New lodges bring ski­ing to the Arc­tic

Villa brings lux­u­ries to un­tamed Arc­tic ter­rain

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By JEN MUR­PHY Bloomberg

A re­mote ski re­sort in the Arc­tic Cir­cle? Yes, please.

The wild ter­rain of the Arc­tic used to be the play­ground of ex­plor­ers. But a new crop of high-end heli-ski lodges is turn­ing it into the next fron­tier for skiers in search of vir­gin pow­der and un­lim­ited runs, shared only with res­i­dent po­lar bears and rein­deer.

If ski­ing un­der the mid­night sun feels like a new level in brag­ging rights, the am­bi­tious Niehku Moun­tain Villa on the bor­der of Nor­way and Swe­den is a whole dif­fer­ent game. Lo­cated on the 68th par­al­lel, just north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the 14-room lodge is reach­able by a 90-minute flight from Stock­holm to Kiruna fol­lowed by a 90-minute drive along a beau­ti­ful, des­o­late road.

Few ad­ven­ture bases like it ex­ist: The only com­pa­ra­ble op­tions are De­plar Farm in Ice­land (which re­quires pri­vate buy­outs) and We­ber Arc­tic’s heli-ski op­er­a­tion on Canada’s Baf­fin Is­land (where guests stay in a low-frills, com­mu­nity-run ho­tel). But when it opens this March for its first of­fi­cial sea­son — Arc­tic ski­ing is best in the spring — Niehku will aim to raise the bar with a 500-bot­tle wine cel­lar, top-of-the-line ski gear and mul­ti­course lo­ca­vore meals.

The tiny ham­let of Riks­gränsen is a sim­ple clus­ter of barn­like build­ings strad­dling the Swedish and Nor­we­gian bor­der, a full 125 miles north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. It feels like a vil­lage pulled from Scan­di­na­vian mythol­ogy. Riks­gränsen was es­tab­lished over a cen­tury ago as a cus­toms stop, after the two coun­tries’ navies es­tab­lished a rail­way line haul­ing iron ore from the Swedish mines to the Nor­we­gian coast.

The first ski lift was in­stalled in 1954. Even though it would take three decades to con­nect the area to Stock­holm by road, an un­likely ski scene emerged. Plenty of en­thu­si­asts, it turned out, were will­ing to make the long train jour­ney from the La­p­land town of Kiruna to ski here; the ter­rain ri­vals Kam­chatka and the Hi­malayas in terms of re­mote­ness and va­ri­ety, with a mix of high-al­ti­tude, wide-open pow­der runs and adren­a­line-pump­ing steeps that can’t be found any­where else.

To­day, Riks­gränsen fea­tures promi­nently in ex­treme ski and snow­board films; it’s a stomp­ing ground for freeride ski and snow­board pi­o­neers. And it’s also the pre­ferred place of Jo­han “Jossi” Lind­blom and Pa­trik “Strumpan” Ström­sten, the Swedish friends and ski­ing diehards who now own and man­age Niehku. Of all the places Lind­blom had skied in his years as a moun­tain guide, from Alaska to the Cau­ca­sus Moun­tains and a decade-plus in Cha­monix Val­ley, he main­tains that the best ter­rain in the world is right in his own back­yard.

The 14 rooms — built into a train line round­house from the early 1900s — merge lo­cal ma­te­ri­als with high­brow com­forts. There are oak floors and slate walls sourced from Alta, Nor­way; cus­tom stone ceram­ics in the show­ers; and blue­prints of the orig­i­nal build­ing hung above the plush Hästens beds.

Days will be­gin and end with meals by Ström­sten’s wife, who is also a som­me­lier and runs her own suc­cess­ful restau­rant, Krakas Korg, on the is­land of Got­land.

The own­ers say it’ll be “skiers’ food,” but this is def­i­nitely not the lunch-tray chili or fancy fon­due most skiers are used to. Homemade pas­tries, muesli and yo­gurt, and eggs made to or­der pro­vide fuel through the morn­ing. Lunch, packed pic­nic-style into the back of a he­li­copter, might be a ther­mos of rein­deer stew and freshly baked breads paired with or­ganic beers from small Swedish brew­eries. And in the evenings, guests sit down to a mul­ti­course meal that might in­clude caviar with black­ened leek and herb oil or leg of rein­deer with lin­gonberry sauce chanterelles.

He­li­copters are ready to go at 9 a.m., and un­like in the Alps, where strict rules limit the num­ber of runs from des­ig­nated land­ing spots, here you can ba­si­cally ski any­where and ev­ery­where un­til your legs give out. The only thing stop­ping you, jokes Lind­blom, is the oc­ca­sional herd of rein­deer block­ing a track. Come May and June, you can even go back out after din­ner and ski un­der the pink mid­night sun.

Just be­cause the op­er­a­tion fo­cuses on heli-ski­ing doesn’t mean it’s re­stricted to ex­pert skiers, Lind­blom says. “The vari­a­tion of ter­rain and the size of the area en­sures that ev­ery­one who comes to us gets what they want, re­gard­less of their level and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

De­tails

Stays at Niehku Moun­tain Villa be­gin at $4,640 per per­son for three days and cover semi-pri­vate heli-ski­ing, meals, ac­com­mo­da­tions and use of the sauna. Al­co­hol, mas­sages and ac­tiv­i­ties such as dog sled­ding, ice fish­ing and snow­mo­bil­ing cost ex­tra. niehku.com.

David Car­lier

For heli-ski­i­ing at Niehku Moun­tain Villa, you’ll be dropped off at one of 60 moun­tain peaks, which of­fer ev­ery­thing from recre­ational ski­ing to the steep­est of pro­fes­sional chal­lenges. The ski sea­son is from March to May.

Nick­las Blom

The villa, nes­tled in Riks­gränsen, Swe­den, boasts fine din­ing and a 500-bot­tle wine cel­lar.

Nick­las Blom

Ex­pect fine din­ing and dishes that make use of lo­cal and sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents with an em­pha­sis on game and fish from the forests and moun­tains.

Mat­tias Fredriks­son

Dur­ing the sum­mer months, guests can hike or ride moun­tain bikes in the area along the Swedish and Nor­we­gian bor­der.

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