Top 5 off-the-beaten-track mountain destinations for the winter

Winter mountain destinations: Norway

Winter is coming in the Northern Hemisphere and ―for outdoor lovers― it’s an exciting time of the year to enjoy all kind of activities: from skiing on unspoiled terrain to ice climbing on amazing frozen waterfalls. So whether you’re a seasoned skier or climber, or you are planning an active family trip at a snowy location, we at Explore-Share may have just what you’re looking for. There are many under-the-radar destinations offering unique experiences away from the crowds.

Feeling adventurous? Check out our picks for the best off-the-beaten-track mountain destinations for this winter and get inspired!

1. POLAND

A climber going up an icefall in the High Tatras. ©Miki Knizka

This central-Europe country has a lot to offer to those seeking beautiful landscapes and a rich culture. Heading to the south, the border with Slovakia is home to the Tatras Mountains, the highest range in the Carpathians. Zakopane, a town next to the ‘Tatras National Park’, makes an excellent starting point for winter activities and is often regarded as ‘the winter capital of Poland’. Here’s our selection for a winter trip to Poland:

Ski touring in the High Tatras. Explore the Tatras while staying at a different mountain hut every day. Valleys, steep ridges, high mountain passes and wonderful views will be part of the trip.

How long: 5 days. | Level: Intermediate. You need to have some previous technical knowledge and experience. | Best time to go: February – March.

Ice climbing course in the High Tatras. Frozen waterfalls and gullies are the attractive setting for this ice climbing trip, ideal for adrenaline seekers! A certified mountain guide will teach you how to use crampons and an ice axe and ensure you make your first climbs safely. 

How long: 1 or several days. | Level: Intermediate. Suitable for beginners, though having some rock climbing experience may help. | Best time to go: December to February.

2. BULGARIA

Snowshoeing in Bulgaria’s Rila Lakes. ©Lyuben Grancharov

This mountainous country to the east of the Balkan Peninsula boasts an incredible variety of natural beauties and is considered one of the cheapest destinations in Europe. Sofia ―Bulgaria’s capital city, at the foot of the Vitosha massif― is the best place to set out on short trips around the country. Snowshoeing trips and ski touring trips are great options for the winter!

Hut-to-hut ski tour in the northern Pirin Mountains. This section of the Pirin Mountains (a mountain range in the southwest of Bulgaria) is one of most remote and less-visited. Together with a mountain guide, you’ll get the chance of skiing a wide variety of terrain, from powder snow to slush. Plus, you’ll stay at different high-altitude mountain hut each night. Pure mountain enjoyment!

How long: 3 days. | Level: Intermediate. It’s not necessary to be a seasoned skier (the trip doesn’t entail technical difficulties), although you should have a good physical condition. | Best time to go: March – April.

Snowshoe tour in Rila Lakes. The Seven Rila Lakes are some of the most stunning landscapes in Bulgaria. In this area, you’ll also find the highest mountains in the country. Snowshoeing is a great way of exploring these glacial lakes (some of them frozen) and its surroundings from a unique perspective.

How long: 1 day. | Level: Easy. It’s accessible to almost everyone! | Best time to go: January to April.

3. SLOVENIA
The impressive Mlacca gorge in Triglav National Park, an ice climbing playground. ©Luka Strazar

This beautiful small country in Eastern Europe is a haven for those who enjoy the outdoors. On the border with Italy, the Julian Alps offer endless activities for mountain lovers. While many people travel to Slovenia during summer to enjoy hiking and climbing, winter is also a great time for a ski touring or ice climbing trip. The scenery changes dramatically and turns into a frozen paradise. Bled ―a picturesque mountain town― is the ideal starting point for trips around Triglav National Park, where you’ll find Slovenia’s highest and most iconic peak: Mount Triglav. Here are our favorite trips for this winter:

Ski touring traverse in Triglav National Park. If you want to explore Slovenia’s only protected area on skis, this trip is for you! This amazing traverse will take you across the Julian Alps, from the town of Bohinj to the village of Mojstrana. Is there anything better than discovering the best spots with a local mountain guide? Hurry up and start booking your next trip!  

