Trollfjorden – The Way Out

Continuing on from the previous post….

power station and dock
power station and dock

So – as we got down to that big rock where our splitboarders had been waiting for us, we shared some high fives and discussed the next pitch – which was going to be the highlight of the day, and possibly the whole trip. The ramp we had followed up was wide and gentle, with enough slope to keep from being boring. We had taken care not to track the whole thing up, and there was plenty of fresh to get everyone first tracks. According to Seth – probably only one other group had even skied there all that winter, and the blanket of powder on it was looking virgin indeed. The whole skier’s right was in perpetual shade, so you had the choice of light and dry or sunny turns as you wanted, and despite the warmer temps and some of the weather the previous few days, a layer of surface hoar had built up on the surface that was going to ski like frozen air. We were stoked!

The slope was gentle and the stability was good, so Seth made the call and let everybody go for a gang-ski. Tobi and I took off with the others in tow, and it was quickly apparent that this was going to be the best run of my season. Tobi was on my right – no whoops and hollers here – we’re both more of the quiet sort, and we traded turns down the slope – at least once getting so close to one another that our boots touched! (sorry Tobi!) The others similiarly enjoyed the run, and as we made it back down towards that little lake and the bottom of the ramp, we were sorry that we had a climb up ahead of us.

Another lap
Another lap

I really can’t say enough about that run. If you get up there, and get the chance, I would recommend it to everyone. You’ll be alone, most likely, and I believe that due to the aspect and sheltered nature of the slope, it would be a good choice for a ski in every situation excepting perhaps summer.


Make sure you get in early, and don’t waste your time futsing about. We didn’t – and it while the day was still one of the best of trip, what came next was trying and tiring.

We regrouped, and got skins on…went well enough for most of the group….except for two of our splitboarders. Their glue had given up the ghost on account of the cold they had experienced sitting on that rock in the shade. Those of you who have been doing this a while know this….but for those of you new to the game, it is ESSENTIAL that whenever you take off your skins, you do not put them in your pack – or anywhere where they can get cold. This will cause the glue to lose its stickiness, and it doesn’t even have to be all that cold for it to happen.

one thing to do with skins - not recommended
one thing to do with skins – not recommended

Some of you might say: “Super-Awesome-Brand Glue” doesn’t do that, and its true, some glues are better than others, but depending on the day, the temps and the age of your glue, it will happen to ALL brands of glue – so proper skin maintenance is a really important thing and not to be skimped on. Having skins that don’t stick can range from being a headache to becoming a potentially life-threatening issue, depending on where you are and the conditions around you….so: what to do?

First – Always take care to keep snow, dirt and water off your skins – especially the sticky side. This can be a challenge especially if the wind is howling about your ears at the top of some really uncomfortable ridge. Practice ripping your skins quickly and folding them over themselves, sticky side together. If you think I am joking about the practice – ask the most experienced in your crew if he or she thinks its a good idea or search YouTube for instructional videos on the subject. Its a big issue!

When you get that done – don’t put those skins in your pack. Even if you THINK you won’t be needing them. Skins should go inside your jacket – and depending on your own temperature and the temperature outside, maybe even under your insulating layer. You get extra points if you jam ’em in your underwear – but beware of the sticky bits if you do that. On the other hand – there is no way to get a Brazilian that is cheaper…..

This will keep that glue soft, warm and sticky. It’ll also keep the water that has certainly gotten into the fabric from freezing up and also keeping you from getting a grip. You’ll need to figure out a way to be sure that your skins don’t fall out the bottom of your jacket as you ski as well. Most of the time – the waist strap of your backpack should take care of that – but I’ve been on trips where a skin was lost without noticing it a couple times – so its worth mentioning. Many ski-touring specific jackets have pockets specifically designed for this – and I really like them. Its one of the main things I look for in a jacket – but your own opinions may vary.

One of these is a good scraper!
One of these is a good scraper!

Last point – when you get ready to put those skins on – make sure you get as much water and snow off the base of your skis as you can. A little won’t kill you – but it usually takes hours for your skins to really dry out, so if you’re lapping a shot all day, or sleeping in a tent, those little drops of water can add up – and really take a bite out of your fun towards the end of your trip. If you get to a place that is warm and dry – DO take the opportunity to hang up your skins and let them dry with the glue exposed – but DO NOT hang them over a stove or put them somewhere hot – this degrades the glue, and it can happen quickly!

So – two of our snowboarders – despite having heard this – had still put their skins in their packs, and now were getting pretty much zero grip on their skins. Don’t think I’m blaming them….this is something we ALL DO and almost everyone does exactly ONE TIME…its kind of a rite of passage – and now they’ve done it. If it ever happens again to them, it won’t be because they did something boneheaded.

The rest of the crew – me included – had already slowly started up the rolling hills we had painfully down-skinned on the way in. We didn’t know what was up – but as we neared the top after about ten minutes or so, our guys were still down there and it was clear that things were not going well. As we were short on daylight – I offered to ski back down and see if I could get things going while Seth continued up with the rest of the crew to get into the sun and perhaps down to the boat. I rounded up some Voile straps from the group and took off….

extremely useful
extremely useful

This deserves a side-note as well: Voile straps, as they are called, should be part of everybody’s kit. If you don’t know what they are, google it and you’ll see. They come in a couple different lengths, but 2 or 3 of the middle or longer length are a good idea for everyone. Since one almost always tours with at least one partner – you can usually get a bunch together in a crew that has got their crap together, and with 2  to 5 of these babies, you could probably repair a wankle rotary engine if you had to.

All they are is a stretchy, but very tough plastic strap, with a very simple kind of buckle on them that uses its own tension to keep it closed. You can use them for anything – and ski-tourers do – but the most common thing is to attach skins whose glue has quit. If you put your skin on, as best you can, and then wrap 2-shitloads of Voile straps around them and your ski, and pull them really tight you can get that skin to stay on well enough to get you out of there. I have seen other off-brand straps that are similar, but they get brittle in the cold, and I have seen them get cut on ski edges as well under tension. The Voile-brand straps seem to do better with this, and I have had them last for ages, so while they are not cheap – I would recommend.

