Hitting the slopes this winter and getting bored of mainstream ski resorts? From hermit kingdom to active volcano sites, here are the 19 strangest places to ski
Have you considered skiing in Algeria, Pakistan or Iran? Didn’t think so. But perhaps you should – some of the most interesting slopes on the planet reside on Pacific islands, hermit kingdoms and active volcanoes typically avoided by mainstream skiers. Fair warning: you will be skiing among machine guns in a few of them.
1. Masikryong, North Korea
North Korea’s only luxury ski resort is a project by its leader Kim Jong-un who hopes to use it to increase foreign tourist numbers. Brave visitors to Masikryong will enjoy the 110km (70 miles) of powdery snow and deserted piste. After a day of skiing, guests can relax at its onsite 120-room hotel which includes a sauna, massage room, beauty parlour and an ice-skating rink. Bliss.
2. Mauna Kea, Hawaii
That’s right, you can ski in Hawaii. Mauna Kea – which translates as ‘white mountain’ – may not have lifts, trail maps or any ski resort facilities, but at nearly 4,270m (14,000ft) it does occasionally get sizeable snowfalls between December and February, making it ideal for hours of backcountry skiing. And where else can you have après -ski drinks on the beach? Life can’t get much better than this.
3. Bamiyan, Afghanistan
With no ski lifts or marked runs, it’s probably best you don’t tell your mum you’re going skiing in Bamiyan, in Central Afghanistan, about 180km (112 miles) west of the capital Kabul. Come to think of it, the Foreign Office might try to dissuade you as well. But with adventurous tours on offer, and the annual Afghan Ski Challenge enticing the competitive explorers, more people are flocking to the Afghani slopes. There is a small ski shop which you can rent your equipment, and yes, you have to trek up the slopes before experiencing any downhill thrills.
4. Malam Jabba, Pakistan
Blown up by the Taliban in 2006, Pakistan’s Malam Jabba ski resort in Swat Valley reopened in 2011 – and now it’s better than ever. Perched some 2,804m (9,200ft) up in the Karakoram mountain range, Malam Jabba is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and plans are afoot for a new hotel, cable car and pistes. The nearest airport is Saidu Sharif Airport which is 51km (32 miles) away. Just be prepared for an unorthodox après-ski experience – alcohol is a banned in Pakistan.
5. Dizin, Iran
While relations between Iran and the West begin to thaw, the same can’t be said for Iran’s ski slopes, which have seen record snowfall in recent years. That’s great news for skiers planning a trip to Dizin, which, at 2,650m (8,694ft), is the largest and most developed ski resort in Iran. Ideal for adventurous travellers, it’s only two hours’ drive from the capital, Tehran.
6. Chréa, Algeria
In its 1980s heyday, this resort in the Djurdjura Mountains attracted skiers from across Algeria. But when the Armed Islamic Group commandeered the slopes in 1992, that golden era came to a crashing end. Happily, the militants left in 2002 and since then skiers have tentatively returned to the pistes, which meander through gorgeous Alpine forests few would associate with Algeria at first glance.
7. Tiffindell, South Africa
In marvellous South Africa, it’s feasible to go on safari and ski all in one day, thanks to Tiffindell, the country’s only ski resort. Guaranteed 100 days of snow annually, Tiffindel is nestled some 2,720m (8,924ft) up Ben Macdui in the Eastern Cape. Après-ski comes courtesy of Ice Station 2720, the loftiest pub in South Africa.
8. Mt Hermon, Israel
Mt Hermon straddles one of the world’s most contested borders, with Israel on one side, and Syria and Lebanon on the other. But with 14 pistes including two black runs, as well as sledding and other wintery activities available, the resort is very popular with locals and offers some great skiing for all levels. The views at the top are pretty special too.
9. Oukaimden, Morocco
Think Morocco and what comes to mind? Marrakech’s sultry souks? Eassaouira’s windswept beaches? Oukaimden’s powdery pistes? Okay, probably not the latter, but despite being on the road less travelled, Oukaimden is in fact home to some serious slopes, which begin some 2,600m (8,500ft) up in the Atlas Mountains. Located 80km (50 miles) from Marrakesh, the resort has two ski lifts, ski rental facilities and a few hotels nearby.
