10 Hidden Gems for Ski Enthusiasts

Two men skiing on top of a mountain

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Even people who have never hit the slopes are familiar with the names of the world's most famous ski destinations: Vail, Aspen, Tahoe, the Swiss Alps, Val d'Isere. These places are popular for a reason—they have ideal alpine conditions and a wide variety of runs.

But what about the lesser-known slopes? For some, any ski area east of the Colorado Rockies is considered off the beaten path. But there are places that people don't often associate with snow, let alone skiing, where it is possible to swoosh down uncrowded slopes for at least a couple months of the year. The beauty of many of these unexpected ski havens is they are located in places where there are many other attractions as well.

Want to enjoy the feeling of adventure that comes along with strapping on skis or a snowboard in someplace that few people know about? Try these little-known ski havens.

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Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii

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At nearly 14,000 feet, this Hawaiian peak occasionally gets sizable snowfalls, which attract die-hard skiers and snowboarders. With no resort, no lifts, and no groomers, this is hardly a place for novices or people who want their ski vacations to include a ski-in-ski-out condo and an evening soak in a Jacuzzi. However, renting a truck and using it as a stand-in for a lift on Mauna Kea can lead to hours of great back-country skiing.

Flakes can fly here at almost any time of year, but measurable snows on Mauna Kea generally occur between December and February. And what better way to spend your apres-ski session than at sea level on a tropical Big Island beach with a cocktail in your hand?

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Atlas Mountains, Morocco

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Morocco's Atlas Mountains sit at the edge of the Sahara Desert, where they rise to more than 13,000 feet above sea level. The modest Atlas ski area of Mischliffen is within day-trip-distance of the popular tourist city of Fez. With a few skiable slopes and some basic facilities, it is certainly not the Swiss Alps, but skiers here can expect a complete lack of crowds and some amazingly unique alpine scenery.

Oukaimeden, near Marrakech, is another option. This resort has a decent infrastructure, with a couple of chair lifts and a handful of hotels. In addition to nearly 12 miles of runs, Oukaimeden has plenty of off-piste opportunities. Ski season in the High Atlas is at its peak in January and early February.

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Ski Dubai

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When you first hear about a ski resort in Dubai, you might think that it has something to do with strapping on a snowboard and riding down the fine sands of the Arabian Peninsula's trademark dunes. Ski Dubai, however, is an indoor snow-ski destination with five runs and a full menu of other snow-based activities.

Real snow is made year-round at Ski Dubai, so skiers will find consistent conditions 365 days per year, even though this place lacks mountain scenery and the runs are not long enough for true alpine enthusiasts. An adjacent climbing wall and water park make it possible to have a complete adventure vacation without having to once head out into the hot Arabian sun.

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Greece

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Known for its olive groves, ouzo, ancient ruins and sunny idyllic islands, Greece is not on the radar for most skiers. However, the country actually has some of the best slopes east of Italy. The resort area at Parnassos is a favorite amongst locals, who come here to ski on slopes that sit at around 5,000 feet above sea level. Because of the altitude, the ski season can last through March here.

The pine-covered slopes and the views of the Gulf of Corinth far below make this one of the most atmospheric places to take to the slopes. With over a dozen runs and lifts, Parnassos is a small resort by Western European standards. Low prices, an uncrowded environment and easy access to the other attractions that make Greece such as amazing place to visit certainly make it a viable itinerary addition for skiers on a swing through Europe.

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Lesotho

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Lesotho is a tiny African kingdom that is completely surrounded by South Africa. A mountainous nation, some of its highest peaks see snows during the Southern Hemisphere's winter (from June until about September).

The Afriski Resort is the only true ski area in Lesotho. It uses snow-making machines when there is not enough snow on the slopes. However, at 9,000 feet, it certainly has enough altitude to retain the snow-cover that it receives during the winter.

Despite its growing popularity, Afriski remains relatively uncrowded. Lesotho has a remote feel, as well as the kind of frontier vibe that adventure seekers will surely appreciate.

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Iran

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This country is not the first place that people associate with skiing, but the mountainous northern regions of this Asian nation are filled with possibilities for skiers. Though the infrastructure of Iranian resorts are not quite at European standards, they are certainly useable, with places like Shemshak offering well-groomed slopes and plenty of chances to go off-piste and ski through fresh powder.

In fact, since local skiers rarely venture off the groomed runs, this is one of the best places for experienced skiers to find un-skied fresh powder. The resort at Dizin, also located in the northern section of Iran, is a more mainstream and slightly more-crowded option.

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Monterreal, Mexico

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This small ski resort in Mexico's Coahuila state has good conditions with natural snow falling regularly in the middle of winter (December and January). About 90 minutes from the city of Monterrey, it is a modest destination by North American standards. However, the onsite cabins and the amazing views of the surrounding Sierra Madre Oriental mountains, known for their scenic pine and oak forests, make Monterreal a good option for people seeking a mountain adventure that isn't limited to skiing.

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Australia

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Australia is known for its deserts and tropical forests. But Victoria and New South Wales are home to several large ski destinations. The Snowy Mountains of NSW feature resorts like Thredbo, which boasts the longest runs in Australia. Victoria's Falls Creek is another popular and easily accessible resort that is open during the colder months of the year (from June through September).

Despite Australia's reputation as a warm continent, Falls Creek sees more than 10 feet of snow annually. There are also backcountry skiing opportunities in the Snowy Mountains and in the alps of Tasmania.

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India

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India might seem like a logical place for skiing. Despite being known as a warm weather destination, this large South Asian nation features the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range in its northernmost states.

Despite lacking the infrastructure that makes skiing holidays convenient, the tall peaks in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir (pictured) and Uttarakhand are attractive because the altitude makes very long runs possible. The Solang Valley is one of the most popular ski areas in the country, while Uttarakhand's Auli has a more resort-like feel.

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The Dunes of Namibia

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Skiing does not have to mean donning snow gear or waiting for fresh powder to fall. Namibia, a desert country in Southern Africa, has some of the world's best dune skiing. Skiers and snowboarders strap on specially prepared equipment and ride down these sandy slopes at speeds that are not much lower than they would be on a snow-covered run.

Local dune-skiers have perfected the use of waxes and the positioning of bindings for maximum control and speed on the sand. A few local guides have even positioned their runs so that any tracks made by visiting sand skiers are covered over naturally when the winds blow.