Ski holidays often conjure images of sweater-clad families huddled around a roaring fire at an après-ski chalet in Whistler, British Columbia, or St. Moritz, Switzerland. A more extreme vision might include Olympic-athlete types racing down the gritty runs of Park City, Utah. While winter resort giants dominate the ski market, curiosity has led to the rise of lesser-known destinations, where guests can ski exotic landscapes and experience more than just the slopes.
Skiing for exploration and as transportation has been going on since prehistoric times; the first-known skis date back to between 8000 and 7000 B.C.E. Skiing for sport debuted on the world stage in the late 19th century, when Sondre Norheim of Norway—considered the father of modern skiing—introduced a model that would become the prototype for all ski production. Around the same time, fellow Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen published The First Crossing of Greenland (1890), which chronicled his ski expedition across southern Greenland. The success of the book became yet another impetus for Europeans to adopt the Scandinavian pastime.
While the modern sport may be steeped in Nordic tradition and made famous by North American and European ski towns, it remains a worldwide pastime—characterized by the human urge to explore. So instead of heading to Aspen (yet again) this season, experience the new world-class facilities in Sochi National Park, Russia, before the city hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics, or travel to the far reaches of Hokkaido, Japan, where cold Siberian winds create some of the world’s best snow. Or maybe a trip to the remote regions of Chile, where the Andes cast shadows from dramatic sunsets, will do the trick. Anywhere you choose, consider it a journey.