Norway skiing: From summit to sea under the midnight sun

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(CNN) — For those in the know, there’s a secret land in the far north where the skiing’s epic and the adventures are just a bit different.

It’s a place where jagged peaks rise out of shimmering seas like snow-white shark’s teeth. Where intrepid skiers land on black-sand beaches and ski tour to serene summits.

Where leaving fresh tracks on a broad white canvas above inky black water under the midnight sun becomes standard. And where dining on fjord-fresh seafood or reindeer steaks in a cozy cabin or luxury yacht rounds off another perfect day.

The destination is northern Norway, high above the Arctic Circle, and it’s the new frontier for resort-weary thrill-seekers and soul skiers and snowboarders.
Northern Norway: where jagged peaks rise out of shimmering seas like snow-white shark's teeth

Northern Norway: where jagged peaks rise out of shimmering seas like snow-white shark’s teeth

Espen Mortensen

It’s pure wilderness. There are no lifts or resort infrastructure, and ski touring is the name of the game — ascending on skis under your own steam before tracing your unique turns down pristine peaks.

The epicenter is the Lyngen Alps east of Tromso and the Lofoten Islands, Vesteralen and Senja to the southwest. It’s a patchwork of myriad mountains, finger-like fjords and jumbled islands, all poking north into the Norwegian Sea like an unkempt eyebrow.

Then there’s the light, haunting and majestic. From November until the end of January, the sun doesn’t rise, and the land is bathed in blue and violet before the northern lights put on their shape-shifting show. Ski touring season runs from March until late May, when it’s possible to ski under the midnight sun.

Ski touring, or climbing up the mountain on skis, can be done from March until late May, when it's possible to ski under the midnight sun.

Ski touring, or climbing up the mountain on skis, can be done from March until late May, when it’s possible to ski under the midnight sun.

Espen Mortensen

“It’s one of the most spectacular ski areas in the world,” says renowned ski photographer Mattias Fredriksson. “The natural light is so unique up there. It’s one of the meccas for ski touring.”

Amazing contrasts

With no lifts, ski touring is the only uphill transport — on skis with bindings that lift at the heel and “skins” attached to the bases to stop them sliding back as you climb. You’ll need a decent level of fitness, but tours can be tailored to any skill level from intermediate to pro.

At the top, the skins come off, the bindings are clamped down and the skis become tools of pleasure rather than toil. The reward is virgin slopes plunging from summit to sea with no one else for miles around.

On the banks of the Lyngenfjord, near the village of Djupvik two-and-a-half hours drive from Tromso, sits Lyngen Lodge, a boutique hotel in the middle of this winter wonderland.

Its eight cozy bedrooms can sleep up to 16 guests, and the property includes a large social “stua” and dining area. It’s made of pine with geothermic heating and a grass roof for better insulation.

From this bespoke haven, dozens of peaks well over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) are accessible. Some, particularly in the northern Lyngen Alps, are reachable only by boat.

The lodge’s motor launch Spirit of Lyngen drops skiers and their guides on snow-covered beaches to begin ski touring. Once at the top, descents can range from broad, easy-angled slopes to steep, narrow chutes and widely spaced birch forests lower down.

“You can ski beautiful mountains all over the world, but when your last turn ends on a beach in the middle of nowhere, it’s pretty unique,” says Briton Graham Austick, a professional mountain guide and skier, who moved from St. Anton, Austria, to found the lodge in 2008.

“The reason I came here in the first place was just the environment and the amazing contrasts of the bright white mountains and the black, inky color of the fjords.

“It feels very surreal, like two oil paintings have been merged together. There is lots going on, lots of stimulation and emotion.”

Lyngen Lodge is a boutique hotel in the middle of nowhere, albeit with access to some of Norway's best skiing.

Lyngen Lodge is a boutique hotel in the middle of nowhere, albeit with access to some of Norway’s best skiing.

Lyngen Lodge

Exotic

After a hard day’s hike, guests can luxuriate in the library, bar, sauna or outdoor jacuzzi while the chefs knock out top-notch treats such as salmon, sea trout, cod, halibut, wolf fish, reindeer or local lamb.

In May, skiers set off for tours after dinner, aiming to be on the top and ready for an exotic downhill run shortly after midnight when the sun is at its zenith over the horizon. That’s followed by breakfast back at the lodge before bed to recharge for another nocturnal adventure.

“The sun is a lot lower during the midnight sun so you get more of an orangey pink light, it’s not bright daylight sun, it’s a different kind of light, it’s spectacular,” says Elisabeth Braaten, co-owner of the lodge.

