"The mountains are calling, and I must go." Celebrated mountaineer John Muir marveled at the secrets the mountains keep, and his words still resonate with modern travelers. From the Rockies to the Alps, by way of Japan, three local experts speak about their favorite summits.
Hameau Albert 1er, Chamonix, France
The Carrier family has been welcoming guests at Hameau Albert 1er for over a century—so there is no better place to experience the magic of Mont Blanc. Acclaimed guide Kim Bodin, a member of the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations and a resident of Chamonix for almost five decades, shares his perspective on the mountains and the famed Vallée Blanche.
"It's one of the most spectacular ski trips ever," Kim says of this bucket list off-piste adventure. "I've been skiing all over the world. Other places, you have to take a helicopter or walk for weeks. But this is the most accessible—just two cable cars." Yet, the effect of climate change cannot be ignored. "The usual now is that it's unusual,” he says. “[On La Vallée Blanche] the snow's good for a couple of days, then bad. It means the technical and physical abilities of the skier have to be better".
That also means the role of a guide has never been more important. "We've become teachers," Kim explains. "I'm communicating what, where and how things are happening on the mountain. With a guide, you will understand the mountain much faster." And his favorite thing about Chamonix? "The quiet season," he laughs. "When no one is here! Most lifts are closed, and it becomes wild again.” The Hameau Albert 1er team is, however, still around to guide guests through the Chamonix Valley, even in the quieter months.
© Matthieu Cellard
© Matthieu Cellard
The Little Nell, Aspen, United States
The Little Nell needs little introduction. A renowned jewel in Aspen's crown, the only ski-in/ski-out hotel in the city boasts priority gondola access with First Tracks before the mountain officially opens, to ski groomed corduroy slopes. Another benefit is The Little Nell's Friday Snowcat Powder Tour that takes guests on untracked terrain on the backside of Aspen Mountain. We spoke to Tessa Dawson, Ski Patrol Director for Aspen Mountain, to find out what to expect once you're up there.
"Altitude affects everyone differently, so give yourself time to acclimate. Stay hydrated, nourished, and dress for changing conditions. And don't forget the sunscreen! Be sure to check the Aspen app for the most up-to-date reports," she says, on the do's and don'ts of mountain life.
"This season, to hedge against future climate challenges, we're including north-facing acreage above 10,000 feet/3,000 meters." When the slopes are closed for off-season, her best hikes to get to know the mountain would "have to include the Government Trail, crossing both Buttermilk and Snowmass Mountain; the Nature Trail, with views over the Elk Mountains and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness; and The Hunter Creek Trail—one of the most beautiful spots for wildflowers."
The Little Nell's Friday Snowcat Powder Tour - © Scott Markewitz Photography
Tobira Onsen Myojinkan, Matsumoto, Japan
According to Feng Shui, any location surrounded by mountains on three sides and water to the east is a place of great healing. That criteria applies to Tobira Onsen Myojinkan. Ensconced by the Yatsugatake mountains, many believe gods dwell in these forests. Master of the Door, Takanori Sumiyoshi, reveals the secrets of the onsen's therapeutic powers.
Tobira Onsen Myojinkan is renowned for the Tachiyu method of bathing. "Though seated bathing is more common, the Tachiyu method allows increased blood circulation and flow without straining the body. This, combined with the surrounding sights and sounds of the mountains, increases immunity and feelings of euphoria," says Takanori. "Of our regular guests, several of whom have visited our ryokan over 100 times, some enter the standing bath at a particular hour, as it is said they can witness the Dragon God. I asked them, 'Can you see Ryujin-sama?'. The reply was that they could feel him."
"Traditionally, the whole village was like a family in rural Japan. Soaking in these springs was not just about washing oneself. It was a place to share in the daily lives of our neighbors," Takanori explains. Today, the experience is focused on well-being. "Bathing helps our guests become resistant to disease—of the body, mind and soul—with the blessings of nature's onsens.” And to do so, amid the magic of the mountains? There is nowhere quite like Tobira Onsen Myojinkan.