Norway Mountains and Closed Ski Areas, August 26-28, 2022

Tony Crocker

Staff member
On Aug.26 we drove out of the Sognefjord region over the mountains to the Elveseter hotel near Lom. We stayed there two nights while we rafted the Sjoa River before heading farther north to Alesund.

The weather was not good on the 26th when we were on the pass at 4,600 feet.



At this elevation the mountains are generally rounded off as they were buried under continental glaciers.

Descending from the passes there are some more water features.



Starting the 27th we had good weather for the rest of our time in Norway. After the rafting we drove to the Galdhøpiggen ski area we had expected to ski. We parked at the Juvass Lodge and walked along the lake to the ski area.


Here Galdhøpiggen’s glacier ends in the lake.


Overview of Galdhøpiggen surface lift:


It’s after 7PM so only the top lift towers are illuminated.

I walked over for a closer look.


At this point I realized that the clean white areas were tarps.


You can see that in the two weeks since the area closed the open snow/ice has receded below the level of the tarp covered snow.

There’s nice scenery driving down from Galdhøpiggen.


That mountain hut lodging had an artistic dining room so we dropped in for a drink.

The most impressive mountain scenery was on the Stryn summer road, which we drove on the 28th on the way to Alesund. It’s very narrow and lined with what we called “Viking guard rails.”


Lakes colored by glacial silt:



Around 3:30PM the afternoon sun dazzled in the streams and lakes.



Finally the Stryn ski area comes into view.


Looking up the chairlift:



We noticed someone on the lodge balcony. It was Idar, the caretaker who was eager to chat with a couple of ski nutcases for about an hour.


Stryn has a ski season similar to Beartooth Basin in Montana, usually opening at the start of June. It gets a lot of snow and Idar says the snowpack can approach the third floor balcony as we see at Mammoth. Occasionally they will bring skiers up on a snowcat in May before the road is plowed.

The lean in Norway 2018 season (that was the big year we enjoyed in the Alps) closed July 8. One recent big season did not have the road plowed until July 10 and skiing lasted to mid-August. The pics show terrain steeper and rockier than Galdhøpiggen, and the base is only 3,700 feet vs. 6,000.

The other summer areas Fonna and Galdhøpiggen are dominated by race camps but Stryn appeals more to freeriders with extensive slackcountry options as described in Jimmy Petterson’s book. Note the freeride gorilla mural on the lodge wall.


Scenery was still impressive descending west from Stryn ski area.


In our ski investigation we called Fonna as well. It’s near Bergen in Norway’s wettest climate. This means lots of snow but the guy we talked to there said they had only 15 days of sun this summer season. He said it’s usually rainy or foggy at Fonna.

We drove by a few winter ski areas too. I think Hemsedal between Oslo and the Sognefjord is Norway’s largest.


Some resort lodging is at far right and the town we drove through had several ski shops.

Sandane and Sogn looked like more local joints.


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Map of Norway's highest mountains and the largest in continental Europe Jostedal glacier:

We stayed in Solvorn (B near bottom of the map) Aug. 25 and at the Elveseter Hotel (E at right) Aug. 26-27.

On Aug. 27 we drove out the upper right of the map to the Sjoa rafting, then drove up to Galdhøpiggen (G) on the way back to Elveseter.

On Aug. 28 we drove to the Stryn summer ski area (H on map top center) on the way to Alesund out the upper left.

On Aug. 30 we left Alesund and spent the night in Stryn (B at upper left).

On Aug. 31 we picked up our rental skis and stayed in Gjerde (E at map center).

On Sep. 1 we drove north to the Stryggevatnet dam (F) for the skiing and glacier walk, had dinner in Sogndalfjora and spent the night in Lærdal (rightmost G at bottom).
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Here's something for Tony's next Norway trip, in a 2019 Financial Times article (no paywall). Interestingly, the operator, Andrey Yakunin, was the subject of a Washington Post article yesterday, pasted below.

Norway on edge over drone sightings, arrests of son of Putin confidant

BRUSSELS — Norwegian officials warned Thursday that there could be more arrests after at least seven Russians — including the son of a close associate of President Vladimir Putin — were detained in recent weeks for flying drones or taking pictures near sensitive areas, prompting an investigation by the domestic intelligence service.

Norway and other countries are moving to secure critical infrastructure in the wake of the sabotage of the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. Since then, drone sightings have been reported in Norway’s vast offshore oil and gas fields and at Norwegian airports.

On Wednesday, Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Store, blamed “foreign intelligence” — and indirectly pointed a finger at Russia. “It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he said, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Offshore oil and gas installations are central to Norway’s economy. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a critical supplier to energy-starved Europe.Store made the remarks hours after a drone was spotted near the airport in Bergen, the country’s second-most-populous city, temporarily shutting down air traffic.

Authorities also disclosed the arrest of a dual Russian-British national who stands accused of flying a drone over Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, allegedly violating a rule that bars Russian citizens from flying drones in the country. The man, Andrey Yakunin, 47, is the son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and a confidant of Putin. The elder Yakunin was sanctioned by the United States in the wake of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. When the younger Yakunin was arrested, police also seized drones and electronic devices, police prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjor told the Barents Observer. “The content from the drone is of great importance for the case.”

