Story And Photos By Neil McNab
Amazing terrain, pounding snow/surf and jaw dropping scenery make Norway’s Lofoten Islands one of the most stunning splitboard destinations on Earth. Few other places where you can ride a couloir to the beach, then surf waves the same day. After experiencing Lofoten at it’s finest in 2016, I vowed to return every season to this magical region in the Arctic Circle.
In April 2017 I returned to Lofoten for one of my Backcountry Splitboarding Voyager trips. Like the rest of the Alps, Norway had a tough early season, but luck was on our side. Just before we showed up it started dumping!
Deep snow, starry skies and the usual smell of ‘drying’ cod greet us as we arrive in Lofoten late in the evening. Unfortunately, the morning dawns much rougher. We awake to driving rain and strong winds… Aargh!
With a keen crew, we head out in the wet blizzard anyway. We quickly hike a local peak above town before retreating to our sea side cabins to empty the water out of our packs, pockets and iPhones.
After another rainy day spent in the surf and sauna we head back into the mountains the following day. Early morning cloud cover makes route finding difficult so we opt to stay local and hike one of the lower classics that I’d not done before. A great tour up a long valley leads to a two hour climb up a tricky ridge to access the upper slopes. With clearing skies, we find awesome spring snow on the descent as we surf wide open faces, curling banks and narrow steeps down to the valley below. Things are looking up!
For anyone that has visited these isles, the mighty South Couloir of Geitaljetind has to be high on the tick list. This massive couloir drops straight to the sea and is truly a sight to behold, let alone ride in stellar conditions. We go for Geitaljetind the following day, starting our tour in glorious sunshine. The clouds don’t hold off long and soon we are in a white out with heavy snow falling. There is no wind though, so we continue upwards. At worst we can head back down the way we’ve come up through deeper and deeper powder.
Eventually we pull up onto the ridge below the summit with the entrance to the couloir dropping into the mist somewhere to our right. There are quite a few other teams on the mountain, but all of them are still pushing higher, eager to make the summit. The couloir is yet to be tracked.
Suddenly, the heavy clouds shift and we can see down the couloir to the sea far below. I need no further sign. It’s time to drop! We quickly change into ride mode as the skies further clear.
The South Couloir is steep and long with a perfect wind wave formed up on the left wall. Halfway down, the snow transitions from powder to spring corn just ripe for high speeds and big carves. All too soon we are at the teepee that stands on the shoreline. A short hike around the coast and we are back at the van.
For our final day I look for something special. There are so many amazing lines visible from the road that it’s always tough making the call. A local guide tells me about a line deep within the mountains far from the regular haunts which seems the perfect objective. I get out the map and start planning the day.
Our tour begins at a hidden inland valley. We start off breaking trail through deep snow and dense woodland. The hike is technical and we’re on and off the splits until we get above treeline. Cresting into the alpine we enter into a deep u-shaped valley ringed by powder-filled peaks. We continue the tour up towards a steep couloir that crowns the amphitheater above us.
As we climb into the couloir I suspect there is a wind slab forming above us just below the ridge. I put the group out of the firing line and start bootpacking alongside the cliff keeping tight to the corner away from the face. Sure enough, as I climb higher I can feel tension building in the snowpack to my left. The face is not that big, so after confirming everyone is safe, I give it a good kick. The slab immediately pops and washes down into the apron. The release leaves us with a stable slope chalk full of perfect pow.
We all resume climbing and soon we top out on the summit ridge to incredible views. On the other side of the ridge lies an enormous amount of terrain calling out for future adventures. The descent is fantastic - a straight-line down the couloir into an open face of deep cold pow.
What a fantastic week with a great crew! We definitely made the most of the conditions and scored the goods. Can’t wait to come back to Lofoten for more epic adventure in 2018...
Find out more about Neil’s guided splitboard programs at www.mcnabsnowboarding.com.