Scandinavian dream: ski touring in the Arctic Circle

the Incredible sights that will impress even the most seasoned travelers. The majestic beauty of Scandinavia, many adventures on the way to the goal, the best ski spots, unexpected acquaintances, – all this is just proves that dreams can come true!
A dream This is what guides people. We dream. The subject of our dreams today will become a reality tomorrow.

Sometimes we lose our zeal, but the dream still comes true.

I have been dreaming to visit Norway since a schoolboy, when I read about courageous Vikings. During “sword fights” with my friends I always yelled: “Valhalla!”

Later, when I grew up, I was drawn not by legendary warriors on drakkars among the fjords, but the fjords themselves. And even more by mountains over them. Rocky, black, mystical fjords have been engraved in my memory since school years from the works of Theodor Kittelsen, my favorite painter. This culture is so far from the Hutsuls, yet so close you us.

In the summer of 2016, together with an SMS informing of accruing of Wilderness Travel salary I got an offer to go on a winter trip to Norway from Veronika Verlan, action photographer and traveler, ambassador of The North Face Ukraine. And it was not a trip to the south or center, but to the north, to the mysterious place on the map called A. Actually, the destination of our visit was expected to be Lofoten archipelago — rocky islands beyond the Arctic Circle.

Spur-of-the-moment decisions are right, and at the beginning of September I became a happy owner of Bucharest — Oslo — Bucharest airline ticket for the second half of February, which cost me USD 150. One could buy a ticket twice as cheaper two months before the trip, but I wanted to possess it right there, to count months, weeks and days to departure. In September we actually gathered the core of our team — Veronika who initiated the trip, two best telemark skiers in Ukraine, Oleksii Duma and Oleksii Strashko, and a modest freelance guide Bohdan Fashtryha. That's me :) From time to time several more people planned to join the trip, but never did. On our part, we began active flooding in a Facebook chat and prepare for departure. We studied locations, logistics and routes. In this regard, we were greatly aided by mathematic thinking of Veronika and eight-year experience of Norway journeys of Oleksii Duma.

Considering that we had only a fortnight (February 13-27) in our disposal, we decided not to waste time in the south and go straight to Bude (pronounced like bo-djo, boo-de or in other ways), in order to approach the islands and get to the best snow cover. This is why be bought Oslo — Bude — Oslo railway tickets as soon as they became available and paid USD 150 more.

In January and February I worked a lot, my parents went for a journey before my trip, so when it was time to pack my bags, and it was quite unexpected. One more minor problem occurred: glue on my ski climbers became unserviceable and I had to replace it. I bought some glue, but it was not so easy to replace it afterwards.

We had worked on logistics with Veronika beforehand and developed a quite comfortable scheme when I drove to Chisinau in my car, then proceeded to Bucharest with Veronika, left the car there and traveled by air.

The road was comparatively easy; we passed border control fast and soon arrived to my Romanian friend Oleh Marhina, cool captain and just a nice guy. Oleh's wife Alisa granted us a very warm welcome and Oleh took us to the airport in the morning and waited with us as long as he could. Each of us had a backpack and Veronika had a suit with our accessories dubbed Valiera. When it was put on the airport scales, it turned out that Valiera weighted as an anorexic young man with a mere 44 kilos. I went through much trouble trying to drag this dead whore into the car, and then the entire team struggled with it upstairs the trains, cars, buses and ships. By the way, maximum allowable weight of Valiera was 32 kilos, so we had to randomly unload it into our backpacks during weighing. I proudly wore my extra heavy Dalbello Krypton Cross ski boots in the airport and in the plane. Everyone laughed. I didn't. It was a disputable pleasure, but not against the law.

We managed to get some sleep in the plane and we woke up in unexpectedly sunny Norway. During passport control border officers asked us whether we had a fine trip and made hospitable comments like “I hate this shit” towards the device that for some reason refused to read my passport.

A free bus took Veronika and me to a railroad station near the airport and we joined two Oleksiis or, affectionately, Lioshas, in the train. Lioshas had already bought Jameson, so a day spent on the way to Bude (more than a thousand kilometers!) did not seem to be that long. At changes in the center of Oslo and Trondheim we even managed to go on quick tours around stations looking for cheap food. Of course, we failed at that . 1-euro eggs, 3-4 euro for a pack of milk. Thanks to organizer's talent of Oleksii Duma we had all the food we needed and we only had to additionally buy chocolate paste, Mariia cookies and local cheese.

