After an hour and a half of climbing with crampons on our ski boots and an ice axe in one hand, we are in the steepest and most narrow part of the couloir, very close to the top.
Here it’s about 40 degrees, not more than two ski lengths wide and the walls are about 100 metres high on each side. It’s really dramatic and I feel very small, especially because of the constant threat of potential rock fall. We are in Skamdalen – the valley of Shame if you translate it directly form Norwegian – about one hour south of Narvik in northern Norway. Today’s objective is Skamdalsrenna, a 400 vertical metre long couloir on the mountain Tverrdalsfjellet, which we have reached by ski touring and hiking 900 vertical metres from Skamdalsvatnet, a lake covered in ice. My friend Micke af Ekenstam, a Narvik local for the past 20 years, led the way and pushed the last bit to the top. We have been in the shade since we started to climb and for a while it even snowed, but now the sun is out. It is typical Scandinavian spring weather.
After a well-deserved fika (Scandinavian expression for a snack and coffee or tea), we rip the skins and get ready to drop in. During the day wind has moved around the fresh snow so the tracks in the couloir are gone and the skiing should be great. The 45-year-old Micke is a beautiful skier. His style is smooth, powerful and stylish at the same time. His energy and raw power is exactly the same as it used to be when he was a semi pro freeskier in the late 90s. It’s a treat to see him dance down the couloir in controlled turns. I drop after him, unfortunately not as stylish. After a few slow jump turns in the tight, steep entrance I open up the turns and the speed quickly picks up.
Even if it might not look perfect it is a great feeling to ski a “splitter” like Skamdalsrenna with huge granite walls and a consistent steep pitch. To avoid spending too much time in the couloir we ski it on one go – aside for some photos to document the run – just to make it safe. Skiing couloirs is not without risk but today the conditions are perfect and our experience is fantastic. Back down at the car by the lake we watch the sunset paint the mountains orange and pink before the sun slowly disappears. We salute another great day in the mountains with a beer, some raw reindeer meat and enthusiastic words for today’s skiing. For many years Micke was a ski bum and an ambassador for a number of companies in the ski industry. He was starring in ski movies and travelling all over the Alps and Scandinavia in search of deep powder and steep lines.
In the spring, the lifts in Narvik are spinning until 9 pm. Billy S.derin enjoying the late light pow slashing. Micke was considered one of the best freeskiers in Scandinavia at the time, he placed well in extreme skiing competitions and tested products for the companies he worked with. At the same time, he studied environmental science. Double courses in the fall and early winter so he could have lots of free time to ski. His passion for skiing, climbing and mountain biking, well anything as long as it took place in the mountains, was – and is – deeply entrenched in his day-to-day life. These days he works as a senior energy and environmental consultant at SWECO, one of Norway’s biggest consulting firms. Micke grew up in Hemavan, a small mountain town in Swedish Lapland – near T.rnaby where Swedish alpine skiing legend Ingemar Stenmark hails from.
Spending time in the mountains was as natural for Micke as playing with Lego for a city kid. He started skiing at the age of 3 and when he was 12 he tried mogul skiing, which became his thing until he realized powder skiing was much more fun. Eventually he tried ski touring and after some years that form of skiing became Micke’s true passion. In modern time, he has become a book publisher; last winter he released his third ski touring book about his home mountains near Narvik. When Micke moved to Narvik in 2004 few people besides the locals were ski touring in the mountains near the little town. The skiers who travelled to northern Norway went to Lofoten Islands or Lyngen, if they didn’t stop in Riksgr.nsen or the Kebnekaise area in Sweden.
There is still very few tourists that have understood Narvik’s potential but things are about to change. It might go slowly but the hardcore skiers have started to realize how good Narvik is. After the release of the revised version of Micke’s latest guide book, Toppturer rundt Narvik (translation Ski tours around Narvik) he has noticed more skiers in his home mountains. But even if there are more people in the mountains here, that does not mean it is crowded by any means, says Micke the next day when we are out touring again. Like here in this basin – just a few valleys away from the ski hill – I barely see anybody when I go for my after-work tours. I might meet somebody once in a while but that has started to change this winter. There was never anybody out here before. It’s crazy since it’s so easy to access from the ski area and the terrain is amazing.