Other common uses: busted boot buckles, explodified binding-bits, backpack straps, or even splints for an injured buddy.

So – I got down there, and I see my pals doing this: they’ve got duct tape rolled all over the skins and splitboard of one of the pair’s gear. Since the skins were not sticking – they had been trying to accomplish the same using duct tape. I was both amazed, flattered and forced to laugh all at the same time.

On a previous trip – one of the two had seen the duct tape I keep on my pole, and he had seen how I had used it to fix at least two minor mishaps on that trip. While I do always have a bit around my poles for emergencies – duct tape ain’t for everything – and in this case, the glue on the duct tape is just not up to the cold it will experience in direct contact with the snow. (even SKIN GLUE fights with this, remember?) So it was falling off all over the place. I was flattered that my friend thought so much of my skills that he emulated me, AMAZED that in contrast to my minimalism he had been carrying around a whole HUGE roll of duct tape in his pack all week and laughing at their silver-plastic encrusted conveyance they were creating!

Since only one of them had trouble, I sent the other on his way. Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a good thing, and after attaching the skin on one side with the glue – (lots of pressure and snow-cleaning) I used to the few Voile straps I had to attach the other.

We set off. The glue on the one side didn’t hold for long though – and my poor buddy lost his grip, plopped down on his backside, and partly due to the frustration he was expiriencing, slid all the way back down the slope. I turned around, picked him up – and because I knew time was getting really tight – I sent him back up the hill – this time, without skis!

The skin track had been well-plodded out by now. I don’t know if it was the right decision, but my friend was getting cold, and we needed to hustle. I knew I could catch up with him – and I also needed to be able to work on his gear without him….um….getting in the way. So – off he went – again, quite demoralized and tired.

I got to work. There is seldom a short-cut to success, so I took the time to get those skins off and get them cleaned up. I took off all that duct tape – hard work – and got the splitboard attached to my pack. I scraped all the water and ice out of the skins, pulled up my shirt, and wrapped them around my body. (COLD!) Then, I tucked everything in,  zipped everything up and put on my puffy and zipped that up too.  I did everything I could to be too hot – and then I straightlined it up that hill….again.

Plan worked! I was sweating and working hard up that slope – and I could feel my temperature rising fast. By the time I caught up with my pal – the skins I had wrapped around me were sticking pretty well to my sides!

I didn’t waste time – and remounted them on the splitboard. I thought my troubles were over….but then….

I look ahead and see my other splitboarder buddy has crossed the flatter section ahead, and off in the distance, I can see him trying to get up the next step section. Up up up….then sliding out and down. His skins were not gripping – too much ice on the top of the slope. Watching his progress – it looked really difficult – and the second time up, he elected to take off his splitboard halves and try it on foot. Snowboard boots are pretty dreadful on ice…..he slid all the way back down.

I could see from where I was that he was getting winded. So I shouted over that he should just stop – and that I would come give him a hand. I left my other buddy on his own – sure that he could make it now – and made tracks as fast as I could over to the next big slope where my other friend was now waiting.

I kicked in steps for him. It wasn’t that bad on skis – but he wasn’t getting any purchase – so I used the toe of my hard boots to create holes for him to step on. It worked! Only – I started higher up than I should have – and when my second splitboarder made the slope – he wasn’t even able to make it up high enough for my steps!  So down I went – again….and kicked in the last few steps – while also shuttling up some splitboard parts. My buddies were really tired – and to be honest – so was I! So I did what I could to help.

Up and down, up and down – I hit all those slopes at least twice – also while having to burn up a lot of energy carrying stuff and doing hard work. I really, really wanted my ice-axe to make those steps – and in the future – I think I’ll be a little more liberal in taking it with me. Also – Snowboarders = Knives – Splitboarders really do have less purchase on their gear – so while I tend to think of knives (ski crampons in USA-Speak) as specialized ski equipement, mostly for spring – I’d go so far as to say that splitboarders should nearly always take them.

The route out was no picnic for the snowboarders either….a lot of it was flats – so they resorted to booting it, and the think shrubs near the boat was combat-boarding all the way for them. They reached the boat barely having the will to live – and the cold wind on the ride back didn’t make it better!

Still – the experiences had made for one of the best days out yet, and now, after a few months, we all laugh about the hard work it took to get out of there.

All in all – the trip was a round success. Everybody left a little different than when they came – and that is, after all, the mark of a good vacation.

Compared to our first trip to the islands a few years ago – the scene has exploded. Its not a secret by any means…and it has lost something through this. The isolation and the authenticity of the experience aren’t what they used to be, for sure. Before you think I’m advising against a trip – let me also say that while the Lofotens have surely come closer to the mainstream – that has also brought a lot of good things with it.

This time out – we met a lot of others who are into touring like us. The scene is here, for sure. I’m a bit old for that now – but I still like those people, and its a great vibe. The lodge is a great place – and only the volume of people coming through today can sustain that – so that is a good thing!

The numbers of skiers also make a lot of the other infrastructure issues like flights, boats, busses, etc much easier – and I was glad for that.

All in all – I think we will certainly be going back again someday. If you’d like to go yourself, hooking up with Seth Hobby and Northern Alpine Guides is a good choice. They have good guides, and they can provide amenities that a smaller, or non-local guide cannot. In the end – its pretty cost effective to ride with Seth. He’s got a great operation! Go check it out at


Ski Touring in the Lofotens – big trip out to the Trollfjorden!


So for the final day out – Seth had a really big, and special plan for us. There is a particular fjord in the islands called the Trollfjorden – I think if you google it – you may find some information about it from other sources, but it also appears to me that there may be more than one fjord that people like to call the “Troll fjord”….so keep an eye out for that….

