Western Maine's backcountry
Western Maine's backcountry

Cold Snaps

From hot springs to mountain-town fiestas to one surprisingly easy island getaway, we've got you covered.

Western Maine's backcountry

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America’s most luxurious hut-to-hut ski route is not in the Rockies. Or the Sierra. It’s in … Maine. Yeah, you read that correctly. The nonprofit Maine Huts and Trails’ (mainehuts.org) new system of huts—three of 12 are finished—takes backcountry comfort to a new level. I skied the huts last winter, unsure what to expect—visions of lobster-themed decor came to mind. Then I glided on perfectly groomed cross-country trails between state-of-the-art, solar- and hydropowered full-service huts dropped 10 to 12 miles apart in the north woods. (The latest, the Grand Falls Hut, was completed in October.) The “huts” are more like lodges, housing 32 to 42 skiers in bunks and serving meals in a separate dining room. Hutkeepers (there are four at each lodge) shuttled my gear by snowmobile, so I could travel fast and light on cross-country skis, free of my heavy-duty boots and boards; dinner was pesto pasta and blueberry pie. Is this the future of backcountry skiing? Is it even backcountry skiing? Does it matter? I didn’t think so as I flew through the Bigelow Mountain Range and around the bright-white canvas of Flagstaff Lake, fortified by hot showers and pie. $65 per person per night, breakfast and dinner included; $80 for Saturday nights; multi-night packages start at $99.

Hoppy Trails

Santa Rosa, California

Russian River Brewing Co.

Russian River Brewing Co. Russian River Brewing Co.

You go to Sonoma County just for wine, right? Nope. Santa Rosa, the county seat, has some of the best beer (five award-winning breweries within a 35-mile radius) and mountain biking (some 40 miles of spectacular single- and doubletrack) on the West Coast. Set up base camp at the Hotel La Rose (doubles from $119; hotellarose.com), a few minutes’ walk from downtown, and rent a ride at NorCal Bike Sport ($75 per day; norcalcycling.com). Then set out on the 4.5-mile ride to the west side of Annadel State Park. Starting on the Canyon Trail, wind up and over the park on a 20-mile maze of singletrack trails and fire roads (maps are available from NorCal Bike Sport, but getting lost is fun, too). Back in Santa Rosa, quench your thirst with a Pliny the Elder Double IPA at the Russian River Brewing Co. (russianriverbrewing.com). For dinner, cruise to Zazu (zazurestaurant.com), which serves veggies grown on the farm next door. January is warm and wet here—which means rich green hills, 50-degree temps, and the occasional downpour (pack Gore-Tex). The trails should be fine unless there’s a huge rainstorm. In that case, head to nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve to hike amid the ferns under the cover of old-growth trees—or just wait out the rain at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (deep-tissue massage, $179; fairmont.com/sonoma).

Cat Trick

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Idaho

Ripping Schweitzer's South Bowl

Ripping Schweitzer's South Bowl Ripping Schweitzer's South Bowl

Propped at 6,400 feet, above Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille, this sleeper resort sits on the cusp of Idaho’s maritime weather systems and consistently produces some of the best snow in the country. And because there’s a heavy, stable snowpack, avalanche conditions rarely shut down the fun. This winter’s predicted La Niña cycle should only improve the effect: during the 2007–08 event, 325 inches fell, the most in a century. The best way to experience Schweitzer? Bring a crew: Selkirk Powder Company runs a ten-skier cat operation off the top of the Great Escape quad, offering access to an additional 3,000 acres of everything from novice slopes to old-growth spruce glades to the steep pillow lines that make the Selkirks famous ($350 per person per day or $2,000 total if you fill the cat; selkirkpowdercompany.com). Off the slopes, grab a beer and garlic fries in Sandpoint, at locals’ favorite Eichardt’s (208-263-4005). Then crash back up the hill at one of the roomy Big Timber condos ($800 per night—that’s $80 a head).

Sun Sports

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ojo Caliente

Ojo Caliente Ojo Caliente

When I leave Santa Fe this winter after eight and a half years, I won’t miss the phony feel-good spirituality, the Texans and their passion for driving slow in front of me, or being the only person in town who doesn’t telemark. Here’s what I will miss about the winters here: The clean, crisp air. The open spaces, where you can strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis and wander through aspen glades to above tree line. (Take the two-mile hike from Taos Ski Valley, 90 minutes north of Santa Fe, to your own private yurt, Bull of the Woods; a group of four to six can sleep comfortably for $125 total; southwestnordiccenter.com.) I’ll miss the views. (The 660-foot-high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge spreads across a plunging canyon on the rim road just north of Taos.) The stress-obliterating feeling of soaking in naturally superheated water as the steam rises around you. (The water at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa has a combination of minerals found nowhere else in the world; private pools, $40; ojospa.com). The spicy, gooey chiles rellenos (Tune-Up Café; tuneupcafe.com). And the ability to cap off a weekend with world-class comfort. (I’m not a splurger, but I’ll do it again at the two-year-old Encantado Resort & Spa, an Auberge property with an organic restaurant and an amazing spa; casitas from $280; encantadoresort.com.) For all those things, plus the smell of piñon smoke wafting through town, I’ll be back.