Orange, pink and yellow lights bathe the area late at night with a late-setting sun in the spring.

Orange, pink and yellow lights bathe the area late at night with a late-setting sun in the spring.

Christian Bothner

Lyngen Lodge also offers dog sledding, snow mobile tours, snow shoe hikes, cross country skiing, fishing and whale watching in the right season — just in case getting up the mountain without a chairlift isn’t your idea of fun.

Mind-blowing

Intrepid skiers with strong sea legs to match can wake up to a new view every morning by joining a multiday charter yacht outfitted for ski trips, where participants will explore myriad mountains, fjords and islands, such as Stjernoya (Star Island), with its cockscomb of deep bays and stunning peaks. Fredriksson described a voyage there as, “one of the most special trips I’ve ever been on.”

The luxury 88-foot sailing yacht Firebird is essentially a floating, portable ski chalet with a skipper, chef/deckhand and 360-degree views of the spectacular scenery from the wraparound windows in the saloon.
Norway skiing Firebird boat

The Firebird yacht sets sail on an odyssey around the Lyngen Alps and beyond, dropping off skiers in a tiny rubber dinghy for a day’s ski touring.

MikeJones/WaterlineMedia

Firebird picks up guests arriving into Tromso and sets sail on an odyssey around the Lyngen Alps and beyond, dropping off skiers in a tiny rubber dinghy for a day’s ski touring with a qualified guide before welcoming them back aboard for comforting snacks and gourmet three-course treats.

It’s a snug fit on the yacht, but the four ensuite cabins feature individually controlled heating systems, while ski boot heaters in the sail locker dry out the tools of the trade for the next day.

Lofoten Ski Lodge sits right above the water on an inlet on the south side of the islands near Svolvaer.

Lofoten Ski Lodge sits right above the water on an inlet on the south side of the islands near Svolvaer.

Lofoten Ski Lodge

“Northern Norway continues to blow my mind with its beauty,” says Firebird guest Anne Kuittinen. “Nothing beats the feeling of ski touring on the mountain and returning onboard to smell the freshly baked crumpets, cakes and enjoying a cup of tea after a magnificent day out.”

Lifetime of exploration

To the southwest of Tromso, Lofoten is a string of deeply indented islands stretching out into the Norwegian Sea with almost limitless opportunities for ski touring.

Lofoten Ski Lodge is a renovated wooden “brygge,” a traditional fishing and farming trading post from the 19th century, which sits right above the water on an inlet on the south side of the islands near Svolvaer.
The lodge houses up to 50 guests in converted “rorbuer” — old fishermen’s cabins — an atmospheric nod to the area’s long association with lofotfiske (cod fishing) and the ancient Sami culture. The Lofotr Viking Museum near Vestvagoy in the center of the islands gives a vivid glimpse of the old ways in a reconstructed longhouse with replica ships.
Lofoten Lodge is also the base for Northern Alpine Guides, a skiing and climbing operation which leads tours to the best snow and terrain for your fitness, ski levels and goals, from February until the end of May.

Store Trolltind (1,036 meters) is a spectacular peak in Trollfjorden, while Mount Geitgaljartinden (1,085 m) offers the longest run in the region.

“The islands offer amazing scenery and culture due to their special climate and history,” says lodge and guiding service co-owner Maren Eek Bistrup.

“There is a lifetime of exploration to be had in Lofoten on skis.”

The lodge, apparently developed with “active and playful people in mind,” features a smorgasbord of toys to keep guests happy, from indoor badminton and ping pong to a bouldering wall, gym, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, piano, drums and guitars.

Food to fuel all that activity is hearty and healthy local fare, served up in an all-you-can eat buffet before retiring to the cozy wooden lounge and bar with roaring fire.

If that all seems too, well … comfortable, the guides can also arrange sail-and-ski trips on a 73-foot polar expedition yacht to discover the possibilities farther afield among the spectacular peaks of Vesteralen, Senja and the island of Kvaloya near Tromso.

The impossibly pretty peaks of Norway.

The impossibly pretty peaks of Norway.

Kristian Nashoug

The yacht, Skydancer, is tailor-made for the Arctic with a steel hull, heating and all the mod-cons and can even be chartered to explore the wild peaks and glaciers on the northern island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago, where polar bears roam.

The super-hardcore can combine a skiing trip with a surfing safari at Unstad, a huge bay that acts as a swell magnet on the northern side of Lofoten. Accommodation is in small wooden cabins or a beachside camp ground.

For more traditional skiing, the industrial city of Narvik has a six-lift resort rising almost from downtown.

But northern Norway is all about skiing in the wild, exploring new frontiers and earning your turns.

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