New Frontiers: Greenland

Outside chooses the top vacation spots of 2013

The reconstructed church at Qassiarsuk, Greenland.     Photo: Peter Essick/Aurora

With hundreds of virgin summits, empty rivers, and staggering ice-curdled fjords, Greenland has long been a blue-ribbon destination for adventurers willing to wrestle logistical whales. Skiers traverse the Mexico-size ice sheet with kites. Climbers bag first ascents using boats as base camps. The entire 836,000-square-mile country has just 75 miles of roads and a population that could fit inside Dodger Stadium. Despite the limited infrastructure, the frosty playground is changing fast. Last summer, according to NASA researchers, a record 137 cubic miles of Greenland’s prehistoric ice sheet melted away for good.

Traditional villages are thinning out as young people look for opportunity 2.0. Ships routinely haul in fishing quotas faster in bays that are thawing sooner. “You don’t need science to tell you about climate change,” says Bo Lings, owner of Sirius Greenland, a Sisimiut company that arranges fishing trips. “You can see it.” And you should—as old economies die out, smart adventure tourism may well prove to be the country’s future. Some 56,000 people—one visitor for every resident—came to the country last year, a 67 percent leap from 2005. Companies like Greenland Explored are offering new sailing and dogsledding trips along the island’s seldom-visited eastern coast. And Greenland’s parliament recently granted fly-fishing outfitters exclusive fishing rights as long as they sustainably manage waste and fish stocks—which means new lodges should be opening soon.

THE TRIP: In April, Icelandic Mountain Guides will set sail from Nuuk aboard the Rembrandt Van Rijn, a 188-foot-long, three-mast former herring lugger, for an eight-day ski-mountaineering expedition along West Greenland’s jigsaw coast. Rip turns down peaks like 5,301-foot Qingaqat, the second highest in a fjord system east of Nuuk, before retiring to your 17-cabin seafaring base camp for a celebratory lager. From $3,214.

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