Bude morning was overcast and rainy. There was no snow near the sea and only dim prospect of it on the islands. Weather forecast for the next five days was no good either. It was great luck that we managed to lease a nice car for 12 days for mere EUR 555, extremely cheap for Norway. WizzAir turned out to have special loyalty programs and we used it.

Packing the car trunk was a daily ceremony which usually involved light bodily injures and terms of abuse. After buying some more food, we went to the isles and Norway enchanted me right away. Endless fjords, slight and steep mountain slopes, thick woods, fast rivers, meandering roads, bridges, tunnels — I barely managed to switch my sight from one thing to another! With our mouths open, we arrived at the first destination to spend the night, near Ulsváhke village. Rorbu (fishermen's hut) in a camping cost us 400 Norwegian krones. Then we thought we could get a cheaper shelter (less than EUR 50 for a person) but later we found out that this rorbu was the cheapest during the entire trip. By the way, the trip was planned as a series of short climbing to different spots with tents. Running ahead of the story, I must tell that we slept in tents only two times.
Rorbu was usually rather small: one-room house 3х3 to 4х4 meters, with bunk beds, a table with four stools, a tiny kitchen and a wardrobe. All rorbus were equipped with heating system, but bed sheets had to be bought additionally. That's why we spent nights in sleeping bags. Showers and WCs were usually located in central buildings of campings, so we had to get there, mud or snow. Sometimes we were the only guests of campings. Sometimes we even spent nights there secretly. A funny story happened to us on the trip. We literally struggled through the second night on our way to North (#waytonorth). That day we had to go a short way on ferry line between fjords, from Fauske to Narvik. While waiting for departure, we had some time to fish, and the larger Liosha caught the first big fish, as the entire Norway coastline can be used for unhindered fishing. Fishing in rivers and lakes is more troublesome as it demands a license to be bought at the post office and community consent. That's why we used only the coast. After arrival to the other side we made a long photoset in blackberry bushes. We went to a filling station in Narvik and thoroughly copied a Lofoten Ski Tour book which cost EUR 58, I believe. We thought we could use this Carpathian lifehack. After dreamingly wandering along expensive alcohol lanes in a shop (Norwegians treat drinking very strictly), we continued making our Way to North

As any driver would, I highly appreciated our Ford Mondeo, which, being ridiculously cheap turned out to be an extra safe and spacious mobile office for our Carpathian party. It conquered 2,500 km with us, with average fuel consumption of 5.5 to 5.8 liters. We spared a lot of money and time on the car, taking into account very costly Norwegian logistics and lengthy road with obstacles. Why the obstacles? Because, as it turned out, in Norway motor ways are simply cleaned after snowfalls. That's it. No sand or special agents are scattered. The road turns into a skating rink and Scandinavians drive using road signs. Where they say “90”, they will drive within 90. When we started this road for the first time, I was a passenger and I was scared. When I moved to the driver's seat, I noticed that a car with spikes, at least this Ford, was very difficult to lose traction or be carried down. So, if the budget allows, a rented car and two drivers is a must-have!

This day on the road became too long. We got to the isles across the bridge, but couldn't find a place to stay for a night: it was either in closed campings, or Booking/Airbnb offers started from 1,600 krones. We could not afford it, so we began looking for a camping until it was time to camp alongside the road :)

After several closed campings we found a working one in Gullesfjord village. It turned out that the owner went to Switzerland for skiing in several hours (and we were the only ones who came at the beginning of the season, haha) and we came just in time.

