We slept hard; I awoke at 6 am. The sun was already up and yesterday’s tracks were visible on the far off peak. The mountain rising behind the cabins, Slieknjamacohkka, looked promising so we set off again. Gaining altitude quickly we navigated through snow channels between rock ridges on a long face.
We stopped for lunch and watched a group of 20 reindeer run gleefully across the snow to graze on the now-open patches of vegetation. They regarded us placidly as they ate lichens and plants long hidden by snow. An eagle soared overhead, perhaps looking for reindeer calves. The rest of the ascent was steep and icy in patches, making for choice words from my wife. We reached a plateau just as a bank of clouds settled onto the mountain, obscuring all views and taking away the contrast needed for a smooth descent.
We began survival skiing down. Luckily there were enough rocks visible to help us get a sense of where we were. After several minutes of ugly skiing we had dropped below the cloud and were again able to find slightly better snow. The descent through the trees back to the cabins was perhaps the best of day–soft and deep spring snow with nicely spaced small trees. I skinned back up two more times to get in turns before the sauna began calling too strongly.
The Fish and Winds of Laponia
That evening Daniel came by to give us some popcorn kernels and oil as a special “American” treat. In the morning, we awoke to howling wind and snow blowing everywhere. Daniel returned with a weather report, as he’d done each morning. Everyone had plans of leaving but all of us postponed as the weather was supposed to clear in the early afternoon. Spring ski touring in northern Sweden is especially nice because the 16-18 hours of daylight allow for ample time on the trail.
We temporarily stranded guests gathered out on the lake to watch Daniel as he began to take up his fishing net to see the day’s catch. Sami fishermen and women who also fish in the area helped Daniel set up his net only a few days before. Unfortunately the net yielded not even the ugly burbot fish.
Daniel invited us to his cabin for coffee, and we brought a northern delicacy called kaffeost (coffee cheese) which is a thin block of slightly rubbery cheese that has been baked and is cut into cubes and soaked in the coffee. It was slightly bizarre but tasty and we speculated that it provided useful fat calories in this cold environment. A red fox appeared through the window, trotting through the snow with a springy step; it made a full investigation of the cabins without being detected by the dogs. We were transfixed, though Daniel informed us that the red fox is threatening the habitat of the Arctic fox in these regions.
The wind slackened so we packed and followed the Kungsleden back to Vakkotavarre. Fantastic views of the mountains kept us interested during the ski home. The final backcountry skiing descent to the car was through a steep, narrow trail, flanked by trees. The lower elevations had not received snowfall and the snow we found was awful, sticky, crusty, and pocked by post-holing ski tourers. The pulka pushed and pulled me and it was a brutal fight the whole way down.
Northern Sweden is sparsely inhabited and the mountains are covered with snow for more than half the year. Long sunny days during late winter and spring make for easy travel, and the hut system is comfortable and charming. Skiing on mountains with impressive views, gallivanting reindeer, and good snow — a wonderful experience. If you are interested in skiing in northern Sweden you can contact Outdoor Lapland for guided ski tours, gear, or help planning your own trip. If you’d like to experience the culinary delights, you can contact Utsi Ren (www.utsiren.se) and Skabrams Ost (www.skabram.se).
(Guest blogger Aaron Schorsch is a chef, carpenter, farm hand, teacher, and baker who loves food, backcountry skiing, travel, canoeing and writing. He calls home wherever the snow is falling and the rivers are rushing, which is most often western Oregon. He is currently living above the arctic circle in northern Sweden with his wife Amanda. Check out his blog, Saveur The Journey. )