The Adventure Adviser

Vacation tips from Outside Online's Travel Expert

Q: What are some good places for someone with rock climbing experience to learn ice climbing?

Scott Heimlich, Santa Monica, California

A: Time to add another accolade to the adrenaline capital of the country, Colorado, where the sheer number of frozen waterfalls in the winter makes it the best place to break in your crampons. Top-notch instruction can be found in Telluride at Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures (888-586-8365; www.ryder-walker.com), where climbers of all levels can take half-day ($275) or full-day ($400) courses from December to April. Rookies start by getting to know their ice tools, front points, and harnesses and then test them out on a low-angled slab. More experienced ice climbers can go straight to the vertical ice to refine old skills and learn some new ones. When you're ready to branch out, try some of Colorado's other ice meccas: Vail, Aspen, and Ouray.

Q: Where is a great, inexpensive Central American location to scuba dive and get away from the crowds?
Eric Winter, Minneapolis, Minnesota

A: Normally, I'd worry about any location touted as a discount dive destination—makes you wonder what the shops are sacrificing (tank maintenance?) to trim a few bucks off their rates. But the entire Honduran island of Utila is a bargain, and the safety is on par with any scuba spot on the planet. What keeps the prices lower here than on the other Bay Islands is fierce competition among the ten dive shops, which certify thousands of divers each year. Since the island is only seven miles long and three miles wide, a $125, ten-dive package purchased from the Bay Islands College of Diving (011-504-425-3143; www.dive-utila.com), located on Main Street in the town of Utila, gives you a chance to swim with manta rays, whale sharks, and barracudas while sampling all sides of the island: reefs on the southwest end, volcanic cliffs on the east, walls on the north, and seamounts all around.
Q: I'm interested in finding an intensive sailing class that can take me from beginner to expert. I'm willing to take the course just about anywhere.
Kristina Shevory, Austin, Texas

A: The Chesapeake Bay is a 140-mile-long classroom for mariners-in-training. This enormous, protected tidal estuary has a muddy bottom that's free from the boat-bashing rocks and coral that litter other sailing venues. First move: Sign up for a $295 weekend introductory course with the Annapolis Sailing School (800-638-9192; www.annapolissailing.com). Follow it up with a five-day cruising course ($1,365), where you'll sleep on the boat while exploring the bay. When you're comfortable acting as skipper or crew on a 20- to 30-foot boat, you'll be ready for the school's five-day Preparation for Bareboat Charting class ($850), which trains you for the rigors of sailing solo.

Adventure Adviser

Q: What's the best spot in Hawaii for snorkeling?
Amanda Dumenigo, Santa Fe, New Mexico

A: During the winter, when Hawaii's best-known beaches are packed with flipper-toting winter vacationers, the best place to snorkel is wherever you can get away from the masses. That's easily done on the Big Island, where Sea Quest Rafting and Snorkeling Adventure (808-329-7238; www.seaquesthawaii.com) transports groups of no more than six to some lesser-known coves, such as Hanaunau Bay and Kealakekua Bay, on the Kona coast. These spots include sea caves and lava tubes you can explore in a single breath. Four-hour morning tours ($75) and three-hour afternoon tours ($56) include gear and snacks.

Q: Are there any outfitters that take groups of cross-country skiers to Banff for weeklong trips?
Liz Arky, Washington, D.C.

A: Winter is Banff's low season, so you'll have much of the backcountry to yourselves. With an in-the-know guide, you can spend the whole week gliding between bowls of untouched powder in and around the 1.6-million-acre Banff National Park. Canmore-based White Mountain Adventures (800-408-0005; www.canadian natureguides.com) offers backcountry tours for US$700 to US$1,500 for five- to 16-day trips, respectively, including transportation from Calgary, accommodations, and palate-pleasing meals like poached salmon. Rent touring skis, boots, and poles (US$15 a day). The exact itinerary depends on your skills and the weather, but trips generally cover five to ten miles and about 1,000 feet in elevation change per day. Start with a couple of warm-up sessions on groomed trails near Banff; then graduate to real workouts in the backcountry. You'll base each night in one of two classic spruce-log inns: Skoki Lodge or Assiniboine Lodge, both of which boast wood-heated saunas.

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