The evening, as usual, involved several whiskeys and after a dinner with delicious soup by Oleksandra Balabanova (wife of Oleksii Duma) and kapurkova (Zakarpattia slang from Oleksii Duma) we went to bed. Next morning we proceeded to the north of one of the islands to Myre village where we caught plenty of fish under the rain and cold, so we decided to abuse the hospitality and absence of the camping owner and spent another night there. The morning above the fjords was gray, windy, overcast with low and heavy clouds and signs of a snowfall — snow cleaning equipment comprised of heavy trucks. These trucks put every 5-10 km along the roadside ready to storm out for duty any time were the surest indicators of a snowfall. It created a powerful contrast with Ukrainian road services. So we head to Tromso and at the entry to the mainland snow starts falling, harder and harder, snow cover growing exponentially.
We are triumphant eager to finally unpack our skis, put on ski boots and go down the hill. Yet the temperature is also falling fast: Ford thermometer goes from +4 changes to -4 and still lower. In the evening, a camping question arises again, and when offered “Let's freeze in the tent!” everyone agrees enthusiastically. We find a cozy spot on the lake bank within the camping and put two tents right in the middle. During the process we get acquainted with joyful locals, brothers, as it would turn out, who work as so called slopekeepers — monitor and assess snow covers on the slopes. Smacking skeptically, one of them informed us that snow was fresh and thus very dangerous as the temperature just fell below zero. Meanwhile, an owner, senior man from Finland, arrived. With the help of a shot and a Ukrainian cigarette I kept for special events (we're all human, after all) we managed to get a discount and paid only EUR 20 for using the kitchen and shower and tent spots.
We talked about trout, geopolitics, ski tour and the future, all optimistic. Night in the tent turned out to be quite comfortable in Vsimgir down-filled sleeping bag and Veronika's “tent to survive a nuclear war” — The North Face. I dreamed of skiing. Or maybe a trout. I don't remember for sure. Wind tried to drop out tent, even with pins firmly fixed with a snow shovel. At some point we felt that a ski tour was not possible that time, but the tent managed through the night. It managed through, and a frosty morning with coffee and -12 over board (plus 100% Norwegian moisture rate and a “fresh” sea breeze heard even this side of mountain range) inspired for a ski tour. We decided to go skiing to the spot chosen on our way to Finland. A comfortable site was found, so we parked and began the preparation. As I have mentioned, I had a problem with glue on my ski climbers — the old one wore down and the new one had not attached properly for some reason, so the wonder carpets did not hold on to the skis. It was the first and the last time during the trip when I climbed the mountain wearing simple boots. I managed to keep up, but my Salewa hiking shoes turned out to be meant for three seasons and surely not for winter. During the next ski tour location climbing I used several meters of cloth isolation tape thinking that there is no such thing as poor fixation, one can simply lack the tape. And it worked. However, after the descent down the picturesque and immense ice valley, I felt a kind of self-awareness shock: “I ski on Norwegian snow with these wonderful people. Me, Bodia from Yaremche”.
We liked the skiing so much that we went to Finland and bought two liters of whiskey for EUR 60 in the nearest alcohol shop. According to careful calculations, this volume was exactly lacking for full-fledged celebration of this cultural event  The evening turned out to be rather easy. Guys went fishing and caught several small cods weighing less than 300 g, and then we found a comfortable rorbu in Skibotn (pronounced like she-botn by locals) village camping. Another feature of the first skiing day was northern light evidenced by at least two of us for the first time. I must tell it was fantastic. Watching the phenomenon I dreamed to see for such a long time, I, an untypical native, had another chance to realize that experience is the most important thing in our life. The things you saw, did not miss, did not lose. Learned and did. With such creative thoughts I went to bed and had to delete the entire next morning from my memory :(
I decided to spend the new day which began in the afternoon in the camping — deal with FunKarpaty issues and eat some Їdlo. I really liked banana porridge despite all the critical comments. I also wanted to speak to my family. Roaming from Kyivstar was my saver, as my parents were on a trip with no stable internet connection and I kind of missed them. A suitable tariff made it possible to hear about thaw in Ukraine and get inspired by it considering colder weather in the North.
Meanwhile, Oleksii and Veronika went to explore the next spot, about 100 km in one direction, although located on the next fjord. On February 20, we pioneered this spot — a severe valley on the fjord shore which passed marshes on the way up the col between two peaks. Usually during the ski tour we did not go to extremes and skied 400-600 meters a day.

Our third ski tour-the day started in the valley, one of the ridges over which was the border between Norway and Finland. By 11 am we arrived at an even better spot than the previous day. The rise took place, again, through swamps, steep birch forest (in the North of Norway other not growing) out on a gentle slope, which brought us to a pretty terrible tip.

