Even in an age of hyper connectivity, the world still holds untracked ranges—if you know where to look. The Exploration Issue presents far-flung locales that boast unique cultures and untouched peaks for those willing to make the journey. Spain’s Pyrenees Mountains, an often-overlooked range, fosters independent spirits, steep, lines and remote traverses. Then, a quiet valley in Italy’s northern Piemonte region cracks the code of crowd control, and ski mountaineer Jan Reynolds travels to the Pirin and Rila Mountains of Bulgaria to explore knife-edged no-fall zones and the welcoming communities far below.
On the Cover: “[I took this photo] just moments before the clouds engulfed us, parting temporarily to allow in the sun and afford us beautiful views of Austnesfjorden below,” photographer Ming Poon says of the weather window that provided the opportunity to capture skier Christina Lustenberger arcing a turn high above the Norwegian fjord below. The duo had traveled to Norway’s Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle, to stay at Lofoten Ski Lodge and explore ski haunts and open vistas like this one. [Photo] Ming Poon
THE EXPLORATION ISSUE
SLOW AND LOOSE
Serving as a wall that separates the arid, northern reaches of Europe's Iberian Peninsula from the south of France, the Pyrenees Mountains stretch for 270 miles, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and running nearly 80 miles deep at their widest. The range, which offers a secluded and untrammeled alternative to the nearby Alps, thrives on its deep-seated sense of independence that's been cultivated for generations. Situated within a region that prides itself on its relaxed and sovereign culture, the Pyrenees offer steep, unskied lines, glaciers and insights into a fiercely autonomous people.
THE QUIETEST VALLEY
In the late 1970s, while villages throughout the European Alps installed chairlifts and developed hotels to welcome tourists and boost their economies, a dead-end valley on the French/Italian border took a different tack. Today, Italy's Valle Maira stands still in time, with regulations that prohibit construction—whether of ski lifts or buildings—to forever preserve its rugged, mountainous character. But is such an approach truly sustainable given the modern realities of globalization? Brigid Mander traveled from her tourism-centric home in Jackson, Wyo. to western Italy to find out.
BACKTRACK: ALAGNA ALERT
PERSPECTIVE: CATCH THE BREAK
EDITOR'S NOTE: GROUNDED
Crowded parking lots, bumper-to-bumper skintracks and poor touring etiquette have one contributor asking: Is the backcountry overcrowded? Plus: A serendipitous return to Japan and revisiting the Adirondacks.
British Columbia's vast mountain wilderness offers ample space for the heli and cat ski industry. But shrinking populations of caribou, and their recent placement on the endangered species list, may dramatically affect this vital sector of the province's skiing economy.
WISDOM: PASSPORT, CHECK
Steve Banks talks tips for traveling internationally and why he loves guiding in the Land of the Rising Sun.
MOUNTAIN SKILLS: PICKING PARTNERS
MOUNTAIN ACCOUNT: REMOTE REGRETS
The performance-driven updates behind Dynafit's new TLT8, four boot liners that offer a customized fit and a new breed of sunglasses that goes big for the climb and descent.
In Bulgaria's Pirin and Rila Mountains, small communities, friendly strangers and celebratory cuisine—punctuated by many toasts of rakia—offer a welcome change of pace for one Vermont-based explorer.
HEARTH: LÅTATJÅKKO MOUNTAIN STATION, SWEDEN
A throwback debate, beyond powder shots and an ode to long-form.
LOCAL LEGEND: JEFF ENGERBRETSON
CELEBRATING 25 YEARS: 1994-1999
BIFF AMERICA: CORRUPTING MINDS, YOUNG AND OLD
For two and a half decades, Backcountry's kept a close pulse on skis, boots, bindings, splitboards and more.