After years mastering groomed trails, lift lines and overpriced hot chocolates, some people just need a change of pace when it comes to winter adventures. Whether it’s snowshoeing in Maine, scaling manmade Colorado glaciers or camping in a Californian desert — these destinations should be on every winter sportsman’s radar.
Sport/Activity: ice climbing
Location: 300 miles southwest of Denver, 70 miles north of Durango and 98 miles south of Grand Junction; the easiest way to get there is to fly into a nearby regional airports (Montrose, Telluride, Grand Junction or Durango) and rent a car
Why It’s Renowned: At Ouray Ice Park there are over 200 ice and mixed climbs within walking distance (less than a square mile) from town. “[It’s] the most accessible, fun and user-friendly place to get really good at vertical ice climbing”, according to champion ice climber Will Gadd, and it has become one of the world’s most renowned ice climbing destinations. The park is cultivated and nurtured by man: each night a gravity-fed plumbing system pours 150,000 gallons of water to re-ice the park, so each day you’ll be able to cut “fresh tracks.” Now nearing its 20th year of operation, the nonprofit park is free for all guests.
Season: from mid December through the first weeks of March
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Location: north of the mitten, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to some of the best snowmobiling in the country; for trails on Drummond Island, fly into Chippewa County International Airport
Why It’s Renowned: Michigan has over 6,500 miles of groomed interconnecting snowmobile trails. They range in difficulty, but cutting through beautiful national parks and over frozen lakes is an excellent way to explore this northern region.
Season: December 1st through the end of March
Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves, National Lakeshore Wisconsin
Sport/Activity: exploring Sea Caves
Location: on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in far Northwest Wisconsin; a mile hike across frozen Lake Superior is required
Why It’s Renowned: The Sea Caves have incredibly unique ice formations. They’re a beautiful sight — and a rare one: Lake Superior has to be confirmed safe to cross in order to access. Note: plan a post-cave beer spot, because tramping across a frozen lake is neither easy nor warm.
Season: starts when ice is safe enough to walk across; last day is March 16
Portneuf Mountain Range, Idaho
Sport/Activity: backcountry skiing
Location: remote parts of southeastern Idaho
Why It’s Renowned: The Portneuf Range Yurt System is a cluster of yurts, Mongolian dome structures with clear plastic skylights — perfect for viewing stars. An alternative to traditional tents, this yurt system places guests smack-dab in Idaho’s remote winter wilderness. The serene environment is ideal for relaxing, but it also provides some of the best open powder runs and untouched trails in the world, making it a backcountry and cross-country skiing paradise.
Season: Winter into Spring
Teton Pass, Wyoming
Sport/Activity: backcountry skiing
Location: about a 25 minute drive southwest of Jackson Hole on Wyoming Highway 22 or Idaho 33
Why It’s Renowned: For backcountry skiers, trails don’t exist. There are lines or routes. Teton Pass isn’t a resort, but the promise of powder almost all season long makes it a local hotspot. With numerous routes to take down — Glory Bowl, Avalanche Bowl and Unskiabowl are some favorites — it’s a touring skier’s paradise and a great way to experience the northern Rockies. Plus, travelers won’t be bound by the glitz and glamour of commercial ski resorts.
Season: Winter through Spring (check conditions beforehand)
Don’t let harsh conditions keep you inside. GORE-TEX® fabric is a standard in the outdoor industry for good reason: it’s durable, waterproof, windproof and yet still highly breathable, making it a must have for surviving Mother Nature’s worst. Suit up with the gear below to stay warm, dry and comfortable.
The Jacket: Arc’Teryx Alpha SV
This mountaineering-oriented shell is designed to withstand the harshest alpine environments while still maintaining breathability. The original design was released in 2008; the latest version has been completely engineered with N80p-X GORE-TEX Pro fabric, a waterproof and durable material that manages to be supple and quiet. $675
The Boot: Merrell Annex Mid GTX
Merrell’s casual hiker includes plenty of technical chops: a breathable, waterproof GORE-TEX lining and a Remember Me Foam footbed for comfort and protection from the elements. $170
The Gloves: Dakine Titan Glove
Dakine’s Titan boasts a removable waterproof GORE-TEX insert as well as other features like a rubbertec palm, an external stash and/or heat pack pocket, a nose-wipe thumb panel and a removable storm liner for use with touchscreen phones. $65
Maine, Grafton Notch
Location: about nineteen miles (or a 25-minute drive) north of Bethel, in western Maine
Why It’s Renowned: Grafton Notch State Park is an expansive 3,192 acres with numerous snowshoeing trails weaving throughout. The trails, which follow along Maine’s Appalachian Trail paths, are known for their excellent snow. Table Rock is the most popular path, boasting 4,180 feet of elevation and impressive scenic views of the park.
Season: December through March
Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Vermont
Sport/Activity: cross-country skiing
Location: Northern Vermont, about 28 miles southwest of Newport, VT or 40 miles north of Montpelier, VT
Why It’s Renowned: The Craftsbury Outdoor Center is a year-round outdoor athletic mecca. In the warmer months, they have running, hiking and sculling; when the snows roll in, they have a serpentine Nordic network of cross-country skiing trails that cover all difficulty levels. If you’re worried about snowfall, check ahead of time; they make their own snow.
Season: late November through March (Check snow report ahead of time)
Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir
Sport/Activity: ice fishing
Location: on the Missouri River, created by the Fort Peck Dam, the Reservoir is a massive 134 miles long and an overall 57,500 square miles in northwestern Montana; Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the entire Reservoir
Why It’s Renowned: The Reservoir plays host to a slew of ice fishing tournaments and derbies. Anglers aim to catch northern pike, paddlefish, chinook salmon, small mouth bass, sauger and huge lake trout.
Season: December through March (check ahead for conditions)
Sport/Activity: dog sledding
Location: Fairbanks, the third largest city in Alaska, is located in the state’s center
Why It’s Renowned: Alaska is home to the most prestigious dog sledding race in the world, the Iditarod. Stretching over 1,000 miles, the race starts in Anchorage (southeastern Alaska) and stretches across the state to Nome (western Alaska). Even though the race doesn’t cut through Fairbanks, there is no better way city to get yourself involved in the culture. Paws for Adventure is an outfit that offers whatever kind of experience you’re in for: half-hour, day and overnight tours. Additionally, there’s a Mushing School option in which those committed enough can learn to mush.
Season: as long as there’s snow on the ground, tours are a go, so late October to April is usually a good bet; if it gets too cold — say, -20 degrees — overnight tours aren’t recommended
Death Valley, California
Location: Death Valley National Park is just shy of a 300-mile drive northeast of Los Angeles in Southern California; the park is on the border of California and Nevada
Why It’s Renowned: Located in Eastern California’s Mojave Desert, the valley is the driest, hottest and lowest-elevated area in North America at 282 feet below sea level. While the summer months can be hellishly scalding, its winters are brisk, even mild, which is why winter campers flock to this hiker oasis with over 400 miles of backcountry dirt roads, which access over 3 million acres of wilderness, all open to camping. Some great campgrounds include Mesquite Springs, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs.
Season: year-round, although in the summer it’s probably the hottest place in America, North or South