Andrey Yakunin, who was once featured in a Financial Times story about using his 88-foot sailing yacht to go skiing in Norway’s remote Arctic, reportedly asked the court to consider him a British citizen. His lawyer, John Christian Elden, said in an email that his client is a British citizen, who studied, works and has family in Britain. Elden did not deny that Yakunin piloted a drone but said doing so was illegal for Russian citizens, not British citizens.

Yakunin was arrested nearly a week after Norwegian police detained a Russian man for flying a drone above an airport in Tromso in northern Norway. On Friday, the authorities seized a “large” amount of photography equipment, including the drone and memory cards. Police also discovered photos of the airport in Kirkenes, a Norwegian town near the Russian border, and of a Norwegian military helicopter.
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Financial Times link is paywalled.
I pasted the text below. If you want to see the pix, try going through the link posted on Twitter, which hasn't been paywalled for me.

Way off-piste: yacht-skiing in the Arctic
Tired of Courchevel and Zermatt — and willing to invest millions in his passion — one skier thinks he has found the ultimate destination

A chef has laid out breakfast on the oak dining table aboard Firebird, a luxury sailing yacht. Halved passion fruits tilt upwards like little radio telescopes and slices of prosciutto and smoked salmon glint in the morning sun. The light washes over leather-lined bulkheads and suede benches.

Surveying it all, at the head of the table, is Andrey Yakunin, a Russian-born investment manager. “Life is hard in the Arctic,” he says, with a smile. In Troms, a mountainous region of northern Norway, Yakunin, who owns Firebird, is preparing to climb and ski with his family and their Scottish mountain guide Brian Farquharson. Fresh snow covers the 88ft yacht’s teak decks.

We are docked at Havnnes, a 19th-century trading post of white-painted houses and fishing boats. For a week we will ski and sail between islands inside the Arctic Circle as we journey to Jøkelfjord, a rarely visited inlet that ends at the foot of a towering glacier. Yakunin, who will celebrate his 44th birthday during the trip, discovered this world three winters ago, when Farquharson told him about a piste-free paradise of fjords and peaks, many of which could be accessed only by boat.

The St Petersburg-born Londoner listened with the wide eyes of a child — and the wallet of an asset manager whose father used to employ a million people as president of Russian Railways. When Farquharson took Yakunin on a trip with Boreal Yachting, which helped pioneer boat-based ski mountaineering in Norway a decade ago, Yakunin tore up the blueprints for a yacht he was in talks about with Oyster, a British luxury boat builder.

Firebird, which might otherwise have been confined to Mediterranean and Caribbean waters, acquired enhanced insulation and safety standards and an orange-and-grey colour scheme that Yakunin’s wife Natasha had admired on a Hermès scarf. I had also heard about the skiing in Norway’s Lyngen Alps and marvelled at photos in magazines of stunning descents towards the sea. It looked as otherworldly and remote as a Japanese birch forest or the north face of some Alaskan peak.

During a week in which I encounter no more than a couple of dozen other skiers, and not a single ski lift, I have to remind myself that I’m in Europe, closer to my home in London than I would be in Athens. With touring skis and a boat, you can look around at thousands of peaks and say, 'I want to climb that one today' With touring skis and a boat, you can look around at thousands of peaks and say, 'I want to climb that one today'

The skiing itself starts shakily. The clouds are thick as we put on our boots under Firebird’s winter awning. The yacht’s rear decks are covered with protective rubber matting but I still feel like a bull in a Wedgwood showroom as I climb down a polished ladder on to Havnnes’ rickety pontoon. On the dock, we stick climbing skins to our skis and follow Farquharson on a march towards Uløytinden, a 1,114m peak on the island of Uløya. Yakunin has a mansion in Hampstead and more than $400m under management at VIYM, the London private equity firm he founded in 2006. But yacht-owning is ruinous and it makes financial sense even for him to offer Firebird to others for charter — and to invite a stranger with a notepad aboard.

In what is, if I’m honest, an unusual assignment, I also get to know Yakunin’s son Igor, a medical student at Cambridge, his girlfriend Anna, and Svemir and Janko, whom Natasha hangs out with when she summers at the Mediterranean superyacht playground of Porto Montenegro.

Firebird is spacious rather than palatial; the owners’ suite, this week festooned with drying ski gear, is smaller (I imagine) than Roman Abramovich’s personal seaborne hammam. There are two more cosy en suite double cabins in the aft quarters, while I’m bunking with Farquharson up front, near the quarters of the crew. They are led by Peter, our taciturn Polish captain. Tim and Holly, a young British couple, are first mate and steward, while Chilean chef Josefina does remarkable things in the tiny kitchen.

We spend a lot of time on the boat, sharing photos, reading books and, in the case of Yakunin, polishing the wine glasses or mending the cuff of his old fleece. Yakunin’s father Vladimir, an engineer-turned-KGB officer who was once part of Putin’s inner circle (he retired from Russian Railways in disputed circumstances in 2015 and now runs a think-tank in Berlin), always wanted his first son to make his own way. As a young couple, Andrey and Natasha went to Scotland to study hospitality.

