Vail Mountain opened this past weekend to as much snow as they’ve had in a decade. With El Niño promising huge snowfall all over the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, that means this year could be blissful for winter sports enthusiasts.
It also means that Vail, Aspen, Whistler et al are going to be crushed.
Our recommendation: pass on the big-box ski areas and instead set your radar for a lesser-known backcountry destination. From a snowmobiling ranch to a hut-to-hut ski trip, here are four getaways that promise adrenaline, cozy digs and the kind of peace and quiet you won’t find at most name-worthy resort destinations.
Thousand Peaks, Utah and Alaska
The sport: Like motorcycles? Like jetskis? A snowmobile is both. On snow.
Where to go: Thousand Peaks is a private ranch in Utah that sits at a cross section of 11,000-foot mountains and gets dumped on regularly. They do two-hour trips that include picnics, a ride up groomed trails, and then a descent down through river valleys and powder-filled bowls. Looking for something more advanced? The Wilderness Collective has a five-day Alaska tour that spans 350 miles and includes views of Mt. McKenley and nights under the Northern Lights. Only six spots remain. Their videos look insane. And you’ll get one of your trip.
The sport: Snowshoeing is the opposite of snowmobiling. It’s a peaceful, arduous and rewarding activity that brings you to some serene locations (provided you’re nowhere near snowmobilers). Snowshoes have come a long way since the tennis racquets of yore, but they still fulfill the same basic function: distributing your weight over a large surface area so you don’t sink in deep snow.
Where to go: Technically you can do this wherever there’s snow and nature. But the solitude, stunning environs, multitude of trails and scarcity of beasts of prey (mountain lions) make the Adirondacks an ideal location. Stay at Elk Lodge, which has 12,000 acres of preserved wilderness, comfy cabins and tasty, home-cooked grub.
Methow Meadows, WA
The sport: Cross-country skiing is an intense workout. Plan to burn 650 calories an hour (cycling burns 550) as you move all of your limbs. But also plan to see stunning, pearl-white meadows in super remote locations: once you get the hang of it, you can get way out there. There’s a lot to consider in the gear department; REI has knowledgeable salespeople and stocks everything you need.
Where to go: Methow Meadows is a land preserve northeast of Seattle on the other side of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest with 120 miles of trails dedicated to cross-country skiing. They’ve got everything from beginner to advanced trails, and there are the modish Rolling Huts you can rent for glamping. Between the snow and isolation, you’re guaranteed incredible peace and quiet.
The sport: Hut-to-hut skiing is not for the faint of heart. You’ll need some survival skills, avalanche knowledge and the ability to ski backcountry while carrying a pack for 6-7 miles (roughly 6-7 hours) at elevations around 11,000 feet (gains of 1,500-2,000 feet).
Where to go: The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association in Colorado has 12 different huts and various routes for you to book. We recommend using one of the suggested guides on their site. But if you’re going sans guide, you’ll book your route and they’ll provide you with lock combinations for each hut.