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Ecuador, New Zealand, Peru and Morocco don’t immediately spring to mind when you think of top skiing destinations. But then you’re probably not Caroline Gleich, a professional skier who has a knack for climbing remote, high-altitude mountain peaks… and then skiing her way back down them.
The actual term is ‘ski mountaineering’, a form of extreme skiing that gives even the most animated adrenaline junkies a thrill. Caroline has been specialising in this type of skiing for three years, with a total of ten years experience as a sponsored professional athlete under her belt. Someone who, in her own words, “always craves the unknown,” her passion for exploration has taken her to some of the most unconventional ski slopes in the world. “At some of the places where I’ve gone to ski, no one knows about skiing at all,” she remarks.
While Caroline hasn’t yet conquered everywhere on her bucket list (she still has mountains left to ski in Tajikistan, Russia and Morocco) she’s certainly done her fair share of travelling. This year alone she has been to Italy, Slovenia, Peru, Canada, Oregon and Colorado.
“I just like the spirit of optimism,” says Caroline, adding: “Empowering yourself to be able to get up the mountain, looking up at the peaks around me – and not being limited to the ones which have chairlifts or helicopters to take me to the top.”
Her packing essentials include Patagonia layers, Goal Zero solar chargers for her camera – “I take a lot of pictures!” – and a scarf or sarong that can be used as a dress, towel or blanket, depending on the climate. Caroline says she’ll ski anywhere that has snow or mountains, preferring of-the-beaten-track locations where she can explore and immerse herself in local culture. With such an alternative take on a classic sport, Caroline was an obvious choice to compile a cool girl’s guide to skiing.
The best ski lodges or hotels
If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience with some great powder, then Caroline recommends checking out the island resorts in Hokkaido, Japan. But her all-time “amazing place every skier should visit” is Hotel Portillo in Chile. Located right on the border with Argentina, Hotel Portillo is tucked high in the Andes Mountains and offers stunning views. The lodge has yoga classes, a salon, a cinema, a pool overlooking a lake and a ski school, for all those beginners who aren’t quite ready to take on the massive peaks nearby.
Where to get the best food
While she was consistently impressed by the food in Ecuador, it was on Caroline’s recent trip to Banff in Canada that Block – a tapas bar-restaurant – made away with her heart. While you’re in the area, Caroline recommends contacting Valhalla Mountain Touring in British Columbia. The company will arrange for you to snowcat or helicopter into a luxury lodge hidden away in the Valhalla Mountains. A tour guide will take you hiking to your private hut before you ski back down through breathtaking scenery. Thanks to its remote location, the place remains largely untouched by human hands, allowing you to really make the most of pristine conditions.
An up-and-coming ski spot
Tucked away in northeast Italy’s Julian Alps, the Sella Nevea is right on the Italian-Slovenian border. With a reputation as a place for freestyle and backcountry skiers, Sella Nevea also offers opportunities for climbing, snowboarding, trekking and sledging on its miles of natural snow around Mount Canin. To make the most of your visit, Caroline recommends mountain guide Enrico Mosetti. “He’s the man,” she says. “He’ll show you some really cool terrain.”
A place to go back year after year
Caroline describes her home range in Wasatch, Utah as an “accessible place with lots to explore” and one of her all-time favourite places to ski. The range runs across the Utah-Idaho border and is renowned for its good conditions as well as world-class resorts. Want something a little more advanced? Check out Caroline’s other top pick, the Teton Range in Wyoming. She says the rugged alpine terrain is “inspiring” and recommends the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort near Teton Village for its beautiful scenery.
The best place for an adventurous skier
With “Himalayan in scale” mountains that tower almost 9,000ft into the air, Chamonix, France is a must for any skier looking for a challenge. Situated by the Aiguilles Rouges, Caroline recommends taking a cable car to the top and then climbing or skiing from there. Be warned, there’s a lot of glacial travel involved, so it’s best to use a guide unless you’re a particularly experienced mountaineer.
If you’re not too tired after a day of literally moving mountains, then it’s worth exploring Chamonix’s après-ski culture – including the area’s numerous fondue restaurants and its fun nightlife scene. Check out renowned hotspots Moo Bar and Elevation. If you want a place to dance, Caroline recommends Les Caves, one of the swankiest cocktail bars in town, known for its live music as well as its sushi restaurant upstairs.
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