In any case – this Trollfjorden, (we’ll assume it is THE Trollfjorden) is the largest fjord in the islands – being something over one kilometer in length, I believe, but in addition to its size, it has a couple of other neat features.

One – it is located far away from any roads in the islands, and is accessible only by boat from the sea. The area around it boasts some of the most alpine mountains the islands have to offer, and here you will find steep spires and chutes that you don’t see as much in other parts of the Lofotens. Because of the isolation, it doesn’t see nearly the amount of traffic as other spots.

Two – the entrance to the fjord is hidden behind a rock, and is, when you approach from the direction of Svolvaer – completely hidden. You will pass by it without seeing it, unless you know where to look, and, I suppose it goes without saying, the entrance is quite small – perhaps only 50 – 60 meters wide at the entrance.

Three – what an entrance! Passing through the mouth of the fjord – your already small boat feels still smaller indeed as you look at the sheer granite walls on either side of the entrance! Climbing them would take a lot of crack-work, and you’d need several pitches at least to get up. The shadows and the rock make the air going into that fjord get noticeably colder and it really does feel like you are entering a hidden fortress. When you think of the word “fjord” – this is what you probably think of.

Four – and this may be the best bit – as impressive and foreboding as that entrance is – after a couple hundred meters, the fjord widens a bit, and becomes decidedly more friendly. The back of the fjord is the widest bit, and there is a dock and a little house there waiting for you to tie up to as well!

power station and dock
power station and dock

No – unfortunately – its not a cafe or bed and breakfast with fairy-made muffins and coffee sweetened with distilled mushroom juice. Its a power station – a hydroelectric station – but a rather inconspicuous one. There is a reservoir higher up behind the station, and years ago the Norwegians built this little house with some turbines in it, and connected the reservoir the house with giant pipes running downhill. These have been well integrated into the landscape – so at very first glance you may not notice them.

making it look easy, as always
making it look easy, as always

The dock – used by maintenance crews, and everybody else – is VERY high, and since the tide can be significant here – you have to give some thought to just how and where to tie up. In addition – if you happen to come at low tide, you’ll have to climb up that dock to get off the boat, which is a breeze, but you’ll also need to get all your gear up there as well. This is not difficult – but you should take care, because anything dropped here is going right into the drink – and you won’t be getting it back.

Careful there
Careful there

So – after taking care of all that, we took off up the back of the fjord in the sparkling sunny morning – going around the house and up into the trees and brush behind it. We came quickly to a somewhat steeper grade, and bushwacked as bit going up, first with the large pipe of the power station on our left, and then, after crossing over it, on our right, and then again on our left. There is a small flatter area at the top of the grade, which is probably a small pond or lake from which the power station is fed, and after this, you continue up into a gully with steep walls on both sides.

going up
going up

The scenery is impressive, but even though it was only about 10 in the morning, we were already starting to get a little ancy about the snow. It was warm, and late in the season, even for the Lofotens. We had taken a bit too much time getting the boat out that morning and with a couple of splitboarders in the group, we weren’t winning any speed medals. We doubled up our efforts to get out of that gully before any small slide had the opportunity to bury us deep in the terrain trap.

Exiting the gully, you’ll hit a saddle, where down the other side the hill drops off down to another little lake. On other days, we might have taken the opportunity to rip the skins and get these turns down to that shore – but we decided to keep the skins on and curve around to the left, taking a more gradual route down with benches and some down-skinning to come out at the far end of that little lake, and underneath a ramp going up and to the left behind the ridge now situated to our left.

going the long way around
going the long way around

This turned out to be another mistake. Winding around was not so bad, but all the downskinning and even straight up skiing with skins on was a headache for all of us – and for some of the less expirienced members of the group on splitboards, it was downright hairy. We all made it just fine, but the percieved advantage of not having to rip the skins and then transition again at the bottom did not materialize. We were already kind of tired, and the skiing with loose heels and carpet hadn’t been any fun anyway.

I’m starting to think that one day, I’ll learn this lession. It seems to me that every time I decide not to transition, whether it be from climb to ski or the other way around, just because I think it will be a hassle and that I will be able to compensate using some other technique – I end up regretting that decision. I either end up just dead tired, or hurt, or both. If we had ripped the skins leisurely  at the top, we’d have had a couple of really nice turns down the side of that saddle, through really interesting contours. We would have taken less than half the time, even with the two transitions – and we would have been fit and rested. I wish I could say lesson learned – but not very long after this, I had a similar situation and I again decided on leaving my skins on. In that case, I tried to navigate an extremely steep slope and slipped. Having very little edge hold due to my telemark heels – I kept on sliding, until I hit rocks, which only had the effect of launching me into the air over a small cliff. I broke some ribs and some gear, but in the end I was very lucky. It could have been worse. I think the lesson is that despite all our belief that efficiency is something you learn, it is also very much a question of choosing your tools, and that no matter how fit, or good you are, choosing the wrong tool will doom you to be slow and awkward – and that there are no real shortcuts in backcountry travel.

getting up that ramp
getting up that ramp

We took a break at the lake, and had a bite. The ramp above us had not been skied all season, and was filled with dried out surface hoar that would be a dream to ski on. The bottom half, especially off to the left side (going up) was all in the shade, and despite the warm temps, in there it was cold!

We made time getting up that ramp. It has a nice angle, not too steep, and above all, very constant. We preserved the snow for our ride down and made sure our kick-turns left lots of fresh for everybody in the group.

Coming out of that ramp into the sunlight was magical – with a small cirque going almost all the way around and views of the ocean in the other. Prominently sitting in the middle of this relatively flat area is a large boulder – transported there by gravity or by some long-melted glacier. Its big enough that ten people could picnic on it, and around the back the snow had collected in such a way as to allow you to go up it without even taking off your skis. It sits naturally in your path, and you are drawn to it.