How long: 4 days (there are options for 3-day or 5-day trips as well). | Level: Intermediate. | Best time to go: January to April.

Ice climbing course for beginners in Mlacca gorge. Slovenia’s frozen waterfalls are an incredible setting for an ice climbing adventure. Looking for an adrenaline-filled activity? Take this course for beginners, learn the basic techniques with a certified mountain guide and get started! Mlacca gorge is a 40-meter high icefall, inside Triglav National Park.

How long: 1 or several days. | Level: Intermediate. | Best time to go: December to February.

4. JAPAN (RISHIRI ISLAND, HOKKAIDO)
Backcountry skiing in Rishiri Island, a unique experience. ©Toshiya Watanabe

Traveling to Japan in winter means magical landscapes, less crowds and world-famous powder snow! Hokkaido ―Japan’s northernmost island― is known as one of the best ski destinations in the world. However, you can travel even a little further to the north and visit the amazing Rishiri island. This small island with a volcano at its center (Mount Rishiri) provides an authentic Japanese experience and can be the setting for fun winter activities like ski touring and snowshoeing. You can get there by plane from Sapporo or take a ferry from Wakkanai (north of Hokkaido).

Backcountry skiing in Rishiri. Picture yourself skiing down  from the summit of Mount Rishiri, with the sea at your feet, enjoying amazing powder snow and with the whole deserted mountain just for you. What more could you possibly ask for? Well, there’s something more: delicious Japanese cuisine and an onsen to relax after the ski trip! 

Need more inspiration? Read this article of a backcountry ski experience in Rishiri. 

How long: 1 or several days (there are options of 3, 4 and 5 days). | Level: Intermediate. | Best time to go: January to March.

Snowshoe trekking at the foot of Mount Rishiri. Explore the unspoiled forest at the base of Mount Rishiri while walking on snowshoes! This is an easy and fun way of enjoying this Japanese Island. It’s a great plan for families, as children from 6 years old are allowed to join.

How long: 1 day. | Level: Easy. You don’t need any technical skills. | Best time to go: December to April.

5. NORWAY
A group enjoys a ski touring trip in the Lofoten Islands. © Seth Northern Alpine Guides

Norway is the ultimate destination for an otherworldly winter adventure, with many exciting options from ski touring trips to ice climbing. Glaciers, fjords and jagged peaks compose the extreme landscape of this country on the west-coast of the Scandinavian peninsula.  During the winter season, days are shorter and darker. One the highlights of traveling to Norway at this time of the year is watching the famous northern lights (also known as Aurora Borealis) in the north of the country. Here are some trips to inspire you:

Ski touring trip in Lofoten. Lying in the north of the country, the Lofoten Islands are a wild destination of snowy peaks and deep fjords stretching into the waters of the Norwegian Sea. Ski touring from the top of the mountains down to the ocean is an amazing experience that you will never forget

How long: 7 days. | Level: Intermediate. From first timers to experienced skiers, the trip can be adapted to your skills. | Best time to go:  February to May.

Ice climbing and northern lights tour in the Lyngen Alps. As we said, winter is the best time to watch the stunning Aurora Borealis and the Lyngen Alps ―in the north of the country― are the perfect location to live this magical experience! But besides that, winter in Norway is also great for ice climbing, as there are many fascinating icefalls to discover. So what about combining these two things into one mind-blowing trip? That’s what this is about!

How long: 1 or several days. | Level: Intermediate. There are ice climbing routes for beginners and advanced climbers. In both cases, you need to be in good physical condition. | Best time to go:  November to March.

Bonus: Ski touring at night in Finnmark. Finnmark is the northernmost region of continental Europe. For this unique ski touring trip, you’ll be based in Alta, a town known as ‘the city of northern nights’. During winter, most of the day is framed by a blue light, turning everything into a surreal experience. You’ll be skiing under that special light and once it gets completely dark, we’ll wear some headlamps and keep enjoying! 

How long: 7 days. | Level: Sustained. You need to be able to walk between 4-5 hours per day and have an advanced ski level. | Best time to go:  December to April.

Close to the Arctic: night ski touring in Finnmark. ©Fred Buttard

Already planning your next winter trip? Check out all our programmes from certified mountain guides around the globe and make your choice!