Your first foray into the backcountry doesn't have to be pretty. Mine wasn't. One long weekend, I drove from San Francisco to Yosemite to put my new free-heeling skills to the test. The trip was tiring, haphazard -- and glorious. I hoofed it up to the Ostrander Hut and was rewarded with a happy crowd, a soft bed, and a national park right off the front porch. I was hooked. Whether you're a hardened woodsperson craving another epic or a Nordic neophyte looking for a new getaway, a wide, white world awaits.
SORCERER LAKE LODGE, Golden, British Columbia
If you're looking for a classy home base from which to day-trip, hop on Sorcerer Lake's heli for a week of ski mountaineering in the Selkirks. After breakfasting on pancakes and fresh fruit, you'll pack a lunch, shovel, and beacon and head out with a guide for the day. Skin up from the chalet at 6,700 feet to peaks as high as 11,000 feet or just drop off the front porch into the trees. The staff will fire up the sauna while you're gone.
Info: $1,350 per week, includes meals, heli transport, and guiding; 250-344-2804, www.sorcererlodge.com
BULL OF THE WOODS YURT, Taos, New Mexico
Just (a very steep) two miles from the ski area, the Bull sits on the edge of a clearing, far enough away to feel like an escape, but not too difficult a trek for inexperienced skinners. The yurt sleeps groups of 10 or less -- on futons and the floor -- so reserve early, especially on full moons. Climb north to Gold Hill or, for a really long day, head south to Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest point.
Info: $85-$125 per night; 505-758-4761
CHIC CHOC MOUNTAINS, Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec
Vermont-based On The Loose Expeditions provides a balanced backcountry trip. Part one: Spend a few days at the comfy Gite de Mont Albert chalet, practicing avalanche skills and finding your ski legs (either telemark or Alpine-touring gear is suitable). Part two: Ski 11 miles to a lakeside hut deep in the high country while a snowmobile portages your gear and food. You'll spend the rest of the week in the celebrated Chic Chocs, enjoying long, rolling tours or descending steep, Alpine-style terrain.
Info: $695, April 6-13, 2002; 800-688-1481, www.otloose.com
OSTRANDER HUT, Yosemite, California
Get in touch with your inner Ansel Adams. A steady, 10-mile climb goes from Badger Pass to a glacial cirque aside Ostrander Lake, where up to 24 skiers -- many repeat visitors -- bunk in a 60-year-old stone cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A full-time hutkeeper keeps the stove stoked. Climb up to Horse Ridge to catch some turns (and a view of Half Dome) or just tool around in the woods. The self-catered feasts are festive, so stuff a bottle of wine next to your Nalgene.
Info: $25 nightly per person; 209-372-0740, www.ostranderhut.com
TORNGAT MOUNTAINS, Quebec
Maybe an off-piste trove of fresh powder isn't good enough for you -- you don't just want untracked, you want never been tracked. You want the Arctic. And who better to show the way than celeb skiers John and Dan Egan? Build Inuit igloos, skin over to the Labrador Coast, and tackle stand-alone peaks. It's your chance for the glory of a first descent, if you can beat the Egans to the punch.
Info: $4,500, includes airfare from Montreal, lodging, all meals, transportation, guides, and a customized video of the trip; April 18-29, 2002; 800-983-2670, www.skiclinics.com
SILVERTON MOUNTAIN SKI AREA, Silverton, Colorado
Before you buy a ticket for Silverton's new -- and only -- lift, you have to take a written backcountry test. Pass, and you and your avalanche gear can have your way with the area's all-black-diamond steeps. The Outdoor Learning and Recreation Center offers courses on avalanche safety, mountain rescue, and mountaineering skills. Girls, don't miss Sisters of the Steeps, a weekend workshop for resort skiers looking to safely venture farrther afield.
Info: $25 daily; 970-387-5706, www.silvertonmountain.com
GARIBALDI-NÉVÉE TRAVERSE, Whistler, British Columbia
Névée is French for "big, huge snowfield," according to Spearhead Mountain Guides. You'll get your névée here, but only after circumnavigating Opal Cone, skirting Garibaldi Peak, and passing blocky seracs -- a classic, leg-burning, high-Alpine route. It takes three days to make the climb from Squamish to Black Tusk, an old volcanic peak, but take an extra day to summit Garibaldi before descending into the Garibaldi Lake basin. Spend your first night at the Elfin Lakes Shelter; bring a tent for the rest.
Info: $100 daily for guiding (4 or more), $291 (private), 604-892-3896; Elfin Lakes hut, 604-898-3678, www.bivouac.com
IRWIN LODGE, Crested Butte, Colorado
When the heave-ho of skiing uphill and lugging your lunch no longer appeals, hitch a ride with Irwin's chauffeured snowcats. They'll take you and 32 others into the heart of 2,200 powdery acres, where you can enjoy some serious backcountry booty without breaking a sweat. And the snowcat-accessed lodge is no yurt: A colossal common room, gourmet meals, fully stocked bar, and big-screen TV make it pretty swanky.
Info: $285-$480 nightly per person, includes meals and guiding; 888-GO-IRWIN, www.goirwin.com
TUSHAR MOUNTAIN TOURS, Elk Meadows, Utah
In 1997, Alec Hornstein procured a yurt from a defunct hut system in southern Utah and started a low-key touring operation near the Elk Meadows Ski Area. A three-and-a-half-mile ski from the Elk Meadows parking lot takes you into the Tushars, a craggy expanse of 12,000-foot peaks, long chutes, and wide-open bowls between the Rockies and the Sierra. If you need a guide, Hornstein will lead you; if you need a chef, he will feed you.
Info: $100-$150, including guiding and meals; 435-438-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
RENDEZVOUS SKI TOURS, Alta, Wyoming
Rendezvous operates three yurts on the western side of Teton Pass: Plummer Canyon and Commissary Ridge for the blue-square gang; the higher and more remote Baldy Knoll for the more adventurous. The skiable terrain consists of broad, powder-blanketed ridges leading up to jagged Alpine peaks and spectacular views. The yurts are cozy but basic, with wood stoves and kerosene lanterns. You can go with a guide, or, if you're backcountry savvy, on your own.
Info: $165 nightly for up to 8 (unguided); $140-$160 nightly per person (guided); 877-754-4887, www.skithetetons.com