Finnmark – True Wilderness Skiing
"One of my favourite things about skiing in the Arctic is the feeling of wilderness, as backcountry skiing has become more popular, the advent of guidebooks, the return of international travel and the plethora of information on the internet it is harder and harder to find that wilderness experience."
This was my 7th ski and sail trip to Finnmark, in that time we have experienced every type of weather and every kind of snow. After a 2-year covid enforced break it was great to be back greeting the mountains like old friends. As we drove from Alta to Oksfjord to meet the boat I couldn’t help pointing out the window regaling the team with stories of past outings and adventures.
In the north you must take advantage of any good weather as you will be guaranteed it is about to change, the day was blue bird and it had snowed 20cm overnight so we would have been made not to ski. We got the minibus to drop as the bottom of Fruvikdalen so we could traverse 2 fantastic peaks on our way to join the boat. Having seized the day, we were rewarded with some of the best powder turns I have enjoyed in Norway. Some of the group had never been to Norway before and some had not had skis on for 2 years so those first turns to be in powder under a clear arctic sky with a frozen lake below looking out to the ocean was a dream come true.
Having stored out kit on the boat we had a short sail across Oksfjord for our first night at anchor, the stillness is magical just the gentle rocking of the boat to lull us to sleep.
Next morning the sky was overcast as we headed for Loppatinden, the highest peak in Finnmark on the edge of the Oksfjordjokul ice cap, the last section onto the icecap has been getting steadily steeper each year as the ice retreats and with flat light and persistent weak layer in the avalanche forecast, we decided to skip the summit and ascended a lower peak nearby.
The light was flat for the descent, but the skiing was fantastic with the previous days powder being preserved by the overnight freeze.
One of the many great things about ski and sail is the ability to move and explore, changing our views and horizon on a daily basis, we moved round to the north side of the island of Sternoya and island shaped like a hand with long north facing fjords defining the fingers. As so often happens in coastal mountains the snow conditions had changed overnight with powder turning to crust with a savage wind blowing. On the ascent we seamlessly transitioned from crust to wind slab, a team discussion at 650m felt that honour had been served and it was time for coffee on the boat.
A short sail after coffee and soup set us up for the next day, a mixed forecast made Nordmannfjellet an easy choice, good skiing and easy navigation in poor visibility have us surprisingly good skiing all the way back to the beach. With poor weather often comes great rewards. If there are no storms then there is no powder to ski, the next day we were rewarded with some great turns on a diminutive Sattogaisa a spiralling ascent up a gully across a face to a spectacular summit with a 700m drop straight to the Fjord. The descent gave us fall line skiing down the access couloir straight to the boat.
We spent the last couple of days of the trip on the island of Seiland, this is one of Norway’s largest national parks and in an area if wilderness that is hard to find in Europe. With a great forecast and fresh snow from 2 days ago we opted for a traverse of the Island. One of the many great things about ski and sail is the boat’s ability to move round and collect you from a different place.
With the plan set and the rendez-vous decided upon we started breaking trail for the highest point on the island, 4 ½ hours later we had a 360-degree panorama with mountains and ocean in every direction.
Once we had soaked up the view careful study of the map was required to make sure we descended to the correct fjord for our pickup. The descent was fantastic careful navigation to enter the right gully system then pitch after pitch of perfect powder led all the way to the beach. As we pulled to a halt, one thing was obvious, no boat! Had we descended to the wrong fjord? A quick radio call confirmed the team had gone exploring and would be there in a minute.
We stayed on Seiland for the last day, Gumpecohkka sits right above the anchorage, on a misty day we were rewarded for our efforts with a brief clearing just as we clicked our skis on and pointed them at the beach. After 7 trips we are still discovering new descents and every day is different in this ever changing landscape. Will I go back? The boats already booked for next year.