This spot was not an exception. The sights and weather facilitated active skiing, but an ordinary Scandinavian snowfall which would be treated as a snow collapse at home made a delicate hint that it was time to pack up and move on. Light day went on and Oleksiis offered to drive along the coast to look for locations, including fishing ones. The wind got very strong, temperature was about -10 to -12 and while the three of us slumbered in the warm car, Oleksii Strashko caught a huge cod, 6 kilos or so. Let's omit the content of its guts, but fried liver and caviar were yummy! Then we tasted fillet and having stuffed ourselves, we decided that we had enough cod until the end of the trip. -How's skiing? Is there fine snow? -Amazing! Skiing is great! -Are you going for the next spot? -No, we're going for a work. To the army. -Well, we saw the machines of your colleagues. -Army Mercedes cars? -We didn't pay attention to the brand. But all had Wehrmacht license plates Friendly laughter. This was the beginning of our third ski tour day in the valley, with one of the ranges over it marking a border between Norway and Finland. WW2 army car exposition was located nearby, the clock showed 11 a.m. and we arrived at even greater spot. We once again ascended through marshes and steep birch wood slope (no other trees grow in north Norway) to a slighter slope leading to a leg of a rather eerie peak. We talked to two local skiers along the way and began the descent. The slope was rather steep, snow was about 60-70 cm deep and three-meter drops did not seem to be so scary anymore. During the ascent we refueled with ЇDLO protein bars, which turned out to be ideal for such climbing.

We spent our night in the camping whose owner went skiing to Switzerland once again. In the evening, we found a key where we had left it and in the morning, we left a note and 600 krones.

The location for the next ski tour day turned out to be the best spot in my life. 600 meters uphill to the col, up to -18 over board, severe fjords in the south and the Atlantic in the north finally disillusioned me as the skiing Carpathian: I had no idea that good skiing snow can be represented by a meter of powder. On our way to rorbu (which cost 1,000 crones, by the way!) we saw a moose. Desert Arctic landscapes instilled home coziness and warmth and we thanked the Universe for four days of skiing, northern light and far, sweet motherland. We had two days in Norway ahead, one of them to be spent on islands and we still managed to get to A. It was cold and rather quiet as it was low season. The spot was so remote that we decided to explain its name. Our variant implied that the Vikings decided to go until they reach the end. When they did, they gasped “A!”. It is a special “Å” sound pronounced [oː] but close to [aː].

Another funny story occurred that day. A minicar with a couple of tourist fell into the ditch and we decided to help. Our Ford Mondeo, of course, could not handle towing another car on such a road, but we were lucky — the first passing car stopped. It was a small four-wheel-drive pickup driven by a lady about 70-year-old. The car had a strong rope and high-quality tires. At first the helpless car was driven by a guy who could not start it, but then I changed him, Oleksiis pushed the car from behind and it jumped out of snow like a backyard grasshopper in June. The happy Norwegian hugged me as if I was his big brother, shook my hand and almost kissed my cheek. These people appeal to me mentally. Unaffected Scandinavians are always cordial and smiling when they greet people, and they greet everyone. These were two weeks of friendliness opposed to traditional indifference of Ukrainians. Friendly people were contrasted by unfriendly weather: we spent the last night on the islands in a tent under a snowstorm with lightning and thunder.
The next day we used a ferry line from Å to Bude, returned the rented Ford, had a short walk around town and spent the night in a hostel. In the evening, the guys departed on the planes to Warsaw and Gdansk faster than we did to Bucharest.
On February 27, at 1:38 p.m. our Boeing started from Oslo Sandefjord airport in thick fog and at 5:22 p.m. we landed in Bucharest airport. Unfortunately, Oleh was not home, but Alisa greeted us warmly again and Eva, one of their daughters, sang us a song which got her to Voice of Romania contest final. It was another argument for me explaining the necessity of communicating with inspiring, frank and open, positive and kind people, people who aspire for something good and never hint that life is “hard and desperate”. At 9 p.m. we departed to Chisinau and, having arrived to the capital of corn republic at 3 at night, I proceeded home. Border control was fast and at 12 a.m. next day I was in Yaremche. I returned from the trip thousand kilometers long by road, several thousand kilometers by air above Europe, more than a thousand kilometers by railroad in Norway, more than a hundred by ferry and miles and miles at the wheel. Way from Å to Yaremche took four days. A lot of new trips is ahead, a part of them has already been made in June as I write these lines and another part is still on designing stage. I guess it's time to sum it up. The trip budget was EUR 1,000, mostly spent for nights in rorbu and fuel — on Norwegian, Ukrainian, Moldavian and Romanian roads.
But these expenses cannot be compared to extended horizons, new vision of this corner of the earth, this scattered puzzle we are forced to gather by our dreams. Dreams make us dreamers and trips make us travelers, and the combination of two make us people. The more locations we visit, the more we realize the uniqueness, marvel and extent of the planet which is yet a small world. So let's dream and travel ;-)
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