It’s easy right now. Easy to forget about the delayed openings of November or the crappy man-made snow of early December. It’s easy to laugh and smile, and easy to fall asleep at night too: the body cooked from another deep day of turns, the exhaustion a happy punctuation to just how damn good it’s been, living in a snow globe.

The numbers, of course, don’t lie. Mammoth topped 200 inches by January 9th as did Nevada ski area Mt. Rose, which had scored 325 inches by the same date. In Colorado, Vail was reporting 135 inches on the year in mid-January, and on January 22, Telluride was at 184 on the season. And Utah? Well, so far the Beehive State is enjoying a similarly impressive year, with Snowbird at 264 inches as I write this (Jan. 22) and Brighton reporting 326 inches so far.

It's true that powder skiing is considered by many to be the most authentic experience in our sport. But beyond the fact that December 2016 and January 2017 will be remembered by many as the best ever – a legendary two-month span that will linger in skiing lore for decades – it’s also important to remember that even without the crazy Pinapple express weather pattern that the western United States is feasting on, that there’s more to skiing than mere powder days, and that it's really the special people, places and  moments that create the foundation of our sport. Europe saw another grim early season, but Alban Guery-Suire's beautiful and elegant black and white images of snow crystals and park skiing remind us that there’s beauty outside of the eye of the storm, and that sometimes that beauty is found in simple, striking moments. Authentic indeed.

Community is also one of the beautiful things about our sport: the people we meet along the way, the shared experiences of a day touring in the backcountry, the casual conversation with a stranger over an après ski beer. After all, what is more authentic than community? It’s a big reason why we started Independent Skier and a major reason why we are still putting in the time here and it is also a very big reason why the folks at Rocky Mountain Underground decided to create a special gathering place in Breckenridge where you can have a beer and talk shop with other skiers. Part retail shop, part bar, but all skiing culture, it's a must-visit stop for anyone who happens to be in Colorado’s Summit County this year.

Community - and authenticity - is also what photojournalist Pierre Morel found when he visited the high peaks that divide Kosovo and Montenegro. While the vicious politics of this region and the bloodshed that occurred across the Balkans in the wake of the collapse of Yugoslavia has largely been forgotten by those in the west, the emotional and physical scars remain for those who call the area home. With a shared love of the mountains, freeriding and snow, the communities that Morel visited are building a future that could only be created by those who find common ground in nature, the elements and a shared love of sliding on snow.

Finally, while the snow is great, there’s another thing we can all agree on. And that’s the fact that while skiing at your local hill is always fun, there’s a lot more fun in exploring new places. Last fall we debuted our “Random Hill” photo at the end of each issue. These are the places that offer truly authentic experiences, with a focus on skiing and not much else. The month’s random hill? A tiny place in Switzerland that you have to visit. Got any ideas for our next stop? Let us know:

See you in the mountains.

Mark Lesh + Tom Winter