For most of us, it’s almost time to pack up the skis and snowboards for another 6-9 months of warmer weather. We know—the snow JUST got good! But what if you could continue honing your skills, perhaps with a professional instructor, explore some pristine backcountry snow, and travel to an exotic location with local guides year-round? That’s what Matt Appleford dreamed up when he founded The Adventure Project, a ski-and-snowboard guiding service with a mission to take adventurous-minded skiers and boarders to experience the adventure of powder and cultural immersion. Each trip’s includes fully certified ski and snowboard instructors, a local guide, and a comprehensive avalanche safety training program. Destinations include Gulmarg, India; Hokkaido, Japan; and southern Chile. Sound too good to be true? The Adventure Project’s guides customize the trips for your skill level, interests, and group size, so you can do what you love and get the most out of it. We caught up with Matt to ask all our top-of-mind questions.
Revo: What makes The Adventure Project stand out from other group travel providers?
Matt Appleford: Hopefully our blend of exotic and snow-sure destinations; our focus on cultural immersion and our competitive pricing. We want to take people to the places that are off the radar to most, where you can still find top quality snow and terrain, where you can explore new cultures, all without breaking the bank.
Revo: What kind of customer is The Adventure Project tailored for?
MA: Ideally our guests are experienced skiers and boarders who have a thirst for adventure! Our guests come from all over the world (so far: USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, among others). We try and make it very easy for our guests to get to these destinations. Most of the work is done for them so all they have to do is book their flight, organize travel insurance and any visa (if necessary), and we physically meet the guest at the local airport. Then the adventure begins!
Revo: The Adventure Project’s first commercial destination was Gulmarg ski resort in the Himalayas. How do you prepare casual skiers/hobbyists to ski such serious mountains?
MA: Gulmarg is definitely the most "serious" destination out of all of our trips and is on the higher end of the desired ability and adventure scale. Gulmarg is similar to Silverton, Colorado, but on a much larger scale and with the added bonus of hotels and a gondola (one of the world's highest gondolas), plus they also have a ski patrol, a daily avalanche report, and do some control work (thought the size of the actual "ski area" is only about 5% of the actual accessible terrain).
We take safety very seriously at all of our destinations, and we always put all our guests through our comprehensive avalanche safety training program. This program was developed by one of our guides, Karl Welter (an experienced ski patroller and AIARE avalanche course conductor from Telluride, CO) and myself. It takes about a day and a half to complete and includes an initial indoor theory session, beacon practice, probing, strategic shoveling and snowpack evaluation, and stability testing. We also focus on terrain management and backcountry travel skills.
If the guests have not done any skinning before and we are going to tour, then we show them how to use skins and touring gear for the first time. In Gulmarg, the longest uphill we might do is no more than an hour and it's not too steep or technically difficult, so perfect for the first-time tourer. Most guests will learn a lot about backcountry skiing and riding by the end of their trip, especially in a place like Gulmarg.
Adventure Project participants in Hokkaido, Japan. Photo courtesy of Grant Nakamura Photography, LLC
Revo: How do you meet your staff—certified ski and snowboard instructors?
MA: Our guides actually have a more varied background than that. We do have several fully-certified ski and snowboard instructors on our team, but we also have heli and cat ski guides, and ski patrollers. Regardless of their professional backgrounds, all our guides share a passion for guiding, lots of experience in the backcountry, and a love for travel and adventure. The snow sports industry is so small, I've either met all my guides along the way or they have approached me and we have started a dialogue and then the working relationship has developed from there. I have a great team and am lucky to work with the people that we have on board with us.
Revo: What skill level do your customers usually come in with? What skill level do they leave with?
MA: Most people are already strong skiers or boarders, but they will definitely get better at riding deep powder and ungroomed terrain in our sessions naturally because they will get a lot of mileage in those conditions. A lot of skiing and boarding well in deep snow, or even difficult snow, comes from the touch and feel that is obtained through a lot of mileage and experience. [The guides] throw in pointers along the way, and you have the perfect recipe for gaining strength through mileage and feel through experience and understanding.
Revo: Is it possible to work on both skiing and snowboarding skills on one 2-week Adventure?
MA: Ideally we would have separate groups for skiers and separate groups for snowboarders, just because it's easier to work with people all on the same equipment. It doesn't always work out that way and we've definitely had mixed groups before, and they are equally fun to work with. That works well as long as we have stronger skiers paired with stronger boarders. Not everyone is there to work on technique, and a lot of people just want to be guided. We try to give people what they want. If they just want to go ride and be guided to the best powder spots, then we can do that, but if they want to work on technique, we can do that too. Sometimes it's a combination of the two. When the weather allows, we can get the video camera out and film people's riding and then replay the footage on the big screen. We've used video sessions to really help people see the strong points of their riding and where they could potentially improve.
A skiing lesson in Japan. Photo courtesy of Matt Appleford
Revo: In 2017 you’re introducing three new sessions in Hokkaido, Japan (after an initial Japan run in 2016). What’s your process for scouting locations and planning new sessions?
MA: It’s a complicated and potentially time-consuming process. I've always been inspired by watching ski and board movies and was always most inspired by the overseas travel parts of the movies, the more exotic the better! Doing the initial research is getting easier; I will watch movies, read magazines, and then do a lot of research online. Once the destination ticks the boxes for the physical properties we are looking for, I try and find as much video on the place as possible and look for historical snowfall data.
The more obscure the resort or destination, the harder that is, so local knowledge and contacts are key. Mostly we are able to develop those local connections before we go out there for the first time, so the first visit goes a lot easier. Japan was the most challenging as we didn't have good local connections the first time we went out there, so we had to do all the exploring for ourselves and that can be difficult at times. Our program for 2017 is a lot more streamlined.
Chile has been a lot easier (probably the easiest trip to put together initially- we have a great connection in Nevados de Chillan, and one of our guides grew up skiing the area, so that was a seamless first trip). We have some new trips planned for the end of the 2017 winter, so we'll see how they go as they are going to be big trips and potentially the most adventurous we've done!
Revo: Can you give us any hints at upcoming destinations?
MA: I can't give away too much, but we are always looking at new destinations. As always, the potential new destination has to fit our blueprint of awesome snow and terrain, a lack of crowds, somewhat affordable, good amenities, and opportunities to explore the local culture. We are looking at an exciting new opportunity in Northwest China and in Georgia, a couple of destinations that are definitely under the radar to most. As soon as we launch these two new trips or any others, Revo will be the first to know.
MA: The Adventure Project offers the best powder skiing in the world in addition to immersion in the locations’ cultures. What’s the benefit of this combination?
We never wanted the trips to be solely about the skiing or riding. We always wanted to go further than that. If you want the ultimate ski or boarding experience, then just go heli-skiing. Our trips are for the people that might want to ride some really good snow, but also meet the locals, try their food, and experience their ways, so that they have a more immersive and hopefully more complete, experience.
Sound like you? Check out The Adventure Project Website for guide bios, pricing, and scheduling.