Once there – the splitboarders in our group had decided that this would be their high point for the day. While I have no problem riding with splitboarders, and don’t care for endless arguments pro or con, my expirience is that they have a lot more work to do than your average skier to get up the mountain. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I think the biggest is the lack of a walk function in their boots. They are a lot stiffer than most imagine, and they have a significant forward lean. When I watch my wife walk, I can see that her forward stride is limited because she can’t really bend her ankle backward like I do when I take a long stride forward. She ends up taking 2 or 3 steps for every one of mine. For this reason, we’re going to experiment next season with a hard-boot setup for her. A soft hardboot is not much stiffer (if at all) than a snowboard softboot – but it has the advantage of a walk function. I am pretty sure that a TLT6 or similar coupled with a dynafit binding or comparable system would be a much easier to use package. Stay tuned for our expiriences!

The skiers took off to gain the peak behind the boulder. It was up a steep incline, and in a couple of places, you really needed to know how to do those “backward kickturn” things. I’ve spent my share of time wallowing in the past – so I’ve got it down these days, but despite this, I really can’t help anyone else that much, except to be patient and encouraging. Sure – if you want, I’ll give you tips – but like so many things in skiing and life – you really have to figure it out on your own. There is no learning except self-learning.

I’m always fascinated by this. I’ve spent most of my free time and all of my daydream time skiing since I was a teenager – and yet – if you asked my how I ski – I’d be hard pressed to tell you. I could give you some crap about weighting and unweighting, pushing with your pinky-toe, plunging your knee into the tips of your skis….all that, but I don’t really believe that anyone hearing that could really ski better. Nor do I really believe that is what I am doing when I am skiing. Certainly it is clear that if I actually thought about all the stuff I do when I ski, I’d screw it up. Its far too complicated, and it happens too fast.

I’m a nominal Buddhist – and skiing is why. For anyone out there who is not a skier, you could easily write it off as flaky, but if you’ve spent even just a little time with Buddhist philosophy, it would be hard to ignore some of the parallels that I see and feel with those ideas and how my body and mind react when I am skiing.

working on my unattachment
working on my unattachment

A thinking skier is a poor skier. You can see this every day in adult beginner courses at every ski hill in the world. Adults have trained themselves to “learn” stuff, to “pay attention” and many believe skiing is a skill – perhaps similar to embroidery – that they can see, understand, and emulate. They stiffly stutter and control their way down the slopes, and you can see it from a mile away.

Compare this to children. They are not better learners than us – I don’t believe that. My kids still don’t know that when they eat a whole bag of gummi bears in three swallows they will get a stomach ache – but they ski, most of them, with a grace that comes from no teacher, and they “learn” not by “getting it right” but rather by letting go.

That’s not saying that kids are great skiers right from the bat, but I have seen that the less they are conditioned to “learn” skiing, the better they are, and the faster they improve.

I also find it wonderful that as your skiing gets better, you seem to concern yourself with it less and less. It doesn’t so much become second nature as much as it allows your true nature to just be. I know that when I am skiing – I am not just not thinking about work, or other stuff I don’t like – I am really and truly not thinking at all. Nothing. In most of Buddhism – this is the end goal of most forms of meditation. I can’t really get there sitting on a mat – but it seems to me that with the first rush of the snow under my bases – I am gone, long gone from the everyday world and that if there is a zen-like state – I find it when I ski.

All that just to say – keep un-learning those kickturns and soon, they’ll happen all by themselves!

The “top” was really a long, sloping extremely flat plateau, with great views of the mountains and sea all around. We slogged it up that plate and posed for glory shots in the 366 degree sunshine.

on top! Tyler - relaxed, as always
on top! Tyler – relaxed, as always

We didn’t hang out too long – our friends were back at the rock – and by now – their little spot in the sunshine had turned to a freezer in the shade. It was the middle to late afternoon now and we needed to make a move.

We took the long ride down and made some Euro-Wiggle down the slope we just slogged up. Nice. The pow was virgin and the stable weather along with the sheltered nature of the little couloir / ramp we went down had allowed the top layer to become a nice bed of hoar – which is a disaster if there is too much, or worse, it gets buried and becomes a bed of ball bearings for slabs on top of it – but in the right amounts is a dream to ski on and as long as its all on top, not really a problem avalanche-wise.

We met up with the crew. They were already transitioned and ready to go – but had gotten quite chilly sitting in the shade.


This is where the real skiing began, and also – the start of our great adventure!

More to come!

Stashes in the Lofotens


the top!
the top!

After a couple of really nice days out with Erin Smart – we were kind of sad to see her go! She was a really good guide and one I hope to book again in the future – which is, in the end, the only real measure of satisfaction. Still – because my wife and I had been out with Seth Hobby a few years prior, and kind of considered him a friend, we were excited that he would be spending the next two days with us to finish out our trip. Erin’s season in the Lofotens was coming to an end, and it was back to Chamonix for her – I am sure she was glad to get home and see her hubby again!

Seth knew that we had been to a lot of the Lofoten “standards” – and he aslo knew that we had seen a lot of other tourers underway, so he wanted to take us somewhere off the beaten path.

Most of the touring in the islands is done in the immediate vicinity of Solvaer and Kabelvag. While there is certainly a lot to do there – we had seen quite a few people, and sometimes – that area is quite exposed to the sea. The islands are really pretty thin there, so you get the winds from the south, as well as those from the north. It is obviously very maritime.

Seth has been all over the islands and he has noticed that there is an area located a bit farther afield that has two advantages: one – being about a 30-40 minute drive from Svolvaer, they don’t get all the tourists, and two – at this location the islands are a bit “fatter”. While this doesn’t change the character of the snow that much – this little bit of the islands is less windy, can often be colder, and can offer snow when other spots fail. (of course – depending on the situation at hand, it can be a low-snow area as well.)

Seth keeps tabs on this spot for just these reasons. Sometimes – if other spots are not going – he can still find a bit of the goods here. In fact – several years ago, he chose the spot as the site of the Scandinavian Freeriding Championships. There was good snow – and the area’s promise was cemented in his mind.

