Under the arctic sun

The third edition of the Sentinelle migrated to the northern lands, at the crossroad of the most northerly countries in Europe. At the heart of Minna Riihimaki’s native area, co-founder of this event dedicated to libertarian ski-touring, friendship, effort, sliding and goodwill were once again the keywords of this third opus.

Overcome by a cloud of steam, I cover my airways to avoid suffocation. Elmo had mischievously poured a massive ladleful of water onto the red hot volcanic rocks. The Finns were grateful to him because most of the French people upped and left, running for the hole in the frozen lake. A real sauna is a strange combo…Both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. After getting through the initial heat shock it feels unbelievably good to drink a beer and shoot the shit on the terrace. It’s 10pm and the sun is still up. Welcome to Kilpisjarvik for the Scandinavian edition of the Sentinelle.

Pascal Tournaire

A real sauna is a strange combo…Both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. After getting through the initial heat shock it feels unbelievably good to drink a beer and shoot the shit on the terrace. It’s 10pm and the sun is still up. Welcome to Kilpisjarvik for the Scandinavian edition of the Sentinelle.

Pascal Tournaire

Minna found us the best spot for this third act. I’d never heard of this isolated little village close to the junction of Finland, Sweden and Norway… This trio of borders was always the zone we had in mind but the weather and the snow conditions forced us to change course and, as always in the mountains, to adapt.

Pascal Tournaire

Entourage

Lisbeth was the first to arrive. She’d hitchhiked from Tromsø with her ski bag and a backpack…hardly a surprise from this young woman who had cycled up from Belgium. Minna arrived next with the team of guides, Pascal Tournaire in charge of photography and Mateffy, cameraman, drone top-gun and editor…This supercharged Romanian is a filmmaking Swiss Army knife. Then came our inner circle of skiers who have been at the heart of the project since it started: Olive, Nest, Pat, Eric…It was such a great feeling to see all these wonderful people gathered together.

Pascal Tournaire

The day before

The sun was shining so after a hearty breakfast we went skiing to familiarise ourselves with our remote location, to absorb the immensity that surrounded us. It’s a landscape sculpted by ice containing mountains that are great fun to ski. In the early afternoon we arrived at the summit of Saana-the mountain that overlooks the village-to check out the incredible Tamok mountain range 30 km to the west…

Pascal Tournaire

A family affair.

That evening, after the final participants had joined us, it was time for some introductions and a little event preview in the hotel meeting room. We were fortunate enough to have representatives from our various partners, guides, skiers and search and rescue specialists from Recco.

Pascal Tournaire

After introducing himself, Elmo, Minna’s 13 year-old son, turned around to ask Layla’s parents if they are going to do the Sentinelle…I’m pleased to say that there are more and more participants every year and that our little group is increasingly cosmopolitan… I skied for the Norwegian brand Norrona for years and have had the opportunity to come and ski in Scandinavia many times, which is why I wasn’t expecting too much from the weather on this trip. You can never be sure of anything in these parts and I’ve seen the best and worst over the course of the last ten years. In fact, I was counting on bad weather, wind and cold above anything else, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the five days of sun and high temperatures that were to come.

Pascal Tournaire

Town-in

“Rendezvous at 8:15 in front of the hotel, we’ll head out on skis to reach the snowmobiles waiting for us on the edge of the lake, 2 km from the village.” Skis on the shoulder, we crossed the road and followed a track serving a few spread out houses before reaching the snow front and a forest of gnarled little birch trees. Pascal skipped ahead of the group to shoot us head on. For most of the gang it was their first time in Scandinavia with such strong sunshine, which meant smiles all round…

Pascal Tournaire

After finding the snowmobile drivers, we got towed in bunches of ten for at least fourteen kilometres to our stunning spot with slopes and north-facing couloirs that plunge into the blue-green mosaic of the frozen lake. It was so hot that the machines kept sinking in the slushy snow… Because of this heat the snow was sticky. Some of us went skiing anyway while others fished or just hung out and enjoyed Yarko’s famous barbecue in the sunshine lying on a spongy blanket of moss and lichen.

Pascal Tournaire

The return leg at the end of the afternoon did turn out to be a bit of an epic though. Exhausted and dehydrated, our group struggled to cross the huge expanse of muddy snow on the lake (the snowmobiles can’t tow you through such mushy sections). But as soon as we had accepted the challenge, this struggle became a large part of the fun.

Pascal Tournaire

Tamok We pass into Norway and after a one-hour drive we park the cars on the riverside in a spot as beautiful as it is remote, as if just waiting for us. Yarko, the manager of Tamok snow camp and our host for tonight joins us. We quickly get ready. Everyone is lined up on the road and I give the starting orders.

Pascal Tournaire

Over the ditch, skis on and then the climb up through slushy snow starts in a dense forest… I’ll never forget the superb light at the start of that day. We make the track in a relay at talking pace, then we stop and watch some huge wet snow avalanches coming down, totally mesmerised. One in particular really was enormous, accompanied by a roar that was heard for kilometres around. In such heavy snow conditions, the course had to be set to maximum safety mode.

Pascal Tournaire

We had such a wonderful day decorated by various different mountains and the effort of the climb was spread out between the team…At one point I remember turning around to see this pretty girl dressed in different colours gently making her way up along a stunning cirque whose décor revealed itself slowly, the sun lighting up the slope towards the dark blue shores. Later that day we stopped on the top of a ridge and after admiring the landscape and savouring the moment, we sat down for a master class from Vivian and Ross on the use of ropes and the different techniques for securing people. This kind of info is nowhere to be found in books or on the Internet, something precious. Everyone listens intently to understand and absorb this priceless knowledge. Sticking to the north aspects, the snow is still good to ski and we finish with a Norwegian classic: high-speed slalom in the trees to really burn the thighs out one last time.

Pascal Tournaire

Just like the snow that we had to work with, the Sentinelle is an event that’s alive and constantly in flux. Always in search of new mountain ranges, it gathers together passionate skiers of all ages and nationalities. Beyond the melting pot of different ski cultures, this time I felt an almost familial side to it. Elmo, Julia, and this couple of Canadians who came with their baby… It’s like a family reunion where newcomers are welcomed.. They quickly find their place at the dinner table and affirm their new friendships by having a great time together; through all the exertion, joy and struggle that comes with being in the mountains.

Pascal Tournaire

Épilogue The Nenets, the reindeer-herding people of the arctic, close in their way of life to the Lappish who we met on this trip, have around forty words and expressions for snow- frozen, windblown, spring snow dotted with melted slabs and even one that means melting in the sun…This demonstrates their capacity for understanding this substance as well as nature, the sky and the climate. This edition went down as a true voyage of discovery. Bruno

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