deep snow. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $3.75

8. Canada: Helicopter-to-hut outside of Golden, British Columbia.

Why: A 15-minute helicopter ride delivers you deep in the mountains. From there on out, it’s all legs and lungs. Several outfits have similar operations, so choose your poison (aka terrain). Most of these set-ups require that you travel with a guide. We’ve had our eyes on Mistaya Lodge, after several friends have reported thigh deep conditions and a candy store level of terrain choices. Bonus: this is a perfect choice for groups of varying skill levels. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $4.43

9. Greenland: 16-hour ski days in Uummannaq.

Why: Skiing from peak to ocean over 500-km north of the Arctic Circle. March and April are the best months for skiing, and the daylight hours in April grow longer by over four minutes every 24-hour period. We’re also willing to bet you could go for months without crossing another ski track. If you can’t make it all the way to Uummannaq, the terrain outside of the capital, Nuuk, is packed with open fields and short, fun chutes with relatively stable snowpack. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): $10.94

10. Antarctica: Anywhere.

Why: Did you not see March of the Penguins?  With some 20,000 tourists visiting annually, Antarctica is hardly “the last frontier.” But there is still something so untamed, so dramatic and so darn cold about the notion of it. As far as we can tell, it’s near impossible to organize this trip without hiring some kind of permitted outfitter. Two words: worth it. Cost of après-tour beer (in USD): Considering you just paid five figures to get there, you better hope the beer is included with the boat.

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The Sustainability of Ski Resorts

Pure backcountry skiers need only look at their gear’s supply chain and their own tracks in the snow to see the environmental footprint of their fun. For those of us who enjoy the occasional chairlift ride and hot soup mid-mountain, the sustainability of skiing infrastructure becomes more complex.

Ski Area Management 101

Snowflake 1

Credit: Brenda Starr~’s Photostream (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brenda-starr/)

Most ski areas in the United States operate at least partially on land leased from the Federal government. Base areas will often be on privately owned land, thereby granting slightly more leniency with the management of that infrastructure. It’s fair to say that most Federal oversight focuses on safety and ski area interactions with Federal laws, such as the Endangered Species Act.

The bottom line, environmentally speaking, is that ski areas are pretty much just like any other corporation: they establish their own environmental ethics.

National Sustainable Slopes Initiative

Stepping in to facilitate an in-progress, industry-driven movement, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) – a trade association for ski area operators – collaborated on a “Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter” in 2000. Along with its solution-oriented principles, the charter doesn’t dance around the fact that “…ski areas have some unavoidable impacts.

Updated in 2005, the charter outlines broad philosophies and values. It defines industry-held principles to be used as guidelines for: ski area operations, planning, design, construction, water usage and quality, summertime activities, energy usage and conservation, waste management, fish and wildlife management, forest and wetlands management, air and visual qualities, related transportation, and education and outreach.

The charter even touches on climate change. In 2003, the NSAA partnered with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) for a “Keep Winter Cool” program. (Ed. Note: The program no longer exists in its original form.) The NSAA doesn’t mince words.

“Through this policy, we aim to raise awareness of the potential impacts of climate change on our weather-dependent business and the winter recreation experience; reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions; and encourage others to take action as well.”

It goes on to say that not only should ski areas operators voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they should also advocate for national reductions through legislative and regulatory means.

Ask Your Home Area

A list of “endorsing resorts” is on the last page of the online Charter. But to find out what is truly happening on the ground, as opposed to general principles, check out the website for your home area.

Take Aspen Skiing Company, for example. The tony resort may make the news for Charlie Sheen outbursts and other celebrity sightings, but of real interest is its longstanding environmental commitment. The organization has had a vice president of sustainability, Auden Schendler, for over 13 years.

Among the myriad awards and the simple steps like recycling efforts and retrofitting lighting systems, Aspen Skiing Company dives in head first on big projects, too. In 2012, the company earned its sixth Golden Eagle Award for ‘Overall Environmental Excellence.’

The award was earned in large part from a creative collaboration with unlikely suspects: coal and energy utilities. The three entities invested $5.5 million on a methane (a greenhouse gas) capture system at a nearby coal mine. The methane project eliminates the equivalent of three times the carbon pollution the ski resort would otherwise create each year in energy use. Additionally, the project generates carbon negative electricity equal to the amount of energy used by Aspen Skiing Company annually. This is expected to hold true for at least 15 more years. (This paragraph paraphrased from www.aspensnowmass.com/environment. Click through for more comprehensive info.)

What is your local ski area doing to mitigate its environmental impacts? Check into it, and do what you can to help.

Nikwax applauds all efforts – small and large. Sometimes the least recognized achievements have the greatest impact.