Unknown off-piste skiing destination
Narvik is Northern Norway's best known winter sports destination, with its downhill ski resort on Narvikfjell mountain. However, what most people don't know is that the area is also an excellent base for alpine ski touring and off-piste skiing. The topography, with mountains soaring out of the Ofotfjord up to 1,900 metres (6,250 feet) high, is ideal, with a mountain for every off-piste skill level. What’s more the mountains around the Ofotfjord are so wild and rugged that there is always a sheltered area of good weather, no matter where the wind is coming from.
Narvik's off-piste skiing specialist
Magnus Strand runs what is currently Narvik's only professional skiing company from his lodge in Herjangen on the north side of the Ofotfjord. From the windows high above the fjord, Magnus has fine views of his off-piste kingdom, which stretches from Narvikfjell Mountain and the mountains bordering Sweden, to the peaks further out in the Ofotfjord. Swedish by birth and language, Magnus spends his time where the snow is best, and from February to June, that place is Narvik. He is an internationally certified IFMGA mountain guide with extensive experience gained on mountains all over the world.
Narvik is protected by mountains, which means that it enjoys a somewhat drier climate than further out on the coast. However, the narrow Skjomen fjord arm has a steppe-like climate with predominantly clear weather whenever there is a low-pressure belt along the coast. When the south wind is blowing, there is often fine, clear weather north of Gratangsfjell Mountain, an area that includes Andørja, the steepest island in Norway. In fine easterly weather, you can head to the steep downhill slopes further out in the Ofotfjord. If you want an international experience, you can cross the border into Sweden and ski in the border mountains around Riksgränsen winter sports centre. "I have never had a day when I couldn't take my clients skiing", says Magnus proudly.
The evening before a skiing excursion, Magnus sits glued to his screen, studying the wind direction, precipitation and pressure systems. It's all about finding the right mountain with the right weather and the right snow. Safety is also a factor, and Magnus is an avalanche observer for the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE). "My aim is to make every day the best day of my clients' lives", he says. Magnus can always promise unforgettable days, but he can never say in advance which mountain it will be on.
Which is your favourite mountain, asks www.nordnorge.com. Magnus thinks for a moment, but can't narrow it down to only one, and comes up with three favourites.
- Gangnesaksla in Skjomen, 1,318 metres (4,324 feet) high, is a real challenge. It has a gradient of 35–40 degrees, and a run that goes 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) straight down to the fjord. In the wrong weather conditions it can be deadly, but the feeling of skiing one clear kilometre (more than half a mile) downhill is indescribable.
- The 1,277-metre (4,190-feet) high Langlitinden is the highest point on Andørja and, in fact, the highest point on any island in Norway. It offers fantastic vistas and a downhill run on a glacier. You just don't get better views.
- Spanstinden in Lavangen is 1,457 metres (4,780 feet) high, and plunges vertically down into Gratangen. But the east side of the mountain has a more gradual gradient, and is both easy and fun to descend in wide slalom turns. Magnus calls mountains like these 'Volvo mountains' – safe, good-quality mountains that always deliver.
Magnus receives his clients at an old farm in Herjangen. The old farmhouse has been turned into a guesthouse, with fully equipped kitchen, bathroom and several bedrooms. The sloping roof, white-painted panels and homely details from its long history create a cosy, yet modern atmosphere with every comfort you need. Some clients also stay in Magnus's renovated cowshed, where he himself has an apartment. Common meals around an oval dining table are all part of the experience. There also are comfy sofas where you can nurse your blisters and aching knees. A short evening stroll down to the shore to look at the Northern Lights rounds off the perfect day.