The Magic Isles – Lofoten – 68° North in Arctic Norway.

Skiing at the heart of the Norwegian fjords is a unique adventure. Ross Hewitt and Michelle Blaydon experienced it for the first time and, through Ross’ words, we bring you a voyage of discovery through the magical north.

Ahhh, the magical mountains of Lofoten nestled within the Arctic Circle on the west coast of Norway. The mountains are alpine-like with big ridges and knife edged arêtes, rising straight out of the sea creating a rugged coastline interspaced with deep sheltered fiords, white sand beaches and emerald green waters. Here the ever-changing weather delivers those dramatic skyscapes we all dream about.

For the last few years a ski trip to Lofoten had been at the forefront of our minds but for some reason or another it just never came off. Last year I was one mouse click from buying flights on one page while the Norwegian weather on the other page told me it would be a washout. This year I was determined to make it happen and with Chamonix friends Minna Rihiimaki and Cedric Bernardini already in situ and giving no bullshit status reports, we finally pulled the trigger and committed, deciding a 10-day trip would be long enough to ride out any milder blips in the weather.

I had worked as an engineer in Stavanger in 2005 and still suffer nightmares about the price of a pint in Norway so we took a few bottles of Malt Whiskey to get us through our week and besides it is customary to bring your host a bottle – well that’s our excuse!

For centuries fishing has been the main source of food and it remains the main industry. The northeast Arctic cod makes a migratory journey from the Barents Sea to spawn in the Lofoten waters and fishing this cod run has become a traditional event that provides stability to the local economy. The cod is preserved by hanging it out to dry on huge racks which are visible at every port.

Here its common to see 40-foot trucks with spiked tyres thundering along the impressive road network, which connects the islands by tunnels under the fiords or bridges over them. That road network means that almost any skiing zone can be accessed in a day hit, and it doesn’t require an early start. Lofoten must be one of the few places where the mountains look bigger than they actually are and it was a welcome break to find us gaining the tops in 2-3 hours rather than full day slogs and this added to the relaxed unrushed feel.

As with any west coast there is no shortage of precip and the average is around 1.3 m of snow per month during January, February and March. We headed up there in mid March to benefit from colder snow and dark nights in which to view the Aurora Borealis.

We elected to stay at the beautiful Lofoten Ski Lodge that is run by the charming couple of Maren Eek Bistrup and IFMGA mountain guide Seth Hobby. They provide a fantastic homely relaxed atmosphere that allows you to completely unwind and adjust to the natural rhythm of the days in the far north. The lodge is located on the edge of an idyllic bay surrounded by snowcapped mountains and everyone stays in their own cosy log cabin on the shore. Waking up involves drawing the curtains and being greeted with beautiful views over the bay that included in our case, Bob the heron on his morning fishing trip.

We started the day with a hearty breakfast to fuel us for the day ahead. From the table we would be awestruck by the sunrises over the ocean and the ‘magic mountains’ on the mainland beyond which called out to us with the promise of adventures.

We’ve all done trips and got frustrated trying to figure out where the goods are found and our short trip meant we had no time to waste getting it wrong. This is where Seth’s intimate knowledge from many years in the far north was priceless and he selflessly shared this with us giving us the steer on many unskied lines. Now that is normally an incredible act of generosity in usual circumstances, can you imagine giving away all those ski lines you had looked upon and stored in the back of your mind for the future? What made it an extraordinary selfless act was that Seth had suffered sofa surfing knee injuries last season and again at the start of this season when he fractured his tibial plateau hitting a rock. I could only hope I would be as generous and graceful if our roles were reversed.

For day after day we went out and skied his lines until one day I came back with a photo of 3 long beautiful couloirs on the other side of a fiord. I showed Seth my photo, eagerly enquiring into how to access these lines and if a boat was required. Seth’s eyes lit up and he turned to me and said ‘those, my friend, are mine’. You just have to respect that, and somehow live with the guilt for robbing him of several other first descents. I think he was stoked for us enjoying the highlife in his zone but everyday when we returned smiling from ear to ear I could feel his pain.

Initially the weather was really unsettled and ever changing which reminded me of my upbringing in Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains where receiving 4 seasons in one day is not abnormal. Fortunately the maritime snowpack settles quickly and we toured into the north cirque of Nilsviktinden and found 3 virgin couloirs each around 500 m. The rock walls provided good relief in the stormy weather and cold new snow was sensational to ski. After skiing we would grab a coffee and a waffle before relaxing in the sauna with a beer and allowing the heat to soak into tired muscles. After about 20 minutes it would be time to cool off which required downing a dram in preparation for jumping in the fiord in true Viking style. Finally we would have to tear ourselves away from the sauna before becoming completed desiccated and get ready for diner.

We grew accustomed to being spoiled with the culinary delights from the lodge and afterwards we would step outside on Aurora watch armed with a generous dram outside to stave off the cold. A few nights running we got lucky with clear skies and as if on cue, the Aurora Borealis would appear and dazzle us with its phenomenal flickering beauty as the solar wind collided with the Earth’s atmosphere. We seemed to make good progress on the whiskey while watching the show so it was great that breakfast wasn’t until 830 am – luxury when you are used to rushing for the first bin at Aiguille du Midi at 8 am!
Finally the weather turned bluebird and Seth sent us questing off to Breitinden with a warning that the approach might be marshy. We quested off and successfully negotiated the wetlands to find a brilliant cirque with another beautiful line filled with perfect powder.

Later in the week broken skies meant we were treated to the ever-changing light that the far north is famous for. Shafts of sunlight would pierce through the moody clouds and reflect off the fiords and we scored a final run down the classic south couloir of Geitgalien.

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