I’m standing on top of a snow blasted, anvil flat peak on the Troll Peninsula in the north of Iceland with heliski guide Jokull ‘JB’ Bergmann and a group of over-excited clients; JB has just told us that we’re about to make the first descent of a mountain that has never been ridden before.
“Thousands" comes the laconic reply.
And that’s just one small part of one small country. Which, if you think about it, means that there must be hundreds of thousands of unridden or uskied peaks around the world. If not more…
So, if you’re sick of lift lines and tracked out slopes, read on to find out where you can get first tracks every day.
1) Í Fjörðum, Iceland
My visit to the Troll Peninsula whetted my appetite to return to Iceland the following year, but this time rather than whizzing around in a helicopter we were sailing along the coast of the Í Fjörðum region to the east of the Troll Peninsula.
We used a 20-metre schooner as a ski base from which to head ashore and discover this perpetually snowcapped landscape of mountains and moorlands, which like the Troll Peninsula has enough peaks to keep the average snow-loving misanthrope happy until the end of time.
Even though the region does have the odd dirt road snaking along its valleys these are inaccessible outside summer, so it’s a pretty sure bet that the only tracks you’re ever likely to see on the mountainsides are your own after you’ve completed a descent; in fact our own lines were visible for days after we skied here, uncrossed by those of anyone else simply because there was no one else…
2) Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Kamchatka
The Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far-east is as big as France, as mountainous as Switzerland and more volcanic than anywhere else on Earth. It’s also damned hard to get to, with just one international airport and one carrier, the less-than-lovely Aeroflot.
And the only way to access most of its peaks is by helicopter, with a couple of heliski companies operating to the south of the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
It looks tempting – but be warned, it has erupted three times already this year.
However, if you head north up the spine of the peninsula along the Sredinny Range you’ll encounter a seemingly endless array of 3,000-metre plus peaks which are unnamed and un-ridden; even better, veer east towards the Pacific coast and you’ll encounter Klyuchevskaya Sopka (aka Ключевская сопка) an active stratovolcano that at 4,750-metres is the highest mountain on the peninsula and the highest active volcano in Eurasia.
Its steep, symmetrical cone offers loads of tempting lines – but be warned, it has erupted three times already this year.
3) Barbeau Peak, Ellesmere Island
I asked internationally-renowned mountain guide Nigel Shepherd where he would go if he was looking for mountains that no-one had been snowboarding or skiing on and he plumped for Ellesmere Islands since “I guess there could be several peaks that haven’t been skied there".
Classic mountain guide understatement…when we used Google Earth to zoom in on the snow draped peaks of the world’s tenth largest island we discovered more snowbound mountains than you could shake a ski pole at.
So how about taking on the highest, 2616-metre Barbeau Peak in the north? A classic triangular shape mountain, it has some inviting slopes - mind you, it is also apparently ‘characterized by deep and long crevasses, razor thin ridges and highly variable and volatile weather’ so you might want to take Mr. Shepherd along to get you safely down.
4) The Shark's Fin, Greenland
A couple of years ago my friend Elli Magnusson went ski mountaineering in SE Greenland on the Apusiaajik Glacier with a bunch of mates, where amongst other peaks they skied one they named the ‘Shark’s Fin’.
Here’s a brief description from Elli: “We watched Chris and Andreas…dropping in on the south facing side of the Shark, sending sprays of…pure powder snow up in the air on every turn…".
This is just one mountain tucked away in the bottom corner (which is not the snowiest part) of the world’s largest island. Imagine how much more terrain must be waiting out there, possibly for ever, to hear the hiss of skis or board slicing through endless powder…
5) Skeena Mountains, Northern British Columbia
I was recently privileged to be able to ride the spectacular Skeena Mountain of Northern BC with Last Frontier Heliskiing - the operation is located on the border with Alaska, and is truly extraordinary in terms of its size, covering 2.2 million acres, or 9000 sq kms - if that doesn’t mean much to you, that’s over six times the size of Greater London.
Last Frontier’s guides have maps on which all the runs they’ve pioneered are marked, but these mountains are so vast and remote that not only are many of the peaks unnamed, you would never have any trouble finding plenty of terrain here that has never before been ridden.
There again, why bother when Last Frontier have already done all the hard work for you?
6) Soholt Peaks, Antarctica
You may not find quite as much powder as you’d expect in Antarctica, since it’s the driest (and coldest) continent on Earth, but even so the Soholt Peaks of the Ellsworth Mountains can consistently offer boot top powder and guaranteed first tracks down the 2,328m high slopes.
A quick gander on Google Earth shows a range of faces you could hit and be sure of not encountering anyone else’s tracks, although there are now operators offering ski touring trips to this region.
That may mean you have to share the terrain with a few mates and possibly the odd penguin, but lift lines seem pretty unlikely.
7) Gangkhar Peunsum, Bhutan
Here’s a potentially great opportunity for true adventurers – a chance to scale and ski the world’s highest unclimbed peak.
7,570-metre Gangkhar Puensum sits in the north of Bhutan close to the Chinese border, and has vertiginous slopes on all sides that will challenge the very best of ski mountaineers.
However, there’s one small fly in the ointment – since 2003 the Bhutanese government has forbidden mountaineering in the country, for cultural reasons (the high peaks are considered to be the homes of protective gods and spirits) as well as for the purely practical reason of lack of access to local high-altitude rescue facilities.
But, if you could persuade the powers that be to allow you access, and if you’re good enough, it’s there to be shredded.
8) Sauyr Zhotasy, Kazakhstan
Sauyr Zhotasy is one of the most prominent unclimbed peaks in the world i.e. an independent peak with distinct topographic prominence.
At 3,252-metres it’s the loftiest point in the Saur Range on the border between Kazakhstan and China, and despite there being rudimentary roads relatively close to the mountain there are no records of it having been either climbed or ridden.
Google Earth reveals that the slopes on the north side of the mountain looking eminently rideable (the south face not so – that’s pretty much a cliff face), so what are you waiting for…?
9) Saser Kangri, Kashmir
You’d need to pick your line carefully down Saser Kangri as it is steep, challenging and very high (the 35th highest mountain in the world since you ask…) but the south-east and west faces appear to be the best bet on this relatively remote 7,672-metre peak in the eastern Karakoram.
Assuming you made a successful descent it would be a first as far as we can ascertain; whilst the mountain was first climbed in 1973 we could find no records of it having been ridden or skied down, although there’s probably a good reason for that…
10) Olympus Mons, Mars
With its summit at a staggering altitude of 21,230-metres Olympus Mons is the highest mountain on Mars – and since there are plans to land humans there in the near future, who’s to say it won’t one day be ridden or skied?
And where we once used to think of it as a dry planet water has recently been discovered on Mars, so who knows, there may be some snow up there on Olympus Mons (although to be honest satellite images don’t look especially snowy).
But if there was snow on its slopes, and if you could get to the summit, it would be the perfect beginner slope – with an average angle of just 5 degrees if you skied from the summit to the base of Olympus Mons you’d get a run of over 200km in length, so should be an expert by the time you arrived at the bottom station’s après-ski pub, which would, of course, be called the Mars Bar.