Narvik is beautifully located on the shores of the emerald-coloured Ofotfjorden, surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and forested hills. On a sunny winter day, this place is as close as you will ever come to an Arctic paradise. Much of Narvik’s history is owed to the large iron mine in Kiruna in Sweden’s Lapland, a few hours east. The need for access to an ice-free port to export the iron led to the construction of the Ofotfjorden Railway Line more than 100 years ago, and so too the development of the modern town of Narvik.
In the beginning of the 1900s, Narvik was just a cluster of farms and held its first municipal election as late as 1902. That same year Oftobanen Railway Line opened to transport iron ore from the mine in Kiruna to the port in Narvik. That became a huge turning point for the city of Narvik and this is still the dominating industry in the area. Everyday 12 freight trains with thousands of tonnes of iron ore come through the mountains to be exported globally from Narvik’s massive port. The railway is the most northern electric railway in the world and it is one of the oldest railways in use which transports iron ore. While visiting Narvik today, it does not take long to realize this place is a real outdoor mecca and filled with people with a love for the mountains. Most of the people we meet on the streets are dressed in expensive high-tech clothes and many of them look like outdoorsy people. This gets confirmed in the mountains where we meet locals, ski touring and getting after it in the backcountry. Besides iron ore Narvik is well known because of its World War II history. Many of the battles around the mid 1940s took place in the fjords near Narvik and also in the town. Most of the town was burnt down but the Norwegian resistance movement – with lots of help from the British, Polish and French troupes – saved their city and Hitler and his men had to retreat. This has made Narvik one of the most famous Norwegian places in those countries. Directly above the city centre there is a small ski area with a handful of lifts and easy access to off-piste skiing. Actually, the terrain is so good that Narvik often is described as the best ski town in Scandinavia; a city ski area on steroids with more than 1000 vertical metres and big mountain terrain that you can’t find anywhere else in Scandinavia. If you add on the real backcountry skiing and the endless possibilities for ski touring and ski mountaineering, this place is world class. Micke is a passionate skier and ski mountaineer but also a family man with a normal job.
Often, he wakes up before 6 a.m. to go for a ski tour 1000 vertical metres uphill with a headlight and stands on a peak somewhere around Narvik before 7:30 a.m. Then he skis down, arriving at his home at the foot of the ski hill – for a shower and breakfast before 8 a.m. and arrives at work in downtown Narvik before 9 a.m. This would probably be too much for most people but this is a normal morning routine for Micke, who walks about 100 000 vertical metres uphill each season. When I visit in mid-April, the days are very long and we use the long evenings rather than the early mornings. To be honest I am pretty happy about that, for some reason it’s so much nicer to stay out late and watch the sun set in the fjord instead of having to go up super early and ski tour in the dark. Especially in a place like Narvik that is famous for its incredible sunsets. During the first days skiing with Micke in Narvik we take advantage of the great skiing near the ski area. We tick off ski tour after ski tour, which starts with a lift ride but ends in a completely different valley. This is a great way to be efficient and get a lot of vertical in a short time. The day after the couloir in Skamdalen we go for a classic tour that starts at the top of the ski area and ends in a different village a few valleys over towards the Swedish border. First, we tour up to Tredjetoppen (translation Third peak), about 200 vertical metres above the top lift in the ski area. From there we drop in and ski parts of M.rkholla, a steep bowl that is known as Narvik’s and Scandinavia’s most challenging backcountry run. Instead of skiing the whole run we cut out right and follow the north ridge down to Forsnesvatnet, a lake in the next basin. It’s time to put on the skins again and walk straight up in the wide couloir to the plateau under Beisfjordt.tta, a pretty steep skin for about one hour. The reward is a long descent via the Straumsnes couloir to Isvatnet and further down towards the Rombakkfjord where the sun sets in the fjord just when we approach the upper part of the village, Straumsnes at 10 p.m. It is the most beautiful way of roundingup my trip to Narvik, but I am already thinking about the next trip.