April 2018 and it’s rapidly approaching the end of the winter guiding season in the French Alps. This winter has been the best in many years, with a record amount of snow and amazing conditions! The skiing has been unbelievably good and we all feel very privileged to have witnessed such an excellent winter in our mountains.
Nonetheless, the need to take a break from the familiar and seek out new skiing horizons is a big pull for many of us who spend our winters working regular routes with clients. When the opportunity arose to join Sylvain on a trip to the Finnmark region of Norway, far removed from the crowds of the Lyngen Alps and Lofoten, I jumped at it.
This region of Scandinavia and Rodoy Island specifically are home to the oldest recorded evidence of skiing. Ancient paintings illustrate skiing being used as a means of transportation here thousands of years ago. What better place to enjoy the sport today than its potential birthplace?
Basecamp for our visit to Finnmark was located West from Alta, at a place called Langfjordbotn. Our little cottage was right on the fjord, which, thanks to the fantastically cold weather, was still wearing its winter coat, much of it still frozen deep. The cottage had only the basic comforts, but for a holiday like this, it was exactly what we were looking for. With the fireplace on and food in our stomachs, it quickly transformed into a warm, calm bubble – a home.
From the base in Langfjordbotn, our plan was to visit different fjords in the area. The landscape was a little different everywhere we went. Sometimes the mountains were round like beautiful domes, at others they were peeled clean by the tough weather, their steep sides jutting up into the sky with couloirs that dove straight into the fjords below. All were inspiring to us.
The feeling of space was unavoidable here. There aren’t many inhabitants per square mile in Norway, especially in the North, but that’s a big part of why we travel to ski. As well as being dwarfed by the landscape, we also felt physically small next to the Norwegians that we met. We may have felt like travelling Vikings exploring the fjords, but these were their true descendants. Many still embody a spirit of tradition and are focused on protecting the environment that is their home.
Early in our trip we met Randy, cook and owner of one of the most unique restaurants around. Her establishment is warm, welcoming and the locals all meet there before heading home. Randy loves the Norwegian landscape. The region is her passion and she is politically engaged, fighting for the protection of the environment, the mountains and the seas. We spent a couple of evenings listening to her talk about Nordic culture, Viking folklore and what is at stake for Finnmark in the modern world.
As always, finding out about local customs proves to be one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. Sylvain and I took some time to try our hands at fishing in the fjords, but even with our friend Toré’s advice, we only end up catching seaweed.
On the skiing front, we were spoiled for choice. Hundreds of possible tours, all more or less accessible even this late in the season. For some we had to cross the fjord by fishing boats and some of the most sought after lines were protected by tortuous ridges that made access that little more difficult. We are both so used to the lifts in France that for this trip we made a conscious effort to take longer approaches that brought us closer to nature. A soft approach, kayaking, allowed us to contemplate the beautiful immensity of what was around us and this was our preferred option where possible.
While ski touring, time takes on a different speed. We don’t really know if minutes become hours or vice versa. The slow way up, contemplating in peace under the heat of the sun, gives way to speed, focus and adrenaline on the way back down!
Beyond a “friends trip”, where sharing is key, what we will most remember from our time in Norway is not the tours themselves, but the vast territories we explored where nature dominates mankind rather than the other way round. The atmosphere, the contrast and the mix of elements: ocean, sea, snow, mountains. Those last turns of a ski tour finishing only a few meters away from the ocean accompanied by the strong smell of seaweed and spray.