Video: Surfing In Russia

Russia might be the last place you’d ever think to go surfing but surfers are nothing if not adventurous. In pursuit of the perfect wave, they are liable to go just about anywhere on the planet – from the frigid Arctic waters of Scandinavia to Pakistan’s perilous Makran Coast. So when they show up on the remote volcanic coasts of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, is anyone really that surprised?

These guys from SURFER Magazine are particularly dedicated to their favorite sport, crashing through isolated Siberian forest in a military-grade off-road truck to find unexplored shores. On the way they find enough hot springs, friendly locals, pristine rivers and wild forest to satisfy anybody’s adventure travel cravings, even if sweet shallow barrels don’t get you stoked.

Ski Town Holidays: Not Just For Skiers

dogsleddingIt sounds crazy, but not all ski-town tourists are there to downhill ski. In fact, many don’t even know how. I’ll also let you in on a local’s secret: not all permanent residents of ski towns know how to ski, and of those who do, many can’t even afford a season pass.

The fact is, there are now more options than ever for non-skiers and those on a tight budget to engage in other winter sports, if they’re not willing or able to hit the slopes. I know many couples that have differing ideas of a ski vacation: one loves alpine skiing, while the other is happier sitting by a fire drinking hot toddies or shopping. They make it work.

Regardless of your mutual or differing snow-centric passions, ski town holidays can work for everyone. Most resorts now have Nordic centers and outfitters that offer at least some combination of the below list, so there’s no excuse not to get out there this winter.

Nordic/cross-country skiing (free/cheap rentals!)
Snowshoeing (ditto)
Dog sledding (please do your research beforehand, to make sure the business has no animal welfare citings)
Cultural tours
Adaptive sports
Spas
Skjioring (when a skier is pulled by a dog or horse0
Ice-climbing
Hot springs
Sleigh rides
Horseback riding

[Photo credit: Flickr user US Embassy Sweden]

Winter riding at The Home Ranch, in Clark, Colorado (near Steamboat Springs)

Roadside America: Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley

If you were to ask most Americans if they’d heard of the Roaring Fork Valley, you’d get a blank stare. Mention Aspen, however, and the light goes on, regardless of their social or economic standing (blame reality TV, our cultural obsession with celebrity, and 1970s/Reagan-era excess).

Aspen may be the St. Moritz of the U.S., but its location at the upper (southeast) end of the western Colorado’s stunning Roaring Fork Valley is what makes it special. The 50-mile valley runs along the river of the same name (the Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers down-valley are tributaries that provide top-notch fly-fishing and paddling).

It’s a region of meadows, aspen groves and the soaring alpine peaks of the Elk Mountains, as well as stark red cliffs and pine forest. The Ute Indians inhabited the area before the mining boom of the late 19th century. Following the silver crash of 1803, coal mining drove the local economy, through the early 20th century. Today, the valley towns are largely comprised of refurbished original storefronts housing galleries, boutiques, cafes, bakeries, coffee houses and restaurants, but the remnants of ghost towns can be found throughout the valley.

While Aspen is an international destination, the down-valley former mining/ranching towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are more affordable, low-key options for lovers of outdoor adventure, solitude and a thriving local food scene. And just minutes from Aspen is the lovely, rural hamlet of Woody Creek, home of Hunter S. Thompson in his final years, and a favorite spot for Aspenites to engage in outdoor recreation due to its extensive trail system.While it’s true down-valley is blowing up, real estate-wise, and housing developments are popping up like toadstools in outer Carbondale and neighboring El Jebel (where the August opening of a Whole Foods had the valley in a divisive uproar), the region is still pristine with regard to commercial tourism and most of the ills of urban living. Ranching and farming are still the backbone of the valley economy, and Carbondale has become an epicenter of grassroot organizations dedicated to alternative energy, green living and the local food shed. Indeed, the entire region is very invested in sustainable, low-impact living, and that carries over to tourism.

Come for a visit if you’d like to avoid the exorbitant prices and scene that can make Aspen (a place I love, it bears mentioning) a bit of a bummer during high season. Let me be clear that down-valley accommodations aren’t cheap, but they’re affordable compared to the ski resorts, and provide a different kind of holiday, whether it’s self-catered, or designed for lots of snuggling on the couch in front of the fireplace.

This time of year, the aspens and meadows shimmer like gold, and the mountain peaks are dusted with snow. Starting next month, big-spending skiers will head up to Aspen, but valley locals are more likely to strap on their snowshoes or Nordic skis and avail themselves of the trails and famed 10th Mountain Division Hut system. Follow their lead, then end the day by unwinding in a nearby hot spring or preparing dinner, reading, and enjoying a regional craft beer or wine (the nearby Western Slope, just over the McClure Pass outside of Carbondale, leads to a number of wineries and tasting rooms, open in summer) before a cozy fire.

There’s no shortage B & B’s, inns, cabins, farm stays, and guest ranches in the region, and in summer, camping is also a popular pastime, as is kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, climbing, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking. The seasonal farmers markets in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale are full of handcrafted foods and beautiful produce from nearby farms. In winter, you’ll still find many menus in the area dominated by locally-grown and -made foods; check out Edible Aspen magazine’s website for more in the way of great local eats and brews.

Getting there
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70. It’s best to have a car for exploration if you’re staying in the valley, although there is a bus system.

[Flickr image via JimLeach89]

Exploring the must-see sites of Tohoku, Japan

tohoku tourism portal In the twentieth century, tourism was a major industry in Tohoku, Japan, due to its array of unique cultural offerings and beautiful landscape. However, on March 11, 2011, the region suffered much damage due to a devastating earthquake and tsunami. Now, a year later, the area is recovering nicely, and travelers will have no problem visiting the museums, parks, mountains, hot springs, and heritage sites of Tohoku.

So what exactly does Tohoku have to offer? For starters, it is an excellent place to learn about an untouched side of Japan. In fact, in the late 1800s, writer and naturalist Isabella Bird was so moved by the region’s natural beauty, she nicknamed it “Japan’s Garden of Eden.” Additionally, there is something for everyone. Adventure travelers will love trekking the Kitayamazaki Cliffs, exploring Rikuchu Kaigan National Park and spelunking in the Ryusendo Caves. If you’re looking for comfort, relax in one of the natural and curative hot springs. History buff? Museums, castles, sacred temples, and excavation sites abound.

To get a better idea of the beauty, culture, and history that Tohoku has to offer, check out the gallery below.

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10 best natural spas around the world

hot springs Who doesn’t love a great spa experience? While a traditional Swedish massage or hot stone treatment is always relaxing, why not try something different and 100% natural?

All over the world, there are regions featuring geothermal pools, hot springs, and water heated by volcanic activity that also contain healing and curative properties. And this isn’t something new; even the Incas and the Romans enjoyed taking a dip in these natural spas. Minerals in the water help to alleviate ailments and diseases like asthma, psoriasis, muscle pain, acne, arthritis, neuralgia, and more. And not only is it healthy, its relaxing too.

For a closer look at some of the world’s most amazing natural spas check out the gallery below.

[flickr photo via snowpeak]

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