As international skiers, my wife and I spend most of the year chasing the snow and are fortunate to visit some of the most beautiful and exciting skiing destinations in the world.
Skiing as a sport and as a holiday is becoming increasingly popular, which is great but with the rise in popularity comes a rise in price as the hotels and resorts take advantage of the increasing demand. Most people flock towards the well-known ski resorts... Bad Ragaz, Courcheval, La Plagne, Val Thorens... but they're really missing out, as some of the lesser known destinations have so much more to offer - especially if you're looking for something slightly more adventurous!
The best thing about cross-country skiing is that, unlike other skiiers, we're not confined to downhill skiing terrains. Instead, we ski across an enormous variety of terrains: through the mountain forests, uphill, downhill, across stunningly flat and spacious icy landscapes, rivers and more. There are so many terrains to explore, all with their own physical and mental challenges, different snow consistencies to navigate, rest points and adrenalin fueled moments... and, best of all, unlike the more commercial resorts, they're largely unaffected by mass tourism or man-made slopes so you can enjoy and explore nature in its purest, most unaffected form. That's something special.
Most people don't realise this. These places aren't always overtly promoted in holiday brochures but, during our travels with Team USA, we've been fortunate enough to try out hundreds of differerent locations. Here are 6 of my favourite places to ski:
1. DAVOS, SWITZERLAND. We spend a lot of time here. It’s great because it’s always sunny, the food is delicious and you can ski up big mountain passes. It’s a really fun place to train and, when you're relaxing, there are plenty of stunning hiking trails and lakes to explore, and delicious local food to enjoy, fresh from the region and surrounding mountains. The Swiss love winter- and ice-sports too so there's always an ice hockey match or something interesting going on.
2. PROSPECT MOUNTAIN, VERMONT. Vermont is home so I love skiing there. I can go skiing with friends I grew up with and there are so many great ski areas to explore. Most people don’t realize this but Vermont is scattered with lots of very cool, small ski areas. We’re really lucky. None of them are very big but there are lots of small cross-country ski areas and almost every town has one. It makes skiing accessible to everybody and the terrain has something for all abilities so it’s very cool to explore, especially for groups or families.
If you're there, don't forget to try some of the local maple syrup with fresh pancakes. It's a Vermont speciality and 100% the best thing you'll ever eat.
3. PLANICA, SLOVENIA is such a cool place to ski - whether you want to try downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping or watch races, there's somethign for everyone. It has some of the most dramatic mountains I’ve ever seen; very rocky with huge cliff faces and very dramatic peaks that stretch right out of the ground. I love it.
If you're there, try to catch a ski race or World Cup. It costs approx. €10 for adults and is free for children under 14 years old. A great day out.
4. SWEDEN. I like Sweden a lot... Stockholm, Ulricehamn, Falun, Östershund... there are so many places to visit. People are so friendly and skiing there is always a lot of fun – they just love it. We travel a lot and out of all the countries we’ve travelled to they’re definitely the friendliest people. They’re always willing to have you in their homes, open up their doors and go skiing with you. It’s a great atmosphere.
5. SJUSJØEN, NORWAY. One of my all time favourite places to ski. It’s just outside of Lillehammer - the home of cross-country skiing – and where it was more or less invented by the Vikings back in the day. Cross-country skiing is such a huge part of their ski culture and they hosted the 1994 Olympics so it’s a cool Olympic town. If you get a chance to visit, definitely go. The terrain is perfect, the environment is beautiful – very untouched and well looked after – and if you travel up into the mountains of Sjusjøen, there are 1000’s of kilometers of skiing to explore. Plus, it’s completely free to the public so you can just show up and ski. It shows you how much people love the outdoors there. A brilliant place.
There are a number of different trails you can follow, all with varying terrains ranging from suitable for families to challenging. There are a lot of advanced trails so it's a fantastic destination for the more experienced skiier but, if you're new to the area, it's always best to prepare and research your trail in advance. There are some great websites like [this] available to help so check them out.
Or, if you're feeling particularly adventurous...
6. TOBLACH & VAL DI FIEMME, ITALY. Some of the most challenging Nordic skiing terrain is in Italy, at the end of the Tour De Ski – it’s like the Tour De France for skiing. In one section, we race uphill on an alpine slope for 6km straight. It’s pretty difficult but if you're an experienced skier and up to the challenge, go for it! It's definitely worth the effort.
Andy Newell an American cross-country skier and active campaigner against climate change. Follow his journey to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics on Twitter.