It is the last week of April and while most European skiers have stored their skis, the end of our ski season is nowhere near. By travelling 2000 kilometres north, we have found the ultimate way to prolong our ski season into late April!
On the small, Norwegian airport of Tromsø, 300 kilometres above the Arctic Circle, Caroline and I, two Dutch ski journalists, meet our ski friends and our German guide Matthias. Together we’ll be ski touring for a week in the Arctic.
16:00 From Tromsø we drive through a deserted landscape, passing fishing boats and typical red, wooden houses with grass on the roof for isolation. We are in no hurry, since this time of year it doesn’t really get dark anymore. In May the north of Norway experiences almost 24 hours of daylight, a phenomenon known as the midnight sun. This enables us to go touring in the middle of the night while enjoying the stunning orange and pink skies.
18:48 During the drive, we chat with our guide Matthias. We discover he has spent of a lot of time in this region, including the much better known Lyngen Peninsula and the remote the island Arnøya, our home for this week. His eyes twinkle when he tells us about the island: “The mountains of Arnøya may seem small, but the alpine terrain is limitless and sublime, and the sea itself is right there at your feet; even into May you can often ski down to the shoreline. The maritime moisture, and dark winters make for a stable, spring snowpack. Sometimes you get fresh powder, but in April and May—the heart of the ski-touring season—you are more likely to find corn of the rare kind that doesn’t quickly turn to slop”.
21:10 On the ferry to Arnøya we see dozen of sharp white peaks rise from the Aztec blue fjord like triangular pyramids, in stark contrast with the clear blue sky. The sheer beauty of the landscape gives us goose bumps. These are the peaks we’ll be skiing the coming week!
22:15 Starving! Having just arrived in our guesthouse, a strong fishy aroma wafts towards us. The friendly owners Jan & Elin, both born and bred on the island, have prepared a delicious warm bowl of hearty fish stew for us.
22:18 While enjoying the soup, Elin tell us that every day eight lorries of farmed salmon are exported from the island, which adds up to 200 tonnes of salmon!
After a nutritious breakfast, we jump in the minivan and drive to the other side of the island, to the small harbour of Arviksand. From there Matthias checks out several steep couloirs that funnel down to the sea. But first we need to get up there!
10:25 Our small group clicks into their skis at the snowline, which is at sea level, only a couple meters from the road. Step by step, we work our way up in complete silence.
12:03 The sun is strong and as our climb steepens, we take off another layer. Our faces are salty from the sweat and the salty sea air.
13:25 It has been 3 hours since we parked the car. Lost in the repetitive movement, we reach a trance like state. The serenity of the landscape is overwhelming; the silence brings calmness and peace of mind.
14:48 Arriving at the summit, we take our time soaking in our beautiful surroundings: we see white sandy, beaches, rocky cliffs with perfect ski couloirs and the open sea dotted with fishing boats. In the far distance we can even see the North Cape, the northernmost point on the European mainland, where the Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean.
15:05 We sip our hot tea, munch on some nuts and eat our smoked salmon sandwiches, while we put our skins away.
15:22 We are stoked to commence our hard-earned descent and point our ski’s straight towards the water and cruise down a wide-open slope, grinning of excitement.
15:28 Matthias leads us to a steep, narrow slope. We look down on the small harbour of Arviksand and hear screeching sea gulls. One at a time we plunge down the couloir and it feels like we are headed straight into the sea – what an extraordinary experience!
17:00 Waffles and coffee! Back in the guesthouse we enjoy a most welcome snack before dinner.
The routine of the week quickly becomes established. Everyday we tour a different summit, ranging between 650 – 1168 meter, with varying snow conditions from corn to powder to breakable crust. We tour remote peaks and we don’t see another skier the whole week.
We prepare ourselves for a big day, as we’ll climb the highest peak of the island, Arnøyhogda (1168 meters), a peak we can access right from the garden. We attach our skins and start skinning up.
10:43 The first hour is always the hardest and the snow is wet and slushy. In the dens birch forest it is impossible to see if the summit is getting any closer. Slowly we push on.
11:38 When we emerge from the birch forest, the view changes; we look down towards the calm fjords and see the reflection of the white mountains and dark clouds. This dramatic backdrop gives us a boost of energy to continue.
12:50 We skin in a steady pace to preserve our energy and yvery hour or so we take a short break, to sip some hot tea and eat some chocolate.
15:05 Two hours later we reach a ridge. From here we’re rewarded with uninterrupted panoramic views of huge cornices above steep cliffs, dropping straight in the ocean. In this vast landscape, we feel so deeply connected to Mother Nature that we can’t help but immediately relax.
15:07 We make our final push to the summit.
15:40 After five hours of hard work, we finally reach the summit at 1168 metres and sit down to enjoy the million dollar views.
16:01 You would expect that after a climb like this we would need to rest before descending, but quite the contrary. The fantastic view and the strong winds make us want to head down immediately.
16:22 We point our skis towards the fjord — which is now golden due to the bright sun — and cruise down towards the shimmering water. We fly down feeling intensely satisfied; our 20-minute run is worth every second of the five-hour climb.
17:10 Back in the lodge we grab a beer and cheers to another epic day! Skiing while surrounded by water is the reason why we came to the Arctic. As this is the most special place we’ve ever skied, we know we will be back for more!
When to go: The best powder is generally found in March and for a combination of spring snow and powder you should come in mid-April. After mid-May snow conditions will vary, but you will experience the midnight sun.
Where to go: Arnøya is the largest island in the Skjervøy municipality, some 60 kilometres due north of the Lyngen Peninsula, on the north west coast of Norway. This is a very remote spot, little visited by skiers, but has numerous excellent ski peaks and summit to sea descents to explore. It is still largely undiscovered by tourists as most skiers go to better-known destinations like the Lyngen Alps or the Lofoten. Our base is the Lauksletta Lodge, a cosy old fisherman's cottage perched right next to the fjord with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Text: Julie Nieuwenhuys aka Juulski
Images: Caroline van ’t Hoff www.dutchiesdoski.com