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Ski touring in the Lyngen Alps, Norway

When the time came to write this article about Lyngen, I had to think twice.  On the one hand, Lyngen is an amazing, largely undiscovered (by the masses), beautiful skiing wilderness with challenging ascents and descents, scenery like nowhere else on earth, no ski lifts, and very few tourists.  On the other hand, one of the core reasons why it’s so special is that most people don’t know about it yet, and I don’t want this beautiful place to change.

The Lyngen Alps are in the Northern most part of Norway, well within the Arctic circle.  In the winter it’s the land of 24h darkness.  In the summer, perpetual light.  The mountains rise out of the sea, making for incredible views and the chance to descend from serious alpine style peaks right down to sea level.  The cold arctic weather means that there’s snow right down to sea level until late in the season.  There are few guides, no well-established tracks to follow, and when you set off for the day it’s quite likely you won’t see another soul until you get back to the road.  I think the shape and style of the mountains is like the top 1500m of the main continental European alps, but with it being 3000m lower there’s more oxygen to breath.  You can feel like a superman whilst charging up slopes which would knacker you at 4000m.

At the moment there are broadly four different types of trip you can pursue here.

  • Do it yourself
  • Stay at the Lyngen Lodge
  • Stay on a yacht
  • Join a trip organized by a guiding company

Each of these has its own merits, which I will attempt to cover briefly below.

Doing it yourself: A

If you and your friends are comfortable ski mountaineering without a guide, this is a very good option to follow.  There’s only one guide book to get hold of, and it’s largely in Norwegian, with short English sections to describe the pictures of routes.  It’s called Hvite Drommer (ISBN 10: 978-82-997013-2-7).  We have heard that there is an English book in the pipeline, but we can’t find it published yet.  This is the main 1:50000 map you’ll need of the Lyngen area:

http://www.kartbutikken.no/produktdetaljer.php?visprodukt=6345

There are places you can buy this online, but they are also readily available in Lyngen, even in local supermarkets.

Doing it yourself: B

It is possible to hire a guide in Lyngen, independently of the trips run by international guiding companies based elsewhere, and the trips run by the Lyngen Lodge.

There are few guides in the area though, and most of them are booked for a week at a time.  We managed to book a guide for one day at the very end of the season when we wanted to tackle a more challenging ascent, and used Jimmy Halvardsson:

http://www.ascentdescent.com/

If you want to do this, it’s worth booking early.

Stay at the Lyngen Lodge

This is the money-no-object option.  The Lyngen Lodge organizes guiding, pick ups from the airport, transport to-and-from the start of routes, including boat transfers, and all food.  In short, all you need to do is get yourself to Tromso airport and they’ll do the rest.  We’ve never been to the lodge but have heard very good things about it, and with a sauna, great food, and a roaring fire, what’s not to like?

The only potential downside is that the nature of the set up may mean that the standard of skiing is more mixed, although they do split the groups according to ability and fitness.  Oh, and the cost, but given the level of service it’s not surprising that it’s a more expensive option.

http://www.lyngenlodge.com/

Stay on a yacht

This is a very attractive option.  To oversimplify it, the yacht drops you off at the start of a tour in the morning, and meets you at the end in the afternoon.  You get to ski from sea to summit, and back again, and rarely have to do round trips.  You then have dinner and beers on the boat while the skipper sails you to the next drop off point for the next morning.  This way you cover considerable ground, see the most amazing scenery, and get the added camaraderie and fun of being on a boat each night.

The advantages are that the yacht can move considerable distances to follow the good weather, and the skipper (and guide) will have a lot of experience choosing the best area to ski given the conditions.  Not being tied to a single base is a great strength in the changeable arctic weather.

The disadvantages are that it is quite expensive and you are on a boat so there’s no escaping from your fellow adventurers.  Even the biggest yachts I’ve been on have still been fairly cozy affairs, so with all the paraphernalia that comes with ski touring I imagine it must get pretty cluttered inside, and there must be limited space to dry your kit out after a long day.

We can’t strongly endorse any operator in particular, but we did bump into a group run by Boreal Yachting several times, and they seemed to be full of praise for the outfit.  The guide was an experienced and helpful Scotsman based in Chamonix, and the skipper a local Norwegian.  Their website link is below, although there are several similar outfits just a Google search away.

http://boreal-yachting.com/b8ynxlDY2-.6.idium

Join a trip organized by a guiding company:

Just Google “ski touring in Lyngen” and you’ll quickly find several operators offering guided tours in Lyngen.  As far as I know, apart from the good people at Lyngen Lodge, ascentdescent are the only guiding company which are based in the area throughout the main Lyngen season (Mar onwards), and I can thoroughly recommend them:

http://www.ascentdescent.com/blog/ski-touring-in-lyngen/

There are however many fully qualified UIAGM guides based in Europe and the UK who offer tours in Lyngen.  They may or may not be able to help with booking accommodation, contact them directly to ask.

Accommodation:

At the moment there’s not a huge amount of accommodation in the area, and you’ll have to do some research to find somewhere to stay if you’re organizing this yourself.  There are a few cabins which cater to the fishing tourist trade, and we stayed at this one:

http://www.lyngenhavfiske.no/index.php?c=5&kat=Homepage

It actually turned out to be an ideal ski touring base, as it was large and well insulated, well equipped, with plenty of living space and a separate area to store skis.  Our neighbours were an American company which makes ski films and were touring around Norway, and some Russian fishermen who gave us as much fresh fish as we could eat.

