For any avid backcountry skier or snowboarder, this trip is an essential rite of passage. The northern fjords of Norway, Svalbard and Greenland’s west coast offer something completely different to any other ski trip and, in our experience, can result in you seeing skiing or snowboarding in a completely different light.
Compared to a typical heliski or resort-based trip, you won't be making quite so many turns or partaking much in the après-ski scene. This kind of trip is all about slow travel and quality over quantity – savouring every single turn in fresh snow and feasting your eyes on the breath-taking scenery as you ski right down to the ocean.
These trips also offer the opportunity to tread lightly in pristine wilderness areas and appreciate the natural environment and wildlife.
You are invited to join the EA trip to Svalbard in May 2024. Last few places remaining.
Basing yourself on a yacht makes complete sense in this part of the world. WIth many runs ending on the beach, limited places to stay and no roads, a yacht gives you both unrivalled access to remote terrain and a comfortable place to stay. Between (and sometimes during) tours the skipper can reposition the yacht to enable you to explore widely and ski different areas whilst avoiding the need for the packing/unpacking, loading cars or lugging overnight gear around – things that are “par for the course” on most ski tours.
Trips can be booked as exclusive charters (a yacht and guide just for you and your friends) or by cabin or even by berth (where you share the experience with new friends). Group dynamics are important to consider, but so are the realities of sharing a boat. While the ideal world is to travel with people whose company you know you enjoy, who don’t snore and who share similar levels of fitness and skiing ability, you might find this leaves you with a pretty small group and it may be better to consider finding a friend or partner to share a cabin and join a larger group on a bigger yacht.
Which Yacht to Choose?
At the risk of stating the obvious, yachts move, meaning that the range of vessels available in each location changes from one year to the next. We are in regular contact with a number of yachts about their plans for future seasons, so give us a call to discuss your preferences on location, dates and type of vessel so that we can look for something that fits the bill.
If you have a group of 3-6 friends wanting a private group experience, there are yachts that can accommodate small groups, but it is important to choose carefully because, by the time you consider a skipper, crew and guide, not to mention space for ski kit, even a reasonably substantial yacht can become pretty cosy.
Sailing rather than motoring can be a spectacular and more peaceful way of reaching your next ski tour spot, but on the other hand motor yachts tend to offer more space and comfort below decks.
It’s also important to know if the yacht is well-configured for arctic cruising. Heated ski and boot lockers, enclosed cockpits, cabin configurations, spacious saloons, ease of access when wearing ski boots, cruising speed and ice ratings are all among the things to consider.
Where and When to Go?
Where to go might be determined by your dates as much as anything. The season begins in mid-March when the days become long enough to explore the northern fjords of Norway as well as the West Coast of Greenland and you might be lucky enough to catch the Northern Lights in the first week or two of the season. The mountains here offer some substantial elevations – up to 1800m – and a good chance of skiing well-preserved powder many days after the last snowfall. In Norway, relative proximity to civilisation also makes it possible to ski some of the steeper pitches, though many will choose to use their hard-earned vertical metres more sparingly.
As things start to thaw in late April, Norway’s north coast trends towards corn snow skiing, while the ice starts to open up in Svarlbard, the gateway to the North Pole. May is considered the best time to go when the sea ice allows access to routes with elevations of 500-1000m. At sea you’ll be passing glaciers plunging into the sea and looking out for walruses and whales, while on land, polar bears sightings are common.
Greenland’s West Coast with its deep fjords and high peaks up to 1700m offers some of the most remote skiing in the world and can be blessed with plenty of powder snow. The season here runs from mid-March to late May.
What's the Skiing Like?
Like anywhere in the world, the skiing can range from sublime to challenging depending on the day. That said, the arctic climate tends to conserve the snow well and the fjords create possibilities to ski almost any exposure so that guides can pick the routes with the best conditions.
While there is plenty of steep terrain for strong groups, because you’ll be getting to the top under your own steam and because these are remote places where injuries are inconvenient at best, descents are usually done on slopes that are equivalent to European blue or red runs, often in perfect powder or silky smooth corn snow.
There are very few trees around so if the weather does close in, this can be frustrating. However, spring/early summer in the Arctic often sees stable weather and the ability to ski almost round the clock gives you a long window to wait for the weather to clear if need be.
How Good a Skier Do I Need to Be?
While the skiing does not need to be especially technical, conditions can be variable and you should be comfortable skiing in all kinds of backcountry conditions and have some experience of ski touring so that you know what to expect. It is also important that you have a solid general level of fitness and are able to enjoy the descent after 2-3 hours of continuous ascent.
When to Book?
There are a limited number of yachts operating these trips and while it may be possible for solo travellers or groups of two to pick up a slot just a few months before travel, we highly recommend planning a trip like this a year or more in advance, especially if you have a group of 3 or more.
Varuna is a 73-feet, aluminium hulled sailing yacht. She is particularly well-suited to arctic cruising thanks to both original features and specific adaptations. Her shallow draught allows her to access areas that many yachts cannot reach (or require a longer tender journey), while the deck saloon was a great addition to create warm space to relax and spread out after skiing and from which to admire the scenery and wildlife. Thermal insulation, redundant heating systems (incl. heated lockers) and high-volume desalination are all further upgrades that make arctic exploration more comfortable.
To maximize comfort, attention and unhindered used of amenities, Varuna hosts only up to 6 skiers/splitboarders in 3 guest cabins, each with individual washroom & showers, heating, and power supply. With her world-class skipper, crew and guides, who are among the most expert in arctic sailing and skiing, Varuna is a superb option for anyone wanting to ski in a small group on a highly personalised, private trip.
Originally commissioned for servicing lighthouses and buoys by the Norwegian Coastal Administration, MV Villa was built for arctic work and is rated Ice Class B. She was repurposed and refurbished in 2020 to make her more comfortable for arctic cruising. With LOA of 137 feet and a beam of 32 feet she offers generous space of 160m2 below decks – ample to accommodate skiers and their equipment. She has 6 spacious (by yacht standards) guest cabins over 2 decks. The bridge is a highlight and guests are welcome to spend time here to enjoy the elevated views of the arctic landscape.
Handpicked by the owners, the crew of 8 ensures that help is always on hand – which is important when the land of the midnight sun brings a whole new meaning to 24/7.
Stella Oceana is an unusual 100 foot sailing ketch in that she is both spacious and beautiful - an ideal combination for ski-tourers wanting both comfort and a fine yacht to admire. Her 3 cabins can sleep up to 8 guests (in addition to 2 ski guides), but it is her huge saloon and "on deck" hot tub that really set her apart from other sailing yachts - features like this are important to tired skiers when resting after long ski tours. Skippered by a former Norwegian Navy Captain, she is based in Tromso in winter/spring making her idea for exploring Norway's northern fjords and the Lyngen Alps. Her 1C ice rating also makes charters in Svarlbard a possibility.
Nansen Explorer is part of the new breed of vessels that combine the marine capability of a research vessel with the comfort of a superyacht. Her ice-class 1A hull with an overall length of 72m makes her ideal for navigating far into icy waters, but with just 7 staterooms for up to 12 guests, she offers an extraordinary level of comfort. Elemental Adventure can bring together Nansen Explorer with expert guides and even helicopters to create ultimate expeditions that enable you to explore and ski in some of the remotest places on earth, such as Greenland's west coast.