My 5 Favourite Places to Ski in the World

This is the first in a series of five weekly articles which discuss my 5 favourite places to ski in the world.

I was recently asked what my 5 favourite ski lines were.  Thats a toughie. What makes a line great? The difficulty, the aesthetics of the line, the quality of the snow, skiability, or the overall experience you had on it? Some of the lines we skied in Alaska sure were fast, furious and a heap of fun but then I didn’t always earn those turns benefiting from the aid of a heli. Does that make a difference? Not really, its the same as any lift but for this article I have excluded Alaska as my experiences there in the Chugach, Heneys and Alaska range are a decade out of date. Why havent’t I been back to the velvet snow there??

The line has to be aesthetic, that goes without saying, and off the big mountain. It also has to have high skiability. What I mean by that is low reliance on abseils and maximum focus on skiing. Skiing is all about the sensation of turning, the control of the acceleration as gravity assists your descent and the flow state your mind can enter. Skiability generally is inversely proportional to difficulty. For example, a popular Chamonix test piece like the Mallory under the Midi cables is psychologically and technically challenging, but its also rocky and I’ve seen teams do as many as 9 abseils in poor conditions breaking the fluidity of a ski descent. I avoid getting caught up in that climbers game of chasing grades and go ski where the good snow is. Good snow can make a hard route ski well and easy, while poor conditions may mean you have the most harrowing marginal experience of your life leaving you burning a lot of hard earned cash at the bar afterwards to recover from the mental trauma. Aside from the snow, the overall experience I have on a route is heavily influenced by the people I share the experience with. So the ultimate line for me is the aesthetic one off that huge peak, which no reliance on abseils, great snow and a bunch of good friends to share the ride with.

Choosing 5 of the best lines has been so difficult so I finally settled upon selecting 5 of the must ski mountaineering areas of the World. There are all different, unique, and utterly brilliant in their own ways, varying from adventure skiing in the coldest, remotest area of the world where bringing an Everest down suit and a high tolerance for suffering is mandatory, to the more relaxed and accessible ski touring opportunities and fine dining that Lofoten Ski Lodge offers with everything else there is in between. The skiing isn’t restricted to the northern hemisphere either, every skier needs something to do when summer round and the quest for powder may take you to the other side of the planet. There is something for everyone here and hopefully a few things that might inspire of create ideas for future trips. I grew up reading book’s like Paul Pritchard’s ‘Deep Play’ or Chris Bonnington’s ‘Quest for Adventure’. I never imagined in my wildest dreams of ever going to Baffin, let alone to ski first descents there, or end up having Chris Bonnington as a Berghaus team mate!

So this is the first in a series of five weekly articles which discuss my 5 favourite places to ski in the world.

No. 1 .The Northern Hemisphere – Lofoten Islands, Artic Norway.

The magical archipelago of the Lofoten islands is located at 68° north on the western seaboard of Norway. Despite being in the Arctic Circle, the presence of the Gulf Stream keeps the Arctic weather at bay and instead one should expect temperatures more akin to those found in Scotland and since its west coast means there is a lot of preceip or snow. We headed up there in mid March to benefit from colder snow and dark nights in which to view the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. There are many options for accommodation and we elected to stay at the beautiful Lofoten Ski Lodge that is run by the charming couple of Maren Eek Bistrup and IFMGA 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. Starting the day with a full breakfast, Seth then gives you the beta on the best places to ski or sorts you out with a guide, go skiing in some marvellous places, before coming back to the lodge for afternoon tea and waffles and then relaxing in the sauna with occasional paddle in the fiord to cool down. Then its time for a beer, an excellent diner, and finally marvelling at the northern lights to end the evening. Despite being in the Arctic Circle Lofoten is well served by good net work of roads and served by several airports at Bodo, Evenes, Svolvaer , or Leknes. Just pick up a car and go ski where you want!

 

 

Lofoten 1 Aurora Borealis Northern Lights

Every clear night we were treated to a light show outside Lofoten Ski Lodge

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Michelle eyeing up potential ski lines and just taking in the beauty of it all

Lofoten 3 Geitgalien by Ross Hewitt

Geitgalien’s classic south west couloir. We skied the snaking line to the right

Lofoten 4 Ross Hewitt new line Nilsvikinden

A small ice bulge blocks my way to a 500 m first descent

Lofoten 5 Minna Riihimaki and Michelle Blaydon by Ross Hewitt

Minna Riihimaki and Michelle Blaydon in gorgeous afternoon light

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Minna, Cedric and Michelle high on Geitgalien’s normal route

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Checking out the stunning view from Breitinden

Lofoten 8 Ross Hewitt first descent Nilsviktinden

Ross Hewitt opening a new line on Nilsvikteinden

Lofoten 9 Michelle Blaydon Geitgalien

Michelle Blaydon slaying the pow on Geitgalien under a moody sky

Lofoten 10 Cod run heads drying

Cod fishing is the main industry in Lofoten. Once the heads are dried they are ground into fish stock

Lofoten 11 Cod lampshades Lofoten Ski Lodge

Even the lampshades are made from cod!