10. Mt Etna, Sicily
The thought of skiing on an active volcano that billows smoke from its central crater on a weekly basis may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for thrill-seekers, sampling the powder at the Mt Etna Nicolosi resort is a must. With 4 lifts servicing 14 pistes and a 1.8km (1.1 miles) cross-country trail, this resort is suitable for skiers of all levels.
11. Afriski, Lesotho
Chances are you’ve probably never even heard of Lesotho. This tiny kingdom within the borders of South Africa is actually a great, little-known skiing spot from June to August. Located in the Maluti Mountains some 3,322m (10,900ft) above sea level, the sweeping African scenery alone makes a skiing trip there worth it. The resort is small but its remote feel and uncrowded slopes will appeal to adventure seekers. Did we mention it also has bumboarding & tubing alleys?
12. Ben Lomond, Tasmania, Australia
Forget sunshine and shrimps on the sizzler, Australia’s most southern state seduces with sparkling snows, thrill-seeking schussing and scenic summit runs. Its location in the southern hemisphere means the season starts in July and skims through until September, with snow cannons on standby should snowfall stutter. As part of Ben Lomond National Park, skiing Tasmania is more postcard pretty than off-piste powder.
13. Mzaar, Lebanon
Snow may not spring to mind when you think about the Middle East, but Lebanon actually has six ski resorts and most notably Mzaar Kfardebian. At the powder-perfect heights of 2,465m (8,087ft), it was the vision of Sheikh Salim that turned Mzaar into a modern mountainside mecca. With over 80km (50 miles) of groomed goodness to get through, the Alps will have to wait another season.
14. Troodos, Cyprus
Possibly your only opportunity to slide down Aphrodite and be dragged along by Zeus, the skiing at Troodos in Cyprus certainly runs with the mythology theme. In what is Europe’s most southerly ski resort, lifts and trails across Mt Olympus are named after Greek gods (think: Hermes and Hera), even if in reality, the snow reliability is a little less pious.
15. Gulmarg, India
If it’s adventure you’re after, then the Gulmarg ski area in Indian-administered Kashmir boasts some of the finest powder skiing in the world. The ungroomed Himalayan slopes do not have the same polish and infrastructure as most well-known resorts, but the wild, backcountry, off-piste skiing more than makes up for it. Best for experienced, advanced skiers and boarders.
16. Jahorina, Bosnia and Herzegovina
More than three decades have gone by since Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics, but the once preened pistes of Jahorina were destroyed during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Now rebuilt, it’s once again the prime destination for alpine skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing with 11 lifts and 25km (15 miles) of slopes. Stay on the marked runs though as mine clearing is still taking place off-piste.
17. Mt Olympus, Greece
Greece’s highest peak is known to most as the home of the Twelve Olympian Gods and the throne of Zeus himself, but Mt Olympus’s newest claim to fame is as the country’s most remote ski resort. Those intent on breaking new ground should trek to the Vryssopoules ski area (1,820m/5,970ft), operated by the Greek Hellenic Army, foreigners should get an approval from Special Forces Directorate of Hellenic Army General Staff first. For a more leisurely ski session with a similar sense of mythology, try the larger, more mainstream resort located on sacred Mt Parnassos.
18. Cerro Castor, Argentina
Cerro Castor, in the city of Ushuaia, is a long-term favourite of Argentine skiers and boasts the claim to fame of being the most southerly ski resort in the world. The year-round icy conditions mean the resort benefits from the longest ski season in South America, and it’s possible to ski at just 200m (660ft) above sea level. There are 12 lifts and over 30 ski tracks in the resort.
19. Union Glacier, Antarctica
There’s no ski resort in the world that can hold a candle to Union Glacier. Forget lifts, lines and lanes, this is authentic ski-touring, offering skiers the chance to traverse miles of rugged, isolated, snow-capped terrain. As this is a remote area, go with a tour company and be prepared to pay a substantial fee.
(This article was first published on 12-Nov-2014 and updated on 03-Dec-2017.)
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