Travel: When You Can't Stand the Heat
If you really want to chill out on your summer vacation, skip the three S's--sand, surf, and sweltering temperatures--and head to one of these delightfully cool destinations instead. Some are the perfect getaways for winter sports nuts who weep when the last snowflake melts--like Jim Miller, who likes to sneak away from uTango, his Seattle-based customer rewards company, for ski trips with his buddies on Mount Hood, Oregon. Others are wintery wonderlands that are either uncomfortable or unreachable other times of the year--such as the interior of Iceland, which Alissa Krinsky, owner of the Chicago consulting firm Media Success, visited last August. ("It snowed, with highs in the 30s," she says.) On the following pages you'll find retreats that offer all the adventure you'd want, as well as a break from muggy weather. We've also listed the average July temperatures, though many of these spots get even cooler at elevation. In other words, don't forget to pack a warm jacket.
Central Highlands, Iceland
Average July low/high temperatures: 42°| 58° F
Because Iceland sits smack on the fault line between the North American and European tectonic plates, the constantly shifting earth creates an otherworldly landscape of lichen-covered lava fields, geysers, hot springs, and mountains. That makes for spectacular hikes, horseback rides, and soaks in hot springs such as the Blue Lagoon in Grindavik. Since Icelanders live on the coast, where it's warmer, the interior remains a rare thing: a wilderness. The few paths--they can't really be called roads--that penetrate the central region are open only in the summer. Once inside, you can even venture to the spot where Apollo astronauts trained for the first moon landing. Track down a guide at icelandtouristboard.com.
Accommodations: Since you'll fly into Reykjavik, plan to get your fix of cushy accommodations while you're in the city. The lodgings get a lot rougher in the interior, where there are no hotels at all. The Iceland Touring Association (nat.is/fjallaskalareng/skalar_fi_eng.htm) maintains a network of huts where you can unroll a sleeping bag. In each hut, you'll typically find a kitchen, rooms that accommodate 12 to 120 bunks, and limited electricity. Some have bathrooms and showers. At others, you'll fetch your own water from a well. Call in advance for a hut with running water.
Central Andes, Chile
Average July low/high temperatures: 37° | 57° F
The slopes in the Central Andes are a skier's dream. The snow is very dry--similar to what you'd find in Colorado or Utah--and the runs are above the tree line, as in Europe. Two of the best ski areas are within a few hours of Santiago. The first is the Portillo ski resort (www.skiportillo.com), where lift lines are always short because the hotel limits the area to 450 guests. The other is Valle Nevado (vallenevado.com), one of the largest ski areas in Chile, with 23,000 acres of skiable mountain. If you're traveling with a nonskier, try the Termas de Chillan resort (www.termaschillan.cl), which is farther south. It offers a wide variety of other activities, including dogsled and snowmobile rides, and contains a thermal spa and a new casino. If you want to avoid the crowd, skip the last two weeks of July.
Accommodations: Rooms at each resort can range from $400 to $700 a night during peak season in July. Portillo, Valle Nevado, and Termas de Chillan offer a range of accommodations. The properties are designed with skiers in mind, with loads of room for gear, and the service is top-notch, says Leslie Shor, vacation specialist with Ski.com.
The North Pole
Average July low/high temperatures: 33° | 40° F
In summertime, you can actually sail to the North Pole, but traveling through the Arctic is definitely not your typical cruise ship experience. Welcome aboard the Yamal, which is an icebreaker, the only type of vessel that can make the journey other than a submarine. It departs from Murmansk, Russia, for a 16-day trip, and once you arrive at 90 degrees latitude, you can choose to participate in an icy ritual: taking a dip in the 30-degree, 14,000-foot-deep water. "They get out as fast as they get in," says Chuck Cross, president of Polar Cruises (polarcruises.com), a Bend, Oregon-based outfitter that books trips on the Yamal. A doctor is standing by, but Cross has been at this since 1993 and hasn't lost a passenger yet.
Accommodations: Cabins start at $21,000, and while there is an onboard sauna, the staterooms on this ship can't really be called luxe. Think "small Christian college dorm rooms," says Cross.
The Yukon, Canada
Average July low/high temperatures: 46° | 69° F
In the southwest corner of the Yukon Territory in Canada is a less-traveled national park called Kluane (pronounced Kloo-ahn-ee). It's tough getting into the park without a snowmobile in the winter, but in the summer, the 8,500 square miles open with possibilities. The park contains several glaciers and all 19,545 feet of Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak, which is part of the St. Elias mountain range. A few outfitters offer sightseeing tours, helicopter rides to the mountaintops for guided hikes, and white-water rafting trips on the Alsek River (travelyukon.com).
Accommodations: The nearest town is teensy Haines Junction, which is not the world capital of swank hotels. Your best bet is the Raven Hotel (yukonweb.com/tourism/raven), with its spectacular mountain view. You won't find high-end architecture or design here, but the small hotel, which is one of the rare nonsmoking accommodations in the area, earned four out of five stars from Canada Select, the country's hotel rating authority.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Average July low/high temperatures: 31° | 46° F
Queenstown is where New Zealand goes to ski, and conditions are best in August. The city, which contains a wide range of high-end restaurants and boutiques, is located on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by the aptly named Remarkables mountain range. One of the country's oldest ski resorts, Coronet Peak (nzski.com), offers a range of trails for beginners to advanced skiers, as well as night skiing. Some daring intermediate and advanced skiers opt to heliski on glaciers near Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring.
Accommodations: Expect to pay $600 to $1,000 a night for an upscale hotel, such as Eichardt's (eichardtshotel.co.nz) and the Sofitel Queenstown (sofitelqueenstown.com). You can book a room for less than $300 a night at a hotel like the Heritage Queenstown (heritagehotels.co.nz/queenstown). Heliskiers who don't mind the scenic 35-minute drive into Queenstown can stay further afield at Blanket Bay (blanketbay.com), where a concierge will arrange your skiing expedition.
Mount Hood, Oregon
Average July low/high temperatures: 46° | 67° F
The Palmer Snowfield on Mount Hood has the longest ski season in North America. It stayed open all of last summer, and typically shuts down only for a few weeks in the fall for routine maintenance. Pros (as well as other hard-core skiers and snowboarders) keep their skills sharp here in the summer, so the crowd is often a who's who of mountain sports. You'll find springlike conditions through July and August, with the best snow early in the morning. As the day warms up, you can head down into the valley for mountain biking and hiking or to the Sandy or Clackamas rivers for kayaking and rafting (traveloregon.com).
Accommodations: The Timberline Lodge (timberlinelodge.com), located halfway up Mount Hood, has small, charming rooms that are decked out in rustic regalia--think quilts and knotty pine--for about $150 to $275 a night. The hotel also has a swimming pool, hot tub, and sauna. Make reservations early because it gets booked up fast for summer ski season.