While learning the trade from the floor up (VIYM now invests in hotels), Andrey developed a taste for certain regional delicacies: Firebird, which is named after a Russian fairy tale, is probably the only luxury yacht with a fridge full of Irn-Bru. Norway's Lyngen Alps offer a piste-free paradise of fjords and peaks, many of which can be accessed only by boat Norway's Lyngen Alps offer a piste-free paradise of fjords and peaks, many of which can only be accessed only by boat The Yakunins have flirted with more conventional skiing. They once spent Russian New Year in Courchevel. “Andrey was almost crying he was so bored,” recalls Natasha, who herself feared being wiped out on piste by a Cristal-soaked oligarch.

The couple increasingly retreated off-piste, employing Farquharson in Zermatt, where the Scot lives, before Norway appeared on their sailing radar. “My girlfriends still go to Courchevel, and when I put photos of here on Facebook they all say, ‘Why do you do this — why would you want to walk uphill for four hours?’ ” Natasha adds. The reason has always been clear to me. There is pure joy in earning every turn of a descent in untracked snow by hiking on skis; I will soon learn why these mountains are such a great place to do it. But Farquharson calls time on our first ascent when the weather closes in halfway up. We ski in bad visibility back to Havnnes.

By way of consolation, Josefina has prepared some prawns she bought the afternoon before from a neighbouring fishing boat. A graphic with no description Havnnes is one of the busier stops for boat skiers here, but there are only a few people in town today. Firebird attracts quizzical as well as admiring glances, looking as if she took a wrong turn out of St Tropez. The other yachts and converted small ferries are far less plush, and more hands-on for skiers who like to be involved in the sailing or cooking. Farquharson, who is 57, says the Lyngen Alps got busy 10 years ago.

The delightful city of Tromsø, their northern gateway, is a short hop from Oslo airport. But things have become quieter as Alta, which also has an airport, emerges as a secondary base to the east. Jøkelfjord, our destination, sits in even quieter waters between the cities. Simon Usborne during the trip: ‘I encounter few other skiers, and not a single ski lift’ Simon Usborne during the trip: ‘I encounter few other skiers, and not a single ski lift’ Before we head east we try climbing Storgalten (1,291m) from our second overnight dock at a prawn-processing plant.

The clouds have parted slightly and, as we ascend, I get a sense from above of the advantage of navigating this region by boat. It is as if an entire Alpine range has been flooded. Valleys that it would take hours to travel through or across have become express waterways. “With touring skis and a boat of your own you can just look around at thousands of peaks and say, ‘I want to climb that one today,’” Farquharson says. One drawback is changeable weather.

Our Storgalten assault ends in a diversion, in high winds, to a lower shoulder to the west. But even here the descent is among the best I’ve done in years, in a foot of new snow. I look across valleys that disappear into the distance. We ski down alpine faces that may be tracked only once or twice a year Briefly we hoist the sails in the afternoon as we make the long journey to Jøkelfjord, where we will drop anchor in time for dinner. As Firebird heels over in Arctic winds, three white-beaked dolphins appear under the bowsprit, leaping above the inky water. More snow falls and the sails are lowered lest they freeze solid.

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The next morning the sun beats down on the dead-calm waters of Jøkelfjord. The glacier hangs menacingly from an almost vertical rock face where the fjord ends. Mountains rise in every direction. There are no other boats. Firebird’s rigid inflatable boat takes us ashore. I step off it on to a carpet of mussels. Anna, who doesn’t ski, fills a bucket with them for dinner while we put on our skins and start climbing. For three days we make new ascents of the Koppartind massif, which rises above the eastern bank of Jøkelfjord to 930m. (Starting climbs at sea level makes altitude a satisfyingly simple measure.)

As I climb, I look down on the shrinking outline of Firebird and across valleys that disappear into the distance. We ski through birch trees and down alpine faces that may be tracked only once or twice a winter. On Yakunin’s birthday, the group returns to enjoy champagne and cake before a swim is proposed. Captain Peter drops the hydraulic rear deck and I jump into freezing water. By the time I climb out again, Peter has installed a hot shower on the platform. Igor and Anna inflate a double kayak and go for a paddle as the sun dips below the mountaintops.

That night, Peter wakes us all and we climb on to the decks to watch the Northern Lights. Over a dinner of mussels and reindeer steak, Yakunin is feeling reflective. He is a charming if slightly inscrutable figure, and is prone to talk in aphorisms (“Stupidity is the most expensive luxury in the world”; “The business that runs itself runs itself into the ground”). He is no whooper on the mountain, either, preferring to end a particularly good run with the deadpan catchphrase: “Not so very bad.”

I ask him if piling several million pounds into an Arctic-going money sponge was a good business move. “Sometimes I think it was the most idiotic decision I ever made,” he says, as the coffee arrives. “And then there are days like today when it all comes together.” Simon Usborne was a guest of Firebird. The yacht (including all crew) is available for charter from €45,000 per week for up to seven guests.