Winter vacations somehow seem more urgent than summer ones, coming as they do with the holidays to rescue us from the drudgery of work, school, darkness and cold. They fall into two basic categories: beach getaways or winter adventures, both of which serve to warm us up and bring us closer to the sun. Whether they involve splashing in the surf or schussing down a slope, investigating ancient ruins or visiting modern museums, these breaks offer relaxation, renewal and revelation just when we need it the most.
Of all winter holidaymakers, few go to greater lengths to experience the rush of discovery than extreme skiers. They might battle treacherous mountain passes to be the first to ski the 4,300-meter Mount Phangram in northern Myanmar. Or, hearing of heavy snow atop a Hawaiian volcano, they hitch a ride up with scientists just so they can slide down. Or maybe they travel thousands of miles to Bolivia's 5,395-meter Chacaltaya mountain, or Tanzania's Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters), to ride snow that is increasingly patchy. But even as bottom snow levels creep up mountains, plenty of remote and unexpected ski spots remain available to skiers in search of the slope less traveled.
Morocco: Getting Up the Mountain
Oukaimeden is North Africa's largest ski station, home to the continent's highest lift. It may be just 74km from temperate Marrakech, but it is perched in the Atlas Mountains where peaks rise to 4,166 meters. Intrepid skiers can admire the meandering rock-laden mountain range while tackling the 20 kilometers of ski runs. Despite plans to complete a massive overhaul of Oukaimeden village, it is recommended that skiers bring their own food. On the plus side, if the lifts don't get you where you want to ski, it is possible to hire a transport donkey. (Skiing from mid-January through mid-February.)
Lebanon: Escape the Strife
Less than two hours' drive north of Beirut, skiers can relish some of the Middle East's best skiing. The Cedars Ski Resort—which is largely bereft of trees, let alone cedars—offers off-piste skiing and high-altitude downhill runs. This season telescopes perched on a terrace atop one gondola will provide a spectacular view of Cyprus from 2,870 meters up. Those tired of skiing can enjoy a taster's trek through the wine country in the Bekaa Valley and the Mount Lebanon area, or visit the Maronite monasteries and churches in the Qadisha Valley. (Skiing from December to April.)
Cyprus: Mediterranean Skiing
The Mediterranean's third-largest island may be famous for beach parties and decades of paralyzing political division between the north and south, but it has been an island ski center for more than half a century. Despite Cyprus's location, mountain weather can dip below minus 5 Celsius. The Troodos Ski Resort (on Mount Olympus) features four lifts. Tourists can ski in the morning, then spend the afternoon swimming in the blue waters of the Mediterranean. (Skiing from January to March.)
Armenia: At the Crossroads
A warm, generous country cursed by geography, Armenia isn't exactly the sort of place you expect to find snowy moguls. And yet in Tsaghkadzor ("Canyon of flowers" in Armenian), the nation's only ski resort, skiers can venture down the mountain while admiring beautiful Lake Sevan. Tsaghkadzor is surrounded by some of Armenia's most beautiful topography, with slopes rising up to 2,820 meters. (Skiing from December to April.)
Iran: A Ski Revolution
There is no shortage of skiable mountains within easy reach of Tehran. Of the more than one dozen ski centers in the country, Dizin, in the Alborz Mountains, is thought to be the best, with long slopes, excellent facilities and a season that lasts into May. Note: The sexes are required to ride the ski lift separately, but women can replace their headscarves with normal skiwear. (Skiing from December to May.)
China: The Next Frontier
The country's national ski association predicts that 10 million Chinese will ski by 2010. In the northern mountain ranges, a slew of winter resorts are springing up, and older ones are being brought into the 21st century. The Ping Tian Ski Resort, which is slated for a staggered opening beginning in November, is angling to become China's premier ski locale with western-quality slopes and infrastructure. American designers have shaped an array of runs on mountains with vertical drops reaching 1,000 meters. Until it is complete, China's best skiers can be found in the Heilongjiang province's Yabuli Skiing Field, with its nine lifts and 11 trails. (Skiing from November to April.)
Argentina: Slopes at the Bottom of the World
Near Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, the ski station of Cerro Castor is the southernmost ski resort on earth—perfect for snow lovers who want to ski off season. There are 19 runs over 20 kilometers at remarkably low elevations (between 195 and 1,057 meters), thanks to steady cold temperatures. Ski trails wind through lenga forests beneath a visual paradise in hues of white. Beyond the slopes, there is the luxuriant five-star Finisterris Lodge Relax & Spa, offering stylish two-story cabins with private decks and spas overlooking the virgin forests of southern Patagonia. (Skiing from July to October.)