Lines Upon the WaterTuesday, January 16, 2018
I was standing on the ship’s deck watching the mountains grow larger from the sea as we approached the shoreline. “Opal”—our Icelandic two-mast schooner was ploughing the sea quietly as our crew prepared to land close to the couloir we had spotted beforehand on Google Earth. There was no other way to reach this spot and I felt very lucky.
The Peaks of Kvaenangen
There’s enormous potential for never-ending ski adventures in the northern islands close to Finnmark, Norway. What makes it difficult is access—the only way to get to this destination is by boat, and taking into account that you need to sail on the Arctic Sea, you really need to have a fully rigged ship. Opal, equipped with both an electric and backup diesel engine (along with the possibility to use sails) was our ticket to these abandoned shores.
We had started our expedition from Lyngseidet in Lyngen. The mission was to sail north and look for fresh places to ski, which was a dream come true for me. I have been skiing in the Lyngen area since 1998, but never had a chance to get to the Northern islands that are covered with coastal mountains.
The biggest challenge turned out to be the weather that started with a full-scale storm, bringing in avalanches that buried three cars in the main road leading to Tromsö. After the storm, it started to dump snow for real—we had to start our trip by skiing waist deep powder in a birch forest in Kåfjord because nothing else could be done. The un-skied couloirs were waiting and it looked like they would have to wait another year or so.
Weather Hits the Fan
When you think of planning, you always hope for clear skies and perfect weather, but lately it has become clear that there is no way to know what to expect. There have been more storms in one winter than I can remember in the Northern polar cap. January was especially warm, with temperatures changing from +5 to -30 degrees Celsius. From my point of view there’s no argument that the climate is changing fast. The weather forecast was showing a green light for the rest of the week but we knew we had to deal with potentially unstable snow in a location none of us had been before.
Entering Sleeping Village
After a pit stop in Skjervöy we sailed east, heading to the small village of Reinfjord. There are eight people living in this village and the only public access is by a speedboat that comes in once a week from Skjervöy. After docking to the old harbor that was once used for fishing boats we could start skiing. The streets were filled with snow and there were no tracks anywhere. Houses seemed to be empty, but when we were skiing on the main road of the village we met this old couple that greeted us from the balcony of their house. They said there hadn’t been any traffic for two weeks in the village because the weather had been so bad that the speedboat couldn’t come last Friday.
In sketchy conditions, it’s nice to find a location that provides as much options as possible and we picked Reinfjord because of that. Once we saw this beautiful place we knew that we had entered the right spot—you could ski for weeks here without entering the same slope. We decided to ascend Boazovuoncahca—an easy peak on the south side of the village—to get to know the snow conditions. Once we made our way to the top, the weather finally cleared and we were able to see the surroundings. While sailing in we had spotted couloirs that run on the western side of the mountain all the way to the shore, so we decided to check out how they looked from above. After careful evaluation with a rope it looked like one of the main couloirs would be skiable, so we decided to give it a try.
The couloir provided roughly 500 meters of vertical, steep skiing. We had big smiles on our faces when we entered the shore. The sun was shining when we got back to the boat and it was time to plan for the next day. We wanted to check out how the terrain looked a bit further at the end of the fjord in Jökelfjord and had a beautiful evening’s sail on our way there.
Seize the Day
The next day turned out to be more proof that you can’t count on the weather. The wind was blowing from the east and it was snowing hard. We were docked in an old harbor in Jökelfjord—a two-hour sail from Reinfjord. It became clear that there wouldn’t be any skiing, so we spent our day spotting avalanches on the other side of the fjord.
We had passed this beautiful looking couloir running down from Aibmadasgaisa while on our way to Jökelfjord. I had my eyes on this same couloir on Google Earth when we were pre-planning for the trip, so we made plans to ski this on the next day. It would be somewhat questionable when thinking about the prevailing conditions, but it looked like it had been sheltered from the previous winds. The next morning, we were loading our gear onto the shore accessed by a rubber boat from the ship.
It was reasonably safe and easy to approach the couloir from below. We evaluated the snow while climbing up and confirmed that it wasn’t affected by the wind. In fact, it turned out to be full of blower pow after the icy entrance at the top. The skiing was the best that I’ve ever experienced! The ship was waiting for us below as we were making turns in sunshine. Due to the difficult access, it’s safe to say this was probably a first descent of that beauty. We took privilege to name the couloir “Opal” after the wooden lady that shipped us there.
Big thanks for North Sailing Norway and Backcountry Guiding for making this adventure happen.