68 Degrees North - by Zak Emerson
It’s not every day you get to tick an adventure off your bucket list - so when I got asked to go snowboard-mountaineering in the Arctic to shoot stills and a short film for the Norwegian Tourist Board and Salomon, I couldn’t wipe the turbo grin off my face.
The trip was set up by renowned splitboard journalist Pete Coombes, for an article he is writing for Snow Magazine and the hallowed Sidetracked Magazine, amongst others.
The heck is split-boarding? It’s a kind of very off-piste snowboarding where the board literally splits in half top to bottom - allowing the bindings to be turned around enabling skins to be stuck on - so you can walk and climbing up hill without slipping backwards. You then can yomp up mountains for hours on end, far from any ski lift or resort and rescue safety. Then at altitude, usually on a windy, precipitously sphincter-winking ridge line or couloir, the set up can be returned to a snowboard format - allowing you to ride as normal powder slayer once again.
This trip was in the Lofoten Islands up at 68 degrees, in North Norway. It’s right up there, just above Alaskan latitude. Three planes ride away from manic Heathrow. If you’re into bleak but beautiful landscape, it’s mind blowing. On this extraordinary peninsula toothy mountain peaks rise straight out of the inky ocean, it’s just like the Alps but only the serious part above 3500m. There are no other skiers anywhere. Hardly any other people anywhere in fact, other than around the water’s edge, the majority of industry is fishing. ‘In Cod We trust’ is plastered on walls by local graf artists, depicting fishermen clinging with their lives onto the slippery fish.
So it’s climbing and snowboarding heaven. But on the sharp end of things also. We worked with local guides to route find and weather check. It’s pretty key to not get anything wrong this far from safety. There’s no resort, no lifts, no helidrops allowed. It’s all yomping up the mountain for up to 6 hours at a time for a brief rest before epic descents in knee deep never before touched powder. The 50 degree couloirs are truly epic and the sight of the sea horizon all around and beyond every sharp peak are mind altering.
A pure, simple but hard life up there for the locals. Amazing that Norway has 900 billion in gold in the national reserve bank, but from this place you’d never know it. It seems untouched by the modern world. Apart from the awesome wifi in the Lofoten Ski Lodge we’re staying in. A dream cabin clinging onto the edge of a fjord.
For some it'll justifiably seem foolish to not just take a chair lift up a mountain in order to ski down. But in this place, it gives me a rare sense of weightlessness from the complexities of life. It’s true what they say about earning those turns, you savour each one returning to sea level, just have to remember to stop before the sea cliffs.
To steal an end line from Pete’s own article, ‘Here in this moment I feel free. Truly free.’