Adventurous skiing near the Arctic Circle at Riksgränsen
Scandinavian Traveler flew to Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, and took the 140-km bus ride to Riksgränsen, disembarking in the heart of the mountains of Lapland. Here’s what we found.
Some 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t stay in the sky for more than a few hours a day during the winter. But around the end of February the light returns, heralding the beginning of the ski season in Riksgränsen and Björkliden.
Many experienced skiers compare and rate Riksgränsen above many places in the Alps. Just six lifts are available, but the skiing is unlimited. Try tiring yourself out on-piste and off-piste – or sample the exhilaration of heli-skiing and experience the thrill of sliding your way through the wilderness.
Riksgränsen april 29, 2015
The rotor blades start and a whirling cloud of snow envelops us.
Quick facts Riksgränsen
- Highest piste: 909 above sea level
- Drop: 387m
- Pistes: 29
- Off-pistes: Lots
- Lifts: 6
- Snow depth: May 20, 2015: 163 cm
- Open lifts: May 20 2015: 5 of 6
- Winter season 2016: : 18 February –22 Maj and 23-26 June (mid summer)
A few seconds later there is an almost deafening silence. The helicopter has disappeared behind a mountain ridge, the snow cloud has settled, and the sun has reemerged. There is practically no wind, and the snow around us is glistening.
We’ve been dropped on the summit of Vuoitasrita in the Lapland mountains, and we realize that we are facing a daunting, incredibly exciting challenge. It has been snowing for almost two days, with no wind. In front of us we see a landscape that is boot-deep in virgin snow.
The members of our party spread out to find our “own snow” in which to ski. In other words, far apart from one another. It feels unnecessary to bunch up close in this environment.
The only thing we can hear is the sound of skis as we glide along the trail. At the same time, the snow is knee-high, and it’s just a matter of kicking back and enjoying the ride.
We go up to several peaks. We are dropped off on Hoigancorru and glide down a wonderful slope towards Pajemus Kårsavaggejaure Lake, where the helicopter is waiting to pick us up.
Up again, this time to Gorsacohkka, 1,554m above sea level. Our guide, Martin Lundberg of Arctic Guides, leads us down through a steep corridor on the north side of the mountain onto a glacier and all the way down to Gorsavaggi.
Each time we take off in the helicopter and see the expansive landscape beneath us, we realize that you could ski here for several days without visiting the same place twice.
“We’ve got a playground here that’s about half the size of the entire skiing area of Austria, from which we can choose the best trails to ski,” Lundberg says.
‘We’ve got a playground here that’s about half the size of the entire skiing area of Austria’
Because we’ve arrived in late April, the sun is still high in the sky as evening sets in. This far north of the Arctic Circle, the hours of daylight have just started to win the battle against the darkness of winter. We take full advantage of this, and at 7 pm we head out on the Mountain Guide helicopter toward Vassitjåkka. The warming light from the setting sun makes our trip down the north side of the mountain to the Vassijaure reindeer station a fantastic experience. We have no problem finding more powdery, deep, virgin snow, and our long shadows stretch over the mountain and around us.
The next day, we leave the hotel and take the lift up to Riksgränsfjället. Like in Engelberg, the off-piste skiing is right next to the trails.
It’s only then that we realize that we’ve found it, without being aware that we were skiing off-piste.
Breathtaking mountains, challenging skiing only a few pole strokes away from the trail, helicopter skiing, and peak touring – this is what attract skiers to Riksgränsen and Engelberg and has given them legendary status.
Here’s the lowdown on where to find the off-piste adventure that best suits your tastes.
The midnight sun in May offers a skiing experience unlike any other. Gliding down pistes or mountains in full daylight in the middle of the night is a surreal sensation.
You can start to climb straight off the road on both the Swedish and Norwegian sides of the border. Or you can start climbing from Riksgränsen, ideally in the company of a guide who will take you up to the peak and show you safe but dizzying routes down.
For the family
Described as more family-friendly with slightly gentler slopes but extensive access to off-piste skiing. Either stay in the area or travel between Riksgränsen and Björkliden using Lapland Resort’s transfer bus (30km, free with a lift pass).
Sometimes called “ski lift on demand” – a perfect description. The guide, in consultation with the pilot and depending on prevailing weather conditions and other criteria, chooses the runs for the day. And there are a lot of runs to choose from. The area is enormous, half the size of all of Austria’s ski area, stretching so far to the south that it is possible to ski all the way to the tallest mountain in Sweden, Kebnekaise.
More on Riksgränsen
The Swedish Outdoor Association (Friluftsfrämjandet) opened the Laplandia tourist station in 1928, and people have been skiing in Riksgränsen ever since. Piste skiing is confined to the slopes of Riksgränsfjället, while off-piste skiing can be found everywhere next to and between the prepared hills. Nordalsfäll (1,051 meters above sea level) is popular among off-piste skiers. Many descents bear the name of individuals who have made their mark on skiing in the region over the years. For example:
Rimfors. A black off-piste run named after legendary skiing instructor Olle Rimfors, who introduced alpine skiing to Sweden and was sports manager at Riksgränsen from 1950 to 1966.
* Uffes vägg. A black off-piste run that got its name from another legendary skiing instructor during the 1960s, Ulf “Mr. Ski” Edborg. He used the run to practice jumps with his students.
Text: Jonas Fond