Arctic Norway is a long way from everywhere else, but those prepared to make the journey will be rewarded with some of the finest ski mountaineering in the world. Jöttnar Pro Team member Alison Culshaw is a regular visitor to the island of Kvaløya and the nearby Lyngen Peninsula, and here she describes some of the best ski terrain to be found in this secret realm of Scandinavia's far northwest.
Photography | Daniel Wildey
The shapely summit ridge of Stor Hollendaren
“I've never bonded with other mountains the way I have with those in Scotland, and I've seen a good few mountains. But I feel differently about Arctic Norway. I feel something special is afoot there.”
- Des Reid, April 2017
These were the words from one of the guests on our Oldervik trip earlier this year, before he departed from Scotland; his words perfectly describe my own feelings about the coastal mountains in Arctic Norway. There are many beautiful places to ski in the world, from Canada to New Zealand and from the Alps to Hokkaido. We have our own personal favourites; the places where we feel that tingle as we look out of the window of the plane on arrival, and a feeling of both emptiness and fulfilment on departure. We leave wondering when the bond will draw us back. I get this feeling about skiing in Arctic Norway, where the combination of mountains falling straight into the sea is hard to beat, and especially attractive when you don’t need to worry about acclimatizing or getting home before dark.
Skinning up the lower slopes of Stetinden
ski highlights from Arctic Norway
This is one of the most westerly peaks on the island of Kvaløya: the last stop before the Atlantic Ocean. It can hold snow well into June, and although you feel like you are skiing back down into the sea, you start skinning from a col 200m above sea level, so even in mid May you can ski back to the car. Although it’s a short day, it’s not short on interest. From the summit there are spectacular views in all directions. The guidebook describes it as “perhaps the best view on Kvaløya”. There’s no need for an early start; the evening light can make this place particularly special.
The author skiing perfect spring snow on the descent of Stetinden
This is a popular mountain by Kvaløya’s standards, as it’s easily accessible and a relatively short day. The locals will often do it before or after work. Even so, you’re much more likely to see reindeer than other people up here. The spectacular views are stored up right until you get to the summit, and then the dramatic vista looking down Ersfjord opens up in front of you. A trip to Buren wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the delightful hidden café at the end of Ersfjord.
Ersfjord from the summit of Buren, Kvaløya
The trick with Stortuva is not to get summit fever, if you have come for the skiing. I think this is what puts some people off coming here. The final approach is a long flat plateau, much like those of the Cairngorms in Scotland. The view out to the Lyngen Peninsula is spectacular, but the best skiing is behind you. Spend time exploring the terrain around Brattfjellaksla, where there are some lovely steeper lines to be had. The final gully back down to the sea is steep enough to provide interest, but gentle enough that you can still enjoy the sea view whilst moving.
The author descending Ullstinden
Rarely would a trip be complete without the objective of the highest peak in the area. In this case, that’s Jiekkevarri on the Lyngen Peninsula. It’s distinctive from the surrounding jagged peaks, with its wider, domed profile. It has been referred to as the ‘Mont Blanc of the North’. Whichever way you go, it’s a long day, and you'll need to use all the skills of ski mountaineering for a successful ascent.
Taking a pitstop high above Ullsfjorden
"The biggest challenge on a ski trip in Arctic Norway is often simply choosing where to ski"
There is a theme throughout the local ski touring guidebook. All of the peaks have descriptions like “wonderful” ,“stunning”, “exciting” and “impressive”. The biggest challenge on a ski trip in Arctic Norway is often simply choosing where to ski.
The author skis a perfect powder pitch high on Stor Hollendaren, with the North Atlantic glistening in the distance
ski logistics for Arctic Norway
The easiest way to get to ski in the Tromsø region of Arctic Norway is to book a flight connecting through Oslo. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Norwegian have regular flights from Oslo to Tromsø. The best way to get around once in the area is to hire a car directly from Tromsø airport.
The author climbs a couloir in the Lyngen Peninsula
We’ve always chosen to visit the area from mid April – mid May. The long daylight hours give plenty of flexibility regarding the weather and the condition of the snow. There is no need to be out at the crack of dawn. If the weather window is at 6 o’clock in the evening, then that’s the time to go skiing. The snow pack is generally more stable at this time of year, opening up the number of possible ski lines. The weather is also generally more settled. At this time of year we search out pristine spring snow on the southerly slopes, but are still able to find power stashes in the north facing bowls.
The view across the fjord to the Lyngen Peninsula
It’s tempting to pay a visit in mid-winter, to experience contrasting conditions. The locals regularly go skiing by head-torch in the dark winter months, when it's possible to ski under the northern lights. The lower easier angle slopes are plastered with light, fluffy powder, making for excellent tree skiing.
"The locals regularly go skiing by head-torch in the dark winter months, when it's possible to ski under the northern lights"
The author skis a steep pitch in late spring sunshine
When flicking through the guidebook, it becomes noticeable that most of the first steep descents were done in the summer months, particularly on the Lyngen Peninsula. If you don’t mind carrying your skis for a short while, then plenty of ski opportunities exist well beyond May.
The author approaches the summit of Buren, Kvaløya
Although it’s the Arctic, if you plan to go in the springtime it’s not as cold as you might think. We’ll regularly be skinning in a thermal and lightweight fleece, and soft shell trousers. Bring a warm down jacket for having a “fika” break whilst soaking up the views on the summit. We’ve found it worthwhile to bring both lightweight and heavyweight waterproofs, and to decide which to carry on a daily basis. When it rains in Norway, it rains properly. Much of the terrain is non-glacial, and it’s possible to have a very satisfying ski touring trip without going on to the glaciers. However, it’s worth bringing full glacier skiing kit in case you are tempted by some of the glaciated areas.
Looking across to Stor Hollendaren and countless other peaks as the author drops into a bowl of pristine snow
Guidebooks and Maps
Ski Touring in Troms by Espen Nordahl (Fri Flyt). The 2013 version is available in English. A new version has just been published and this should be available in English later on this year.
Ski Touring in Norway: 156 Great Skiing Mountains (Fri Flyt)
Both Turkart and Nordeca publish 1:50,000 maps of the area, available in the UK from Stanfords
"The older I get the smaller the world becomes, but no less full of wonder. Standing on top of a mountain in the Arctic Circle would have been an incredible fiction to me as a child. Our information streams would have us believe such sublime moments are almost commonplace now, but the lived experience goes far beyond the on-screen façade. If I face north from this particular Norwegian summit, there is nothing between me and Alaska – over 2500 miles straight over the pole. Arctic adventures might be more accessible today, but it’s still ridiculous to be here at all. What a time to be alive."
- photographer Daniel Wildey on skiing in Arctic Norway
The author soaks up the magic of Arctic Norway on summit of Stetinden in the Lyngen Alps
Find out more about Daniel Wildey's photography at danielwildeyphotography.com