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The idyllic setting for the Lofoten Ski Lodge

Lofoten 13 sandy surf beaches

Emerald waters and white sandy beaches with a backdrop of snowy mountains

Lofoten 14 Michelle Blaydon Unstad Beach

Michelle trying to slime me with some giant seaweed

Lofoten 15 Surfing at Unstad beach

Surfers enjoying the swell at Unstad beach on a cold, dark day

 

 

Lofoten

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The magical mystical Lofoten Isles in the Norwegian Arctic. Broody dark peaks in the swirling mists, ever changing light creating dramatic vistas, laser beams from the sun turing the fiords to gold. Here we rediscovered the natural rhythm of life at Lofoten Ski Lodge under the fantastic hospitality of Seth, his wife Maren and team of guides and chefs.  We watched the sun rise over the Norwegian Sea, ate big breakfasts at a relaxed pace while choosing our dream adventure, skied from summit to sea, returned to the lodge for afternoon tea and waffles, shared the stoke with all the other excited skiers, took saunas and jumped into the sea, drank as much beer as we could afford, ate catch of the day at dinner, spent the evening talking in front of the fire, marvelled at the aurora borealis, fell asleep, woke up and did it all again.

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Morning glory from the lodge

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The aurora borealis

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Michelle skiing the classic south couloir of Geitgallien down to the teepee in the lush afternoon light

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The girls excited about the sun coming out

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Cedric booting up Geitgallien

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Minna and Michelle

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Michelle on Geitgallien

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Looking into Tollfjordvanet

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Panorama from Hivgratinden – Geitgallien col

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric

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Michelle

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Michelle and Minna heading into Juviktinden

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Our high point on Juviktinden due to poorly bonded snow

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The light show above the lodge

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From Juviktinden I spied this zone 2 valleys deeper so after borrowing some tech tools from Northern Guides Guido Sami Modenius we went to check out these 3 500 m lines which were probably unskied. They dropped a further 150 m below the photo on the fan to the lake.

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Climbing up to the ice step in the right hand line

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Michelle arriving over the steep ice step

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Boot packing the steep lower section of the couloir

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On the boot pack in deep pow

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Skiing after the upper narrows was perfect snow with the couloir providing visibility on this storm day

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Deep powder but no where to hide from the slough

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Faster skiing in the mid section where the left bank provided a safe zone from the slough

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Last turns approaching the ice steps

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I equalised a icy thread and a no.4 nut to abseil over the ice. With a little more snow it might be possible to hop onto the spine skiers left.

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Michelle on the abseil.

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Michelle bootpacking up to the next line

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Climbing into the central line.

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Michelle arriving over the small ice step

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Deteriorating weather and light as we wallow up deep pow

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At the col, the visibility was terrible and I was pleased to actually find the col

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After popping out of the cloud the visibility for skiing became good

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In the upper couloir

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On the dividing spur sheltering from Michelle’s slough

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Entering the lower couloir

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Michelle threading her way through the choke into the lower line

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Great skiing in the lower line

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Deep pow in the lower line. I put in an a abolokov to abseil the lower ice step but it would be an easy jump in good visibility

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On the abseil

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Sunshine on the beach

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Leaving the car to head into Breitinden / Stauren group

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The approach has us skinning across fields, marsh, lakes, streams and boulder fields

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Our line on Breitinden

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Not so steep allowing us to skin but atmospheric

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A little exposed here above the dividing spine, time to bootpack

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Michelle and the view to the north

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Topping out after cimbing a litle steep turf on the wind scoured col into the sun

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Soaking up the rays after days of storm

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Taking in the views – a perfect lunch spot

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Panorama from Breitinden

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Very narrow for 10 m

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Wider here

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No argument about the snow

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Michelle in the upper and lower couloirs

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Me in the lower line

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Michelle in the lower line. The wall above would be beautiful to climb on

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Exiting the couloir

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Our line on Breitinden is the lower col just riht of centre photo

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Owl strike!

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Funky clouds as the sun goes down on the Straumnes peninsula

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Someone arranged for the evening entertainment watching the light show

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Our cabin by the sea

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The beautiful bay at Kalle where the lodge is situated is surrounded by these lush peaks

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Seth Hobby runs Norther Guides specialising in Lofoten, Greenland, Svalbarg

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The view southwest across to the mountains on the mainland

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Lofoten Ski Lodge

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Michelle has a soft spot for white fluffy things and Seth’s dog was spoilt all week

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Morning coffee at the lodge

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Sunrise near Svolvaer

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Looking south from Laupstad

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The beaches at Morfjorden

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Morning light on the mountains near Svolvaer

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Looking over toward Litlmolla

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The next day the weather was poor so we went to the 900 m SW couloir of Geitgallien

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Nearing the top

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No more snow as I reach a little col on the ridge, 900 m of couloir below

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The cloud lifted and we were treated with creamy pow to the ocean

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Me skiing

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Our friendly Black Crows bar part time tender come guido – Mark

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Fish are the staple diet and nothing is wasted – even the lamps are made from Cod (fish)

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Cod heads drying on racks – they will be turned into stock cubes

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A dark wild day at the beach with freezing rain, we almost died of hyperthermia walking 50 m from the car

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Surfers getting swept on the rocks. Seeing this persuaded me these weren’t the right conditions for a novice like myself

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Head leant forward and braced against the wind, the surfers strive to get back to their vans

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Under attack

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The sandy beaches way out west are beautiful

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Michelle enjoying the sightseeing

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Colourful village of Utakliev situated under the classic mountain Himmeltinden

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The beach at Haukland

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Sea urchins for sale

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Sailing off on a fishing trip

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Volkl Explosives – one of the good early wide skis

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The picturesque village of Henningsvaer is worth a visit with the nearby Preston couloir

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Cod racks in Henningsvaer

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Typical wooden houses in Henningsvaer

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Michelle and the everchanging afternoon light on Geitgallien South Couloir

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