On the island of Guadalupe, south of Antigua in the great eastern archipelago of the Caribbean Sea, John d'Arbeloff signed the charter documents on a 44-foot yacht and started drifting south with his wife and first mate, Ginny. Wind fluttered the sails. Clouds sat over a hazy blue horizon. A wake soon began to rise off the boat's tracking stern.
"We were off for 12 days of freedom and exploration," said d'Arbeloff, the 46-year-old president and founder of RailRiders Adventure Clothing in Watertown, Mass. A veteran sailor, d'Arbeloff journeys every year into the chop of international waters. It's how he sees the world.
"Nothing can match the independence of what you can do and see from the deck of a sailboat."
Adventure is d'Arbeloff's business. The apparel he sells is worn by explorers around the globe, and like many business leaders in the outdoors industry, d'Arbeloff is immersed in a life of travel and adventure. Product development, testing, photo shoots and event sponsorship lead d'Arbeloff into Wild Yonders and Great Unknowns most people only dream about.
To garner some travel advice from d'Arbeloff and his ilk, we surveyed ten outdoor-industry executives to compile a list of the planet's top adventure destinations. The picks — chosen by CEOs, presidents and founders at companies including The North Face, Teva, Keen and GoLite LLC — are unexpected and fresh, a mix of international epics as well as secluded domestic retreats.
New Zealand, Costa Rica, France and even the Commonwealth of Dominica made the list. But so did the deep woods of Wisconsin and New York's Adirondack Mountains. Skiing, surfing, climbing, trekking, swimming and fishing were among the group's favored activities.
"We choose places that combine exquisite natural beauty and rugged terrain with something unique," said Kimberly Coupounas, CEO of GoLite LLC, referring to the hiking and backpacking trips she and her husband, Demetri, take to destinations like California's John Muir Trail or Haleakala National Park on Maui.
Haleakala, an interior tropical preserve that centers on the park's namesake 10,023-foot volcano, is a place Coupounas describes with such adjectives as "wondrous," "spectacular" and "primeval." On a recent visit, Coupounas and her husband hiked from the top of Mount Haleakala downhill and overland to the ocean, descending 16 miles and 10,000 feet. They dipped a toe in the surf and started back uphill again, tromping the 10,000 feet back into the sky from where they began.
"The summit-to-sea-to-summit hike is a 12- to 15-hour trip for us and most moderately fit outdoorspeople," she said.
Coupounas, a 39-year-old from Boulder, Colo., heads out on similar epics about four times a year, with a week being the average length of each trip.
Other executives emphasized two- or three-day weekend excursions. In addition to exotic trips to places like Raglan, New Zealand, Jim Holland, CEO of online retailer Backcountry.com, recharges with weekend adventures in his home state by skiing, cycling, climbing and swimming in the high alpine lakes of the Uinta mountain range in northeastern Utah.
"My personal record high-elevation cannonball was in a lake at about 11,000 feet," said Holland, who heads into the mountains all seasons of the year. Summertime swimming gives way to fall hiking and peak bagging. In the winter he snowmobiles in to the Uintas to get to the base of giant, powdery backcountry ski runs. "I've chalked up some pretty epic adventures over the course of a long weekend."