Off-piste or on, Asia’s powder can rival anything found in the West, and they come with adventure, exotic locations, and luxury. There’s nowhere quite like Asia to jump in and hit the slopes, GoPro at the ready.
Whether it’s up and down a volcano in Russia or luxury in Gulmarg, the diversity of landscapes in Asia mean that skiers are never far from that next great GoPro moment.
Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir
The Himalayas are known for extremity. They draw thousands of aspirational hikers, climbers, and spiritual trekkers each year, but expert adventurers can find high-altitude ski slopes on the western side of the Pir Panjal range.
The Gulmarg hill station in Jammu and Kashmir has some of the most intense slack-country and backcountry ski slopes in the world. Travel to the area has been limited by political turmoil, so even accessing the slopes can be a challenge, making it something of a forbidden valley paradise.
Skiers who make it through the border gear up for the frigid Himalayan peaks with hot Kahwa, a Kashmiri saffron tea with cardamom and almonds, at the The Khyber Himalayan Resort’s Tea Lounge and Terrace. The Khyber offers a world-class base from which to start the ascent, with plushly designed interiors, expansive wooden decks, and four-star cuisine. The world’s third-highest lift takes skiers first to the mid-station, then to the slopes.
At the top of the 13,000-foot-high Apharwat Peak, visitors earn a panoramic view of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest peak, as well as the Harmukh mountains before beginning their descent. Most of the available ski terrain is off-piste, with a procession of ridges for jumping and catching midair shots.
Russia’s wild, easternmost terrains are rife with volcanic ski action that draws adventurers by the thousands. This peninsula of fire and ice remains largely untapped by foreign travelers.
The region’s volcanoes provide challenging ski slopes from November to July. Kamchatka’s rugged Siberian peaks are home to 160 dormant volcanoes and 29 active ones, which makes this area one of the most volcanically active landmasses on Earth. The snow-topped Kambalny volcano recently became active after 250 years, spewing plumes of ash 60 miles long.
Kamchatka is known for its heli-skiing and heli-boarding, where skiers can be dropped by helicopter to any off-piste point and left to find their own way down. Those dropped on the Mutnovsky Volcano will pass a glacier and several geysers on their way into the crater. The Bakening Volcano run leads directly to thermal springs.
Unlike Kamchatka, Niseko is Japan’s most well-known and populated ski resort, drawing many global visitors (especially Australians) each year. This popularity means the resorts are easily accessible – including the five-star Kiroro.
Known for great powder, trail skiing, and long, well-groomed cruiser slopes, this “powder paradise” on the northernmost island of Hokkaido is appropriately zen, but powder hounds are free to go off-piste into wilder terrain or try a range of more challenging pistes on the Orange, Red, or Black levels. Slack-country, alpine, and tree skiing are all accessible from November to early May, with night skiing available for most of December. All pistes converge at the same meeting point, so groups of travelers can ski different slopes and rejoin at the bottom.
Serenity flows in the resorts’ hot mineral springs, where skiers can soak in crystalline waters after long, snow-filled days, and eat freshly imported fish from nearby villages. This is winter in Japan at its finest, filled with contemplative tastes and sensations and set against the backdrop of Mount Yotei.
Travelers can find a smaller, lesser-known ski destination in the ancient lands of Kyrgyzstan along the old Silk Road. In the town of Karakol – known as the adventure capital of the country, formerly Przhevalsk – 12 miles of slopes await, with heli-skiing available for off-piste adventures.
Karakol lies in the Issyk-Kul region, surrounding a neon blue lake in the hard-cut Tian Shan mountains. The nomadic people of present-day Kyrgyzstan tend herds of grazing animals in this region in the warmer months. The slopes themselves are covered with snow year-round, with the highest ski-able peak sitting at 10,000 feet. Gradients range from seven to 53 degrees, and a majority of the pistes run through long stretches of pine trees.
Since gaining independence in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan’s tourism activities are still being developed. As a relatively unknown country when it comes to mass travel, Kyrgyzstan offers largely untapped ski runs and rugged conditions in a setting that few can claim to have conquered.
PyeongChang, South Korea
Now, PyeongChang isn’t the peak of powder perfection or the mouth of a volcano, but it is the future site of the Winter Olympics in 2018. But, unless you’re competing, you’ll want to know more about the resorts in the area until Alpensia (the Winter Olympic Park) is a little more accessible.
You’ve got the Phoenix Park, the Jeongseon Alpine Center, and, of course, YongPyong Resort. A Remote Lands favorite, YongPyong has the highest ski slope in PyongChang county, and the accommodations aren’t too shabby either. YongPyong also features a real-time webcam, so skiers can check on how the powder is doing before they arrive.