Ski and snowboard

Lyngen – The White Hotel

While long known as a touring destination, getting on top of a good big mountain line in Lyngen, Norway is hard.

The classic tours in Lyngen go to the picturesque, mellow peaks, jutting straight up from the sea. The gems, though, are hidden just behind these. Like massive city walls, Alaska style faces surround glacier plateaus, which, combined with the starting altitude of 1000m above sea level, keep the snow a few degrees colder than the surrounding area while the formation of the faces provide shelter from winds leaving the steep, technical runs plastered in snow when conditions are right.

The issue is getting there. Lacking any ski-infrastructure, just reaching the bottom of the lines is a five-hour hike. Then the real work begins, postholing your way up a 600m, 40-degree slope in knee-deep powder. That is if the weather cooperates and the snow is safe.

After two weeks attempting to reach the lines around Isskard Glacier I bumped into my old buddy Håvard Ånensen, a local snowboard legend, at the grocery store. 

The conditions were dangerous, but the real issue was how beat we were just getting to the bottom of the lines. Even if it’d been safe to get up there we wouldn’t have been able to ride them properly

I told him as the cashier beeped the beers I’d bought to drown my sorrows. The two weeks had been warm, windy, snowing, raining; pretty much every type of weather you don’t want in the mountains. Now, however, the forecast said light snow, stable temperatures and finally, a sunny spell of three days. This could be our only chance to actually get to ride these lines this winter.

We should just move in up there

Håvard said eager to get in on the action. “If we’re up there when the weather clears we’ll be rested and ready to go at first light”, I acknowledged and called the filmer up with the new plan.

Just able to jam in an extra chocolate bar I managed to fit freeze dried food for a week, a jet-boil, fuel, polartec alpha insulation from head to toe, an extra set of woolen base layers and socks, a lightweight down jacket, solar panels for the camera gear and the camping essentials in a lyngen 35L and a trollveggen 45L pack, helmet strapped to the back gypsy style. I considered bringing a book as well but weighed the paperback as too heavy for my already overloaded backpacks.

From the ocean side the mountains were dark, rocky and uninviting through the clouds. Down here it was raining, and me, Håvard and another snowboarder Lars Nilssen were trudging through the wet snow.

Though I try to go lightweight on these kinds of trips I’m not willing to compromise on performance. Hence my gear, despite tech bindings and light shells, was an equally far cry from the toothpicks the spandex crew sport as I was from their fit collectedness on the final steep pitch before the glacier. “God, I hope the snow is good up there!” I yelled through my heavy breathing, as much to the dark mountain as to my companions who were struggling just as hard with their oversized packs in the by now deep, only slightly wet snow.

It had been a trip of disappointments and turning back so far, but just as we came onto the glacier the fog and precipitation lifted so that the massive east face of Trollvasstind with snow heavy spinewalls, ridges and seemingly endless options for airs appeared in the half-light. Beyond Trollvasstinden the powder-filled faces of unnamed peaks continued on before turning back at the end of the glacier and running back towards us on the west side.

I felt like an explorer of old witnessing the endless riches of The Forbidden City for the first time; as we hiked further onto the glacier we were slowly encircled by everything I’d ever dreamed I’d get to ride. Knowing what laid on beyond the canvas wall it was difficult to fall asleep in the tent that night.

“It will get better…” Håvard said pragmatically, “in the long run it will get better”. We’d awoken to a total whiteout. “Well the forecast is obviously off”, Lars said, bummed because he had to get down that night to real life obligations while the filmer called in to say he’d wait it out down below.

You go a little crazy living in the white. Eat, showel snow, freeze your bum off in the ever more exuberant snow toilet, melt water, eat, sleep, repeat. By the third day I had gone over the decision process that led to not bringing that book a few time too many. But then after midday the snowfall lifted a little bit, enough too finally see the peaks surrounding us again. We were quick to throw on our skis and run over to the base of Trollvasstinden. Checking on the snow pack we discussed lines like children discuss x-mas gifts in December, and when it was deemed stable the heavy climb was welcomed after our bodies had stagnated in the tent for so many days.

Climbing a face you’re able to properly feel the snow, look at the features up close and get a real sense of the scale and possibilities in a way not possible just looking at it. Naturally it was with a heavy heart I realized I had to give up on my line as the weather worsened yet again just before the top. Screaming into the storm I cursed the failing meteorologists as it slowly dawned on me that I might never get to ride this mountain in good conditions.

That night the filmer let me know he’d given up the wait to do another job, and I was seriously considering doing the same.

Unzipping the tent hatch to do my manly business the next morning I looked out to see clear blue skies, the whole glacier bathed in warm sunlight making the snowed-in faces all around us sparkle with gold like the treasures they are. “Get up, get up, get up!” I desperately tried shaking Håvard to get ready, I had no idea how long this weather would last and I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. “Dude, I need my morning coffee”, Håvard seemed unimpressed by this unearthly intervention in our previously all white existence. “Suit yourself, but have it outside so you can keep an eye on me”, I told him as I clicked in and sprinted the short distance to the east face of Trollvasstinden.

Back on top, this time with the view of the entire Lyngen peninsula, endless mountain ranges broken up by fjords and the great Northern Atlantic beyond, I layered up in insulation and had some roasted cashews while savoring the moment. The sunny spell seemed to last, my legs were fresh and the snow was stable, bountiful and virgin all the way down to the camp below, a small black spot in the vast white expanse.

I’m not going to get into details about the run, but you can check it out here: 

Following the light of the sun we skied two equally exhilarating peaks around the glacier before the clouds started to roll back in around five pm, and we decided our time at the white hotel had come to an end.