Honey Pots embrace them or avoid them – the decision is yours.
Honey Pots are an unfortunate reality in Backcountry skiing, when booking a trip we all want to know we will have great skiing, good snow, fantastic terrain and amazing views. We don’t ask for much do we?? This means that we usually choose to ski somewhere we have heard of and need some persuasion to think outside of the box and ski somewhere a bit different.
The classic example is the Chamonix valley in the Alps or the Lyngen peninsula in Northern Norway. If we take Chamonix first, if you want to ski any of the classic lines from the Aiguille du Midi (by classic I mean routes with skiing about 30degrees), be prepared to book the lift days before or stand in a massive queue. Then ski surrounded by other people with all in the inherent risks of having to interact with other hill goers, their risk tolerances and hazard awareness.
Unfortunately if you go to ski in the Lyngen Peninsula its not as busy as the Midi but you will have to share, the first time I skied there about 15 years ago we met no other skiers in 10 days. Fast-forward 10 years and there is an English language guidebook (in its second edition) and you won’t find a classic tour without tracks all over it. You can always find solitude if you seek out the obscure or if you like skiing some steeper terrain but generally you pay the price for skiing in famous places.
As a skier and a Mountain Guide I always want to know what’s over the next ridge, round the corner or explore areas I haven’t been before. Maps, guide books and a lot of time drinking coffee with other like minded folk have given me a lifetime of places I want to visit, explore and share with my guests. The commercial reality as a guide is that to make a living I need to share my experiences and convince folk to join me on these adventures. So in many respects I am as guilty as the guidebook writers of publicizing these previously quiet areas.
There is a flip side to this, when I first visited Lyngen the only real option was ski by boat as the options for land-based accommodation were extremely limited. Fast-forward to today and there is 2 lodges and lots of good quality self-catering options. This offers genuine income to the local community in terms of accommodation, food, restaurants, shops etc. So it is not a necessarily a bad thing.
In my search for quieter places to skis I recently went to Narvik, I have skied in Riksgransen a few times just over the border in Sweden and always enjoyed it but was intrigued by everyone chat about skiing round Narvik. Those raving about it were everyone from those who enjoy the classic tours to the legendary Andreas Fransson who said “ all the times I have been in Norway before, I have always thought: “this is good – but it is better in Narvik.
With that kind of recommendation I thought I had better check it out, we stayed with my Swedish Mountain Guide friend Magnus Strand who owns and runs Trollviken Lodge www.narvikguides.no with his son Jack. As a trained chef Jack prepared us fantastic locally inspired food and Magnus suggested places we could explore.
Given how much snow the Alps had this season we were a bit disappointed to learn that it hadn’t snowed in the Arctic for 6 weeks. Everything was white and the temperature was -10c so in spite of the lack of powder we knew we would find some good adventures.
With a clear calm forecast we started the trip with Rombakstotta this stunning peak is known at the Matterhorn of the North with a precipitous North Face and a great summit ridge. It was a bit of rough start to the trip with steep kick turns through tight trees in awkward snow, this soon led to more open skinning and in time to a transition from skis to crampons. A snow and rock ridge then a steep scramble led to an amazing view of Narvik and the surrounding Fjords. While spectacular the descent wasn’t the finest skiing so the next day we went looking for some softer snow.
We headed west to Litletinden with an open easterly aspect we found some amazing surface hoar that gave us some of that amazing “loud” snow skiing. Every turn sent snow tingling across the surface with amazing views west to the Lofoten Islands and east into Narvik Fjord.
We woke on the third day to some overcast weather and some light snow up high, Keipen offered plenty of trees low down and beautiful valley up high that led to a ski depot and some interesting cramponing to the summit. We headed North to Nonsfjellet and discovered the persistent weak layer we were sure would exist. With a shallow snow pack and strong temperature gradient that had been in place for a number of weeks we were sure there must be facets lurking in the snow pack. When a North-facing hillside settled on us it didn’t take much digging to find a big facetted layer.
Better visibility and a dusting of new snow gave a great day out on Spanstinden which, for the supposedly most popular ski tour in the area we didn’t see another track. On our last day we headed south of Narvik to Skjomen Fjord, this stunning fjord has acres of exposed granite and some spectacular couloirs. Gangnesakslais home to one of the most spectacular couloirs I have seen, unfortunately this time it didn’t have enough snow for us but that classic route gave us a fantastic day out.
While the snow on this visit wasn’t as good as we expected mid winter we were blown away by the potential of the area. It offers all kind of skiing from classic tours to steep couloirs. There is a huge variety of aspects and proximity to the open ocean, sheltered fjords or you could move inland towards the Swedish border for colder drier conditions. No matter the conditions you couldn’t fail to have a great adventure.
We will be back.