Here are more self catering places:

http://giaever.net/default.asp?pageid=10009

If you don’t want to cook for yourself, there’s a basic hotel in Lyngseidet called Magic Mountain Lodge.  This is a cross between a hotel and a hostel, owned and run by ski mad Patrik.  We didn’t stay here, but did call by for beers, reindeer kebab, and some friendly advice on the conditions.  The atmosphere is very relaxed and welcoming, and when we go back to Lyngen the MML would be our first port of call.  They don’t have a website (Patrik explained that he didn’t want to have too many customers!) but here’s their facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Magic-Mountain-Lodge-Norway/107667945982989

There are some mountain huts in the area but they don’t seem to be well used.  When we enquired about them no one seemed to know much about their condition, how well stocked they are with blankets etc, or even whether they were public or private.  In summary it seems that there is no central organization which administers them (like the CAS/CAF system), some are open for public use and you turn up and try your luck, and some are private and you need to arrange to get a key before setting off.  The geography of the peninsula means that most peaks are within reach of a one day tour, so there isn’t as much need to have a system of huts as there is in the European alps.  If however you decide to spend a night in a hut, investigate thoroughly before committing to a night out.

Finally the Lyngen Lodge.  In the winter season it seems the Lyngen Lodge only offers packages which include ski guides, transfers etc., but there’s no harm in asking if they’ll arrange accommodation in case they’ve a vacancy.

Getting there:

The easiest solution (other than Lyngen Lodge) is to fly to Tromso and hire a car there.  If you’re organizing your own transport, you will definitely need a car.  There are bus services but they are infrequent, and you’ll need a car to get to the start of all the ski routes.  For information on local bus and ferry timetables, here are some good links:

http://www.visittromso.no/en/Travel/

http://www.bjorklid.no/

SAS is the only airline which flies to Tromso:

http://www.flysas.com

Weather

The weather is highly changeable in this part of the world, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and be able to adjust your plans accordingly.  You will need the discipline to turn back during your route if the weather changes.  Visibility can drop very quickly, making safe routes potentially dangerous.  This weather site is very good, given the difficulty of forecasting in the arctic, so you will need to check this daily.  Note that there are different forecasts for quite small areas – this is for Lyngen fjord:

http://www.yr.no/place/Norway/Troms/Lyngen/Lyngen~301778/

Despite being very far north, and being in the Arctic Circle, the temperatures are not as low as you might expect, with the average temperature in January hovering around -5 deg C.

Geography

The Lyngen Alps refers to the mountainous area on the Lyngen peninsula, which feature the highest peaks in the county.  The very highest is Jiehkkevarri at 1833 m, but there very many lower peaks which offer great ski touring for a wide range of abilities.  The peninsula is divided in two by the Kjosen fjord which runs broadly east/west, with the northern and southern parts of the peninsular joined by a two-mile wide strip of land on the eastern side.  On this strip of land is the biggest population centre of the peninsula, called Lyngseidet, through which you’ll find yourself driving fairly frequently as you drive from one half of the peninsula to the other.

When to go

The ski season in theory runs from January through to early June.  However the area is in total darkness until mid Jan, when you start to get meager amount of sun around midday.

http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=290&month=1&year=2012&obj=sun&afl=-11&day=1

As well as the lack of sunlight, Jan and Feb can be dangerous due to the months of cold, wind, heavy snow, and lack of sunlight, so huge avalanches going straight down to the sea aren’t uncommon.  I would be very cautious about moving around the Lyngen Alps this early in the season without a guide who really knows the conditions.

March is when the season really starts.  It’s a good month with 10 – 11 hours of sunlight, cold temperatures, and reliable snow.  From April onwards the conditions become more changeable, with the sun bringing warmer temperatures, occasional rain, slush, fresh snowfall, powder – a bit of everything.  You need to have good, waterproof kit to cope with the conditions.  By the middle of May the sun is up for 24hrs per day, but it still doesn’t mean the end of the skiing season.  We visited Lyngen in May and were still able to ski to sea level.  After we left there was some decent snowfall and we saw photos of people skiing powder on perfect blue sky days in mid June.

Other

The Lyngen peninsula is very sparsely populated.  For provisions there are lots of small supermarkets dotted around the peninsula, part of the amusingly named Joker chain, which will stock the ski tourer staples of pasta, chocolate, and beer, as well as local dried meat and fish.  Use google maps and centre the map on Lyngen – search for Joker and you’ll see the locations marked.  You can also approach the fishermen when they bring their catch in at the end of each day, if you’re lucky you’ll find a friendly fisherman who’ll sell you the freshest fish you’ll ever eat.  We bought fresh shrimp, already cooked on the boat, from a professional crew, and met some friendly amateur fishermen who gave us delicious fresh cod.

We couldn’t find any ski shops at all on the peninsula, so make sure you bring all the kit you’ll need.  There is a camping shop in Lyngseidet which has basic camping supplies (gas etc) but don’t expect much.

This is a useful resource (we can’t be held responsible for any inaccuracies on the external sites we link to):

http://www.ryggsekk.net/turer/lyngen/index.htm

And here’s a Google translation of a Norwegian site, describing various routes:

http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=no&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.utpaatur.net%2Fturer.php%3Ffylke%3DTroms%26sortM%3DDESC&sl=auto&tl=en

 

Do you need any more inspiration?  If so, check these out:

http://www.snowgenius.com/media/videos/lyngen-descents/

If you do go to Lyngen you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience.  Just don’t tell too many people about it.


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