If you follow the road out of the islands for about 40 minutes, you’ll see a small parking area off to the left of the road. We were lucky – it had been plowed, but this is apparently pretty common. We parked and skinned up before even leaving the parking area.

this is what he looked like - just fatter
this is what he looked like – just fatter

There are a couple of spots you can reach from this parking spot – but the one we chose was on the opposite side of the road, so we walked across and skinned alongside the road for about 400 meters or so before turning up an obvious drainage and into the woods.

We were treated to the sight of an arctic hare making a run for it as we approached. It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined, certainly at least twice the size of the rabbits back home in Munich – but perhaps most of that was fluffy fur for those cold arctic winds.

We continued up the drainage, and like always in the Lofotens, the trees soon gave way and we were in the alpine – although we were only about 80 meters or so off sea level. We followed a meandering route to a bench below a peak – itself just a bit higher than another prominence off to the climber’s left. All of the area looked skiable, but over to the left under the other peak, the lines looked a bit steeper and the runout was not as forgiving.

We spaced out for the last ascent up the steeper face of the final pitch to the top, going to the left around an outcropping of rock. The “peak” was a really a long, sloping relatively flat plateau , but we stopped at the edge we climbed up on because there was no good skiing to be had by continuing the few meters higher and 100 meters further.

2014-04-05 13.07.09
panorama from the top
2014-04-05 13.06.44
how many times a season does Seth have to do this?
2014-04-05 13.06.19
pano from the other side
2014-04-05 13.06.00-1
obligatory fjord shot

We took the time to look all around. Quite a view from here. You’re closer to the mainland here, so you can see the mountains there in a little more detail than other places, and because the islands are a bit thicker here – the view is more alpine than the other spots we had been. (as opposed to maritime – remember – all things are relative)

What followed were some of the best turns of the trip to that point. We snaked down, this time around the other side of the rock we had avoided on the way up – making for nice, steep untracked. The powder was light and dry, and everybody was throwing plumes of it in the air. Regrouping on the bench from the way up – we group skied down, taking the opportunity to air off of a couple of drops and enjoying the rolling terrain.

the last pitch before the woods were straightlined, especially by our snowboarders, as the snow was heavier down here and we also had a little flat to cover through the woods back towards the car. No amount of coaxing helped though – all the snowboarders had to get a leg out to make the last meters to the road.

The way home was great – and along the way, Seth hatched a plan to get one of the rib-boats and take it out for a spin! The reason was two-fold: One, we had decided that, if the boat was in order, we’d like to take it the next day for a boat-only-access tour to the Trollfjorden (!) and two: the weather was great and a beer in Henningsvar sounded good!

We got the boat! We all put on the rescue suits which are mandatory here – which was fun. They are big and bulky but if you happen to fall out of the boat – they’ll keep you alive for about 10 minutes and floating on top. Even with ski jackets and hats – the ride to Henningsvar was cold and windy.

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taking the rib boat out – this is the lodge as the people it was built for would have seen it

The view of the islands from the water is a MUST however. You really get a feeling for what this place is, only when you see it from the sea. Passing by each little town you notice more than ever they are not randomly placed – but rather that every one of them is intimately connected with the sea – and that the true face of every one of them is not the road leading in – but the harbor connected to the world.

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seen from the water, the mountains become even more impressive
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selfie on da boat

Henningsvar is the best example of this. It is a town built entirely on small rocks jutting out of the sea. Most of them would not be big enough to put a gas station on – but they have been covered with buildings on stilts – and these in turn have connected to each other with bridges. There are no roads to speak of – and the town surrounds a small protected area between all the rocks that is something like an aquatic town square – where all the boats are. It is a town built only on the waves.

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pano around the main “lagoon harbor” in Henningsvaer
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another shot – all those houses are partly on rocks, partly on stilts in the water

This place must be jammed in the summertime. There can surely be no place else like it on earth. Hotels abound – and at one of the nicer ones I bought a round. 8 people – about 90 Euros! At that price – we enjoyed the sunset and then piled back into the boat past hot-tubbing Norwegians – and sped back to the lodge for dinner.

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this is how Stephan thinks 10 Euro beer tastes

An early night again – as we were excited about the next day – Trollfjorden! The biggest fjord in the islands – accessible only by boat with a hidden entrance and wild. Only having been skied by few – and only a couple in this season. More to come!


Lofoten Huts Look Like the IKEA Catalog – Only Cleaner

27-06-2014 19-04-06
This is the place – this hut is gorgeous – so gorgeous that we forgot to take photos of it.

So we took off under cloudy skies and parked over near the little ski hill in Svolvaer. Its not a big place – tiny by any standard, but it deserves mention perhaps because it is what ski hills should be – cheap and run for the love of it. The whole thing is a non profit, run by the local parents of the kids in town – mostly so their kids will have a place to ski, race and generally get good at skiing – since the expectation is that when they have got the skills to really ski – they’ll head into the hills on their own as we do.

I like the idea of that: a ski hill acting as a feeder for a thriving ski-touring scene. Unfortunately – for the largest part of the skiing world, it’s the other way around. Although I am encouraged by the new interest in human-powered skiing – so much of it is all about beef and macho that I wonder how long it will be before lifts start getting built in the name of “access” and the only use for a set of DIN 16 Super-Bad Bindings with DeathGrip Boots and a stumble function is so you can skin from your runout back to the bar. To me that’s just a ski resort by another name – not that I mind ski resorts, but we’ve got enough of them.

So up we went, and despite some cloud, we managed to stay mostly out of the snow and rain- with occasional sun.

Toby wants to wait for the lift – we didn’t tell him it was closed except on weekends and school holidays
Toby wants to wait for the lift – we didn’t tell him it was closed except on weekends and school holidays

Up and around – with nice snow. The night before had given some fresh, so we made nice tracks all the way.