Bone Deep

Andros Island, Bahamas

Chasing bone off Andros
Chasing bone off Andros (Tom Montgomery/Aurora)

Andros is the largest of the Bahamian islands—at 2,300 square miles, it’s nearly four times the size of Oahu—but with just 7,600 locals, it’s also the wildest. Off the eastern shore sits the third-largest barrier reef on earth; on the west, world-class bonefishing flats. But here’s the thing: Andros is one of the most accessible islands in the Caribbean. After a three-hour flight from New York (or an hour from Miami) and a 15-minute puddle-jumper from Nassau on Flamingo Air (flamingoairbah.com), your feet will be dangling in blue water. Set up shop at Swain’s Cay Bonefish Resort, a new Bahamian-owned joint on the east coast. It has local fishing guides and kayaks and snorkel gear aplenty (packages from $300 per night for two; swainscayresort.com). Book Mangrove Villa 1—you can practically cast for bones from the patio. Then paddle among mangroves, snorkel with bottlenose dolphins on the Andros Barrier Reef, or take a fishing trip on the island’s west side with fourth-generation guide Ralph Moxey. No matter which adventure you choose, dinner is Swain’s Cay’s lobster-grouper-and-conch platter.

Lonesome Valley

Yosemite National Park, California

Ostrander Ski Hut, Yosemite
Ostrander Ski Hut, Yosemite (Jeffrey Rueppel)

There are two seasons in Yosemite. One is people season—82 percent of the park’s 3.7 million visitors arrive between April and October, bearing maps and cameras. In November, that changes. Roads through the high country close. Waterfalls slow to a trickle. Low clouds shroud the walls of El Capitan and Half Dome. Traffic is slim on the groomed nordic and snowshoe trails through the famous Mariposa Grove and on the marked ski-touring routes fingering off the 10.5-mile groomed road to Glacier Point (snowshoe, nordic, and telemark rentals available at Badger Pass Ski Area; from $23; yosemitepark.com). Reserving one of the 25 beds in the two-story, stone-and-timber Ostrander Ski Hut, set at the foot of a glacial cirque ten cross-country miles from the Badger Pass Ski Area, is never an issue on weekdays (from $32; yosemiteconservancy.org). If you’re going on a Friday, when Ostrander fills up, book at the Victorian-style Wawona Hotel, a short drive from the prime Glacier Point Road trailheads (doubles, $218; yosemitepark.com), or at the simple Yosemite Lodge at the Falls (doubles from $179; yosemitepark.com). From there it’s a 3.5-mile hike (bring good boots or snowshoes) to the top of spectacular Upper Yosemite Falls, where you probably won’t see any people, or a five-minute drive to the classic Ahwahnee Hotel, where the bartender makes a mean “Firefall”—hot chocolate crème with chile powder and tequila.

Outback Oasis

Summer Lake Hot Springs, Oregon

Summer Lake Hot Springs, Oregon
Summer Lake Hot Springs, Oregon (Tyler Roemer)

Once you drive east of Bend, you’re in what we Oregonians call the Outback: an immense desert that’s home to a half-dozen mountain ranges, surreal hot springs, towns named after salt flats, and little else. Set up shop at the Ranch House at the Summer Lake Hot Springs, two hours southeast of Bend (doubles, $150; summerlakehotsprings.com). By day, explore the surrounding landscape—Fort Rock, a 4,430-foot volcanic formation 70 miles north of the springs, makes for a great day trip. (Bring down: it probably won’t snow, but temps hover near freezing.) Then head for the Cowboy Dinner Tree, a woodstove-heated joint 30 minutes south of the Rock. Your meal options consist of a whole roast chicken or a 30-ounce steak ($24, prix fixe; reservations required; 541-576-2426). By night it’s all about the hot springs—mineral-fed artesian waters that the lodge has captured in a barn-covered pool and private rock tubs. Bring some Oregon pinot. And your favorite travel partner.

Frosty Oddities

'Tis the season for spam carving, ice fishing, and worshipping frozen corpses. Presenting winter's wildest festivals.

Frozen Dead Guy Days
In 1989, Norwegian Bredo Morstoel’s body was frozen at a cryonics lab in California, and his sarcophagus ended up propped in the shed of his grandson Trygve Bauge, in the mountain town of Nederland. The city caught wind, a legal battle ensued over the keeping of corpses within city limits, and Morstoel became the strangest of local icons. Now he’s the strangest of party inspirations. Since 2002, hordes of the absurdly costumed have raced coffins, thrown frozen fish, paraded around in hearses, and taken pilgrimages to see Bredo, who’s still on ice in that shed. nederlandchamber.org

Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza
The cannon sounds at noon, and contest fishing officially begins. More than 10,000 people will be huddled around twice as many holes in the ice, trying to land a prize walleye or pike. The top 150 fishermen end up with prizes ranging from new tackle to a new car. Onlookers sample fried cheese nuggets and catch football games in some of the swankier icehouses. icefishing.org

Snowdown is essentially a five-day-long theme party. In the past, Durango has been overrun with pirates, clowns, and flappers. This year it’ll be monsters. Official events—of which there are more than 80—include Spam carving and stuffing as many humans as possible into an outhouse. snowdown.org