We kept going for more
We kept going for more

The air was quite cold though – so none of us was all that unhappy for a little lunch break out of the cold in a brand new hut of the Norwegian Trekking System (DNT). These things are all over Norway – and they are some of the nicest I have ever seen. Part of this is due to the lower traffic they see than many Alpine huts – but its also true that they are much newer, and that the Norwegians – being cancerously polite and ordered, take much better care of them than your typical French Weekend climbing / beerdrinking party.

This one was a beaut. It looked nicer than home!

We make this place look crumby
We make this place look crumby

We could have easily overnighted here. I wish we would have. As it was though, we had our lunch, warmed up, and tried to decide if we wanted to go back out or just take a nap in the sun on the couch.

In the end, most of us went – except Sabine – my wife of extraordinary beauty and intelligence. She stayed behind while the rest of us took a couple more laps. These were good – but I think a cuddle with the missus would have been good too.

Since I’ve given away the secret of these great huts – please keep in mind that they are not free. There is a small cost associated with them and you are on your honor to pay it. Please do – the fee finances the hut. You can find out more about the kinds of huts there are and how it all works by googling DNT.

Even our guide was having a bit of fun – and when I did a pro call-out on a guide running another group through – she filmed it. Smiles were everywhere.

Erin Smart - a good one, based out of Chamonix
Erin Smart – a good one, based out of Chamonix
Another lap
Another lap

Eventually – it was time to get gone though – so we looped around the hut and picked up this lady….

Sabine Maschina - oh so meana
Sabine Maschina – oh so meana

and continued on. There was a small climb, and then a small traverse with some flats to get us back to the top of the ski resort. Flats plus snowboarders – you guessed it:

Slowboarders - STILL TRANSITIONING! Its ok - we like them anyway
Slowboarders – STILL TRANSITIONING! Its ok – we like them anyway

And that was that!

When we got home – there was some of this:

Whale Meat
Whale Meat

Which was grilled – and tasted….well… kind of dry beef. Some claimed a slight fishy aftertaste – but I didn’t. We got the whole story from the owner of the lodge – it was a point with him.

It seems that the Norwegians allow limited whaling – and only of pilot whales. Accourding to him – these smaller whales have recovered, and while they can’t be fished in large numbers – the amount allowed by Norway is ok. Even that, he says, is not reached – and less than half the allowed amount is even taken.

I decided not to discuss it – also because I didn’t have any reason to disbelieve him. All in all though – even though it was ok – I’m not hankering for a whale steak in the future. You’re not missing a bunch – I can assure you.

A few beers – a few jokes – round disapproval of Tyler’s remarkably stinky socks – and off to bed.

Beating the crowds in the Lofotens – or not, as well as weather wisdom

Panorama - all above treeline - just 100 meters off the sea
Panorama – all above treeline – just 100 meters off the sea

After a night spent playing Cards Against Humanity – we all were ready to get back out into the good snow that the Lofotens were offering us. We weren’t going to have quite as much luck with the weather today – but we didn’t know that yet…. Still – as an interesting aside – those games of Cards Against Humanity provided no end of insight into the various mentality differences present on the trip – and a combination of incredulousness and laughter. For anyone out there who’s not familiar with the game – its a card game, currently a hot item in the US, featuring cards with various chopped up phrases or bits of phrases or names on them. The object of the game is to form sentences or statements using these phrases by adding them to a “starting phrase” drawn at the begining of the round. At the end of a round – everyone has provided what they believe to be their “best” answer – and the person playing whose turn it is decides which of the answers they like best. As you can see – the game is very open-ended, and what consitutes a “good” answer is completely subjective. This leads to lots of laughter and conversation – which is exactly what a good game is supposed to do. Its a blast and a good choice for games to take on a hut trip – as it is small like a deck of cards – with no bits and bobs to play like dice. During the course of our games we discovered that the Germans were generally interested in making locical and “correct” statements – quite often having to be extremely clever to do so – while the Americans were chiefly interested in expressing statements which are taboo or similarly politically incorrect. I can’t say I was particularly surprized – I’ve learned a lot about the Germans living with them for 15 years…. What DID surprize was the coolness with which the Germans responded to genuinely teeth-sucking themes. Statements such as “When I visit my grandmother I….. “make sure to take a condom.” were greeted with jaw-dropping by the Amis – but the Germans calmly nodded and said: “yes – that is a good use for that card. Can you pass me the beer?” No emotion. None. Next hand.

Jens - this guy could talk about rim-jobs with the pope and not even stutter.
Jens – this guy could talk about rim-jobs with the pope and not even stutter.

Tyler and Kortney – the only Americans in the group who still live there, spent the next days continually revisiting this topic. One the one hand – the Germans showed no interest in CREATING cawdy statements – but on the other – could talk about HORRIBLE subjects without so much as blushing. So – back to skiing. We took off under cloudy skies for a tour near Torskmannen – one of the more popular tours in the Lofotens. We had chosen not to go to Torskmannen though precisely because it gets quite a bit of traffic and we had hoped to get to a more secluded spot in the area. All around Torskmannen are some nice peaks. To get there, you drive toward the mainland from Svolvaer, about 20 minutes or so. There is a ninety degree turn to the right in the road with a smaller road branching off to the left – and you’ll want to take this left turn. It is right after a bridge crossing a small fjord – and there is usually a cute little wooden fishing boat moored on a buoy in that fjord with a tiny little pilot house. The road you take to the left is where the power station is – and people gernerally park by the powerstation to go up Torskmannen. (Don’t block the road or the entrance!) Poke around to find other spots – just open your eyes!

this is the boat you’re looking for

Anyway – our secret spot was mobbed! A group of twelve South-Tyrolians and their guide was skinning up when we arrvied – but we decided to get at it anyway. In true Euro-Dick style they spent most of the uptrack skinning beside us – neither passing nor falling back – just tracking shit up and making us feel like a problem. Eventually we took a break and let them have it. The snow was sketchy in spots. There was some wind-blown that was quite nice, but then you’d have patches of wind-affected and even bare ice in sections. We all knew that the ride down was going to be less than magazine-perfect pow – but as we topped the ridge – the weather hit like a bomb. Within a minute – the wind picked up, and when I dropped my pole, I had to dive after it! Such was the wind on that little ridge. Then the snow and clouds came – and we were in a whiteout, with no visibility and very uncomfortable. We had intended to continue on, into a small depression and further climbing to a peak, skiing down the other side and then skinning back up to the ridge on which we were standing and on out home. But the weather was so bad – that even after waiting it out for about ten minutes, we called it. Waiting just a few minutes in the Lofotens can make a big dfference – as often, the weather moves in and out in waves. Five minutes of heavy snow and crap – five minutes of sun. This can put a big burden on your outerwear, of course, as it has to handle everything, but rarely is the weather constantly bad. If you take a look at the weather patterns which affect the Lofotens – you can see why. They sit at the polar confluence zone – meaning this is the band where polar air mixes with temperate air. All this difference makes for turbulance, and alternating bands of snow, rain, clouds, sun, and everything. They roll in all day long, and rarely are the bands very wide – so your weather changes constantly. lofotens pic Of course – when the winds are blowing from the north-west, that means they are more polar in nature, and they tend to have less moisture in them, so any precipitation you do have is lighter, colder, and less long-lived. Should the winds be coming from the south-west – they are more temperate – bringing more moisture, and often heavy cloud. If you get these winds – it is more likely that the weather you get will stay longer – so it makes sense to pay attension to this when deciding if you want call it a day in the islands. During a small break in the clouds – we saw that group of Italians trying to come back down the slope beyond the ridge we had intended to go up as well. What a junkshow. The group was far too large for one guide (a trend I’ve seen more and more) and in the whiteout everyone had become separated. They were scattered all about the hill, with many having skied too far down the slope to return to the ridge we were standing on without skinning back up. Some were as far below as 150 meters! Worse yet – when the clouds lifted – they all thought better of their decsion, turning around en masse to try and keep climbing to their original goal of the peak. Of course – 5 minutes later the clouds were back, and we could hear them shouting to each other trying to reform the group and go back down to the ridge. Again. We made the best of it and took our window to make some turns down the face we had come up – and as we did, we got pretty good visibility and a few spots of pow. It was good – but the best part was getting out of that cold, biting wind.

Tyler - getting out of the wind - and into your heart, baby.
Tyler – getting out of the wind – and into your heart, baby.

We found a spot near the bottom and grabbed a bite to eat – wondering still if the weather would clear and we could go back up for another pass. Things weren’t looking good though, and the cold and the hot waffles waiting back at the lodge made the decision to cut the day short pretty easy.

getting out while the gettins good
getting out while the gettins good

Before we went though – we scored some Gnar points by going in for some extreme pole-wacking.

Lofotens – First day out touring

Heading up the local hill
Heading up the local hill

We were stoked to be getting out for our first day of touring together as a group in the Lofotens – and the weather did us a favor as well. We’d come in quite nervous as the snowpack in the islands had been pretty miserable all winter.  Just like most of the rest of Europe (excepting South Tyrol) – but our optimism had paid off, with two storm cycles moving through right before we arrived. Since snow only grows from the ground up in 5 star Swiss ski resorts – we were ready for the weather to be grey with intermittent periods of shitty. The sun on our faces only improved our already good moods.

Tyler's in a good mood
Tyler’s in a good mood

Stitend – who knows how its really spelled – is a nice hill just behind Svolvaer. Its the local’s hill, so its not uncommon to meet others there, but the place is big enough to let everybody have some space. There is a small parking spot by the start of the local cross-country trail (which is lighted – Scandinavia has got its shit together.) and you follow that for the first bit until you come to an obvious ridge running down from the summit. Up that you go, but there are already no trees – you’re above the arctic circle here – just stunted growth and some bushes. There is almost always a well-worn skintrack in. You’ll land on a bench after a little while – which is a good stop for a drink and then from here on in you can see your route to the top.

this is the stuff you'll be seeing
this is the stuff you’ll be seeing

Water in pretty much all directions – with the scent of the ocean at even the highest elevations. Keep an eye out for sea-eagles. They are by no means rare – but the sight of them is impressive nonetheless. This is the last, best place in Europe to see lots of them.

Sabine and I could tell on the way up that there was a lot less snow on the ground compared to our last trip – but things were stable anyway and there was enough. Even a bit of fluff, which is what we do this for anyway, right?

Toby - breaking shit
Toby – breaking shit

So this is Tobi – and this is how I usually see him. He’s forever out there breaking trail and carrying 40 kilos of gear and crap like that. He’s big and built like a brick shithouse and he skis like he means it. For years I’ve been giving him crap because he uses the heaviest touring gear I’ve ever seen – so just before this trip he pulls the trigger and buys a gazillion Euros worth of gear.

A pair of boots, two pairs of skis, two bindings – you get the idea. Why? because Tobi is a skier – and like all skiers, he loves gear. He also has poor impulse control. In any case – I was wondering how all this new stuff was gonna work out with big, meaty Tobi and his iron-fisted ski technique. Tobi has a history of poorly fitting boots and busted gear – so the new stuff was….umm…concerning.

On the way up: some strange clicking and mushy boots. Tobi had already loosend up the locking mechanism on  his Scarpas – and he hadn’t even locked them down!

Later: clicking at the toe-piece of his new Fritschi Vipecs. These are the ones:

new bindings - seldom a good idea
new bindings – seldom a good idea

I gotta admit that they are really slick, but there is an adjustable pin on one side of the toe-piece. Its meant to allow for adjustment to different boots out there -but the word on the street is that very few boots actually need it, and the adjustable screw tends to go loose on the new bindings.

You can fix all of this by adjusting and locking it up with green loctite – which you can’t even get everywhere – and then, of course, checking it in five-minute intervals, etc – but what a pain. I expect this “feature” will disappear off next year’s versions.

I fixed things up by screwing the thing in tight until the boot would not release, and then backing off of it little by little -checking each time to see if I could get the boot to release laterally. I took the boot out and pushed it sideways and let it pop back into place. Problem solved. Until it wasn’t again – and I did it all over. Wasn’t that bad once I had it figured out – but who wants to be doing that? Does anybody test these things anymore?

On a side note: what book was that, that said you should always release beta products and let the public work the bugs out?

a place to get rad
a place to get rad

So we get to the top – and meet up with Norwegians, Americans, some Frenchmen and some Swiss (who oddly refused to speak German to us – Swiss are snobs, anyway….) and then got ready for a trip down.

It was filled with creamy goodness all the way out. Here are some pics from a previous trip….one is a shot you will see in every article about the Lofotens, ever. Always.

sabine stitend



You can, of course, make it better.

One thing to note: on the way out – your path takes you down to the edge of a little lake – back to that cross-country path, and right next to the town’s shooting range.

Norway is kind of like Europe’s Texas in that everyone here has guns and goes hunting. Since they live in the middle of a wilderness – I suppose this is OK, and unlike Texas, when they want to practice their shooting, they don’t target the neighbors – they go to the range.

The problem with this is that the slope we toured on is the backstop for the range. The place all the bullets fly into. If you come out on the wrong day – you could be in serious danger of getting a bullet in your bubblegoose. So check! There is a sign at the parking spot, and it makes sense to ask some locals before going. If you do hear shots or strange noises on the rocks, duck and cover, or put big Tobi in front of you.

When we got back, we had some beer at the bar until we realized it was ten Euros a bottle. An impressive shopping tour followed with lots of this:

most northerly brewed beer in the world. Made with polar bears.
most northerly brewed beer in the world. Made with polar bears.

A meal at the lodge that was big and good was followed by a little conversation and ski-binding maintenance. Then – sleep. On to day two,

A trip to the Lofotens – Again

Kalle i Lofoten, near Kabelvag Norway


A few years ago my wife and I had a great time up in the Lofotens for a week of ski touring. The Lofotens are islands hanging off the coast of northern Norway, about 350 kilometers north of the arctic circle – and have been known for centuries as a beautiful and wild place at the edge of Europe.

The location is stunning – and yes – in a way, its wild too – but the best part about all this is that while you are far away, this is Scandinavia – so everything works. The infrastructure is there, the public sector is impeccable in its performance, and even at the edge of the world, you can still get a great cup of espresso in a cute cafe and catch a movie in a first-run cinema with seating for 12.

solvaer town


Add to that the fact that, while these mountains are alpine in character and striking – they are not that big. In two or three hours you can get to the peak of nearly all of them, which is a great thing if some in your party are new at this – or perhaps just not that hardcore. The high latitude means that in some places, you’ll skin up on the beach, hit treeline about 50 vertical meters later, and have views of the ocean in all directions when you top out!

this looks like a Viagra ad. It is not.
this looks like a Viagra ad. It is not.
scenery in the Lofotens
scenery in the Lofotens

This time – we’d done so much talking about all this good stuff that I convinced 5 other friends to come along. None had been to the Lofotens before, although two of the crew had been skiing in Norway before.

Most of the group - with our guide - without Tyler. Sorry buddy, somebody had to take the picture!
Most of the group – with our guide – without Tyler. Sorry buddy, somebody had to take the picture!

Getting to the Lofotens is not too bad. The Norwegian government subsidies flights to the islands as it does to a lot of its far north in a effort to make development there more enticing. You fly into Evenes airport which is about two and a half hours away from Svolvaer – the main town on the islands. Alternatively – you can take a ferry from Bodo – which is the nicer way to go, I hear, but it takes a half a day and the times can be dicey – so I’ve never done it. Several members of our group did though – and they gave the scenery a thumbs up.

While there may be some direct flights from the UK, for the most part, everything runs through Oslo. There’s not much to say about this airport in Europe’s smallest capital city – except that you should do the math before ordering a second coffee – at roughly 8 Euros a cup, your first experience with Norwegian prices is likely to be all the stimulant you’ll need for your layover.  Coffee is bad – booze is worse – which is why a trip to the duty free is an integral part of pre-trip planning in Norway.

know your limits - everybody stock up. Do not become distracted by the offers for various forms of fish dubiously preserved for your pleasure.
know your limits – everybody stock up. Do not become distracted by the offers for various forms of fish dubiously preserved for your pleasure.

If all goes well – you’ll land in Evenes in a few hours. The airport is refreshingly small – making coming and going a breeze. You can get shuttles here to the Lofotens – but as access to the best ski spots needs a car – you’ll probably be picking up a rental and cruising out on your own. There’s really only one road on the Lofotens – so when you leave the airport – just take a left and follow the signs. Be prepared for winter travel,  and if you want snacks or a bite to eat – its probably best to do these either at the airport – or at the gas station directly after that left turn. There is quite a bit of nothing on the way to Svolvaer.

If you come in at night – you might get treated to some sights like these:

blurry - but you get the idea
blurry – but you get the idea

We all got in ok – each of us coming from different corners of the globe, and settled into our new digs. These were a significant upgrade over the last time, which is to say they were quite swanky.

Kalle i Kabelvag
Kalle i Kabelvag

The place is an old whaling station converted to a hotel for skiers. Its built out into the water on stilts so you could service the boats, so views are built in. There is a main house, where you eat and can hang out describing how rad you got to all the other guests, but you sleep in separate little cottages with a small living room and kitchen and up to six beds. We had two of these back to back with room for 4 in each – so we had a little space to stretch out – play Cards Against Humanity and air out our socks.

Which is what we did when we got in…..

Tomorrow: First day touring in the Lofotens – or – What gear will Tobi break?


The world is a big place – get out and ski it!