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Text: Bruno Compagnet

Photos: Layla Kerley

A trip to the mountains where you can get lost and find yourself, but also a place where time seems to lengthen in the diffuse pallor of light with a thousand variations of grey and blue. A stay in the rural north, in a less postcard setting than Lofoten, right in the Lyngen Alps.

The flight is nice and our arrival in Trømso is greeted by the timid appearance of a weak sun that inflames the sea and the fjords between the mountains and the islands, piercing the monotonous layer of clouds. Our plane flew over the glaciers and the on bluish whiteness of the landscapes of the far north that we are happy to find again. I let growing in me the pleasure and melancholy that these landscapes never fail to awaken inside myself. Four years have passed since our last trip to these latitudes and since then the world has changed a lot… At that time gasoline cost 1.20 euros per liter and if we talk about global warming, ozone layer and mass instinct we could still easily ignore all the signs and live in the comforting illusion of a false stability… Covid had not yet appeared into our lives and the war at the borders of Europe was not on the news.

I immediately spot Thor in the distance, he’s waiting for us at the baggage drop, with his hands in his pockets and the cold, detached attitude typical of those people who don’t pretend to be like that. As soon as he sees us, he starts walking towards us smiling and he immediately takes Layla in his big carpenter arms before giving me a hug too. I leave them to the mutual pleasure of being reunited and I head towards the bag drop to get our ski bags that have just appeared. Twenty-three kilos per bag is quite a challenge when you think about going skiing on these mountains, not counting Layla’s photographic gear.

Thor’s van is quite old and run down, but he is really happy with it because he bought it for very little and can sleep in it… A frugal existence and modest ambitions to find some free time, this is also what unites us beyond our passion for skiing. The roads are bumpy and I wonder if the van’s suspension will hold up for long. We take the road that leads to his family holiday house where a crackling wood stove and a boiling sauna await us. We have enough food and equipment for a few weeks. We pass through a landscape that makes us happy as it has not changed over time. As soon as we get out of the car, the air seems colder and crisper, a wintry atmosphere that we haven’t really experienced in the Alps this winter season.

I quickly lose count of the days as I let myself be carried away by a pleasant daily routine. The wood stove I light early in the morning when the others are still asleep. The birch bark that catches fire quickly with a lively flame, spreading an enveloping warmth and a pleasant sound. Then I prepare a large Moka and the kitchen is quickly filled with the scent of coffee. No radio, no newspapers, I also forbid myself to watch the news on my cell phone, it’s too depressing and anyway I will be overwhelmed by the media hype when we’ll return to France. I also sleep much better here and don’t wake up in the middle of the night anxious thinking about my daughter and the awful world she will have to live in.

Thor and Layla join me and we linger over breakfast drinking coffee after coffee. This slow pace of our days suits us much more than an exotic trip on a boat in the heart of the fjords, which would cost a fortune anyway and which we would have to book two years in advance. We allow ourselves to savor the luxury of this slow and silent rhythm, made up of simple things… Toilets outside the house, no running water and electricity provided only by wind and sun (when there are)… All we need is a fireplace and enough wood for the sauna that we light when we return, frozen, from our trips in the mountains. And then we like to go on various road trips with always one idea in mind but with the freedom to change everything at the last minute. This is also beautiful and it reminds me and Layla of our dawn walks along the Spanish coast in search of the perfect wave.

We still find winter conditions, the snow is good but the snowpack is unstable and the avalanche risk is very high. Since we have been here there have been many, with even some injured and dead. Lyngen and Lofoten are massifs upon which a kind of eternity rests and the possibility of skiing with a view on the north sea of the Arctic Circle attracts skiers from all over Europe. But these mountains, which ignore the passage of time, can be terribly dangerous when the snow is wet, and it is best to ski on gentle slopes that do not exceed thirty degrees of inclination. One of the main problems, in addition to tourists and the many tour operators offering hit and run stays, is the desire to live that dream that sometimes drives groups to go out every day… Here too, like in Chamonix, when the phone rings the first questions people ask themselves are: “Are they friends? Do we know them? Ok no, they’re just tourists, fine…” A certainly unpleasant but natural reaction if looking more closely at it, which does not prevent one or more people from ending their stay here hit by avalanches with perhaps some broken ribs. Here, as everywhere, there can be accidents also linked to the attitude and behavior of people in the mountains… But it’s always easy to talk or write afterwards, what would our decisions have been in their place?

Listen to silence

We progress at a rather slow but regular pace, free from certain constraints which can sometimes condition our choices and even our times in the Alps. There is no one on this mountain that is a little further inland compared to others, away from the fjords and the whole world. In April, with clear and cold weather, the days slowly lengthen, the shadows and time seem frozen in a white immensity. The daylight that gradually shortens the nights has changed our perception of time passing more slowly. Sky and land become more visible. You can experience a simple and profound joy in entering this place sculpted by ice and covered in snow, in these landscapes illuminated by an infinity of luminous variations, where sometimes you can ski in the morning grey which the wind will then carry away to reveal a dazzling world that shimmers like the fur of an ermine under a clear blue sky, only to veil itself again soon after. We are reluctant to break the silence that I sometimes feel like the fourth person of our group and in which we float most of the time, preferring the murmur of the wind in our ears that invades our thoughts and signals its presence. We are delighted by the simplicity of the landscape. The cold, windy, crusty, icy, light or soft snow that sings under our skis sends us an infinite number of sounds and messages that we listen to, mixing with the one of our breath. We cross beautiful birch forests and rivers, we face slopes, we follow ridges that stretch as far as the eye can see, we project ourselves into a space that seems infinite… Sometimes we reach the top. But in the end we don’t need to get anywhere and we are happy to stop about fifty meters below the summit for having a better visibility and a more pleasant descent. Because we are above all skiers and our ascents are intended only for the joy and pleasure of the sequence of curves that make up the music sheet of our descents. Each curve is designed to make the most of the qualities of the snow and the pleasure of feeling the terrain and dancing with gravity. We rediscover the pleasure of skiing slowly, adapting to the snow and visibility. Or we unite our curves by abandoning ourselves to the present moment. Sometimes I have this image that comes to mind of my aikido instructor in Arreau, in the Pyrenees, who drew curves with supernatural fluidity with his three-dimensional bokken. Tirelessly repeating the movement and trying to get closer to an ever elusive perfection. It is the snow that dictates our choices, we often make long easy descents on soft snow. We have completely immersed ourselves in this environment and are adapting while waiting for a warmth that will deeply modify the snowpack, giving us the opportunity to ski beautiful lines in the mountains.


We pass by the village where we sometimes go to check our mail and have a bad coffee, then leave the main highway and take a secondary road. We continue past a frozen lake and a wooded hill. A snowboard and Nordic ski facility in the middle of the woods, as well as the number on the mailbox, confirms that we have arrived at our destination. I hadn’t seen Torkel for years, the last time was in the Dolomites. It was one of those winters where avalanches wiped out roads, ski lifts and even buildings… Our relationship began here in Lofoten in 2007. At the time, Henningsvær was not a very well known or busy place in the middle of winter, and the Norwegian brand with its bright colors and colorful waterproof zips had got into the habit of organizing photo sessions with its team of riders. Today we both have children and we both have called our daughters Minna, without consulting each others. In addition to their first names, they also share the same passion for snowboarding. After the coffee, Torkel prepares his bag and we are ready to set off to discover his secret garden for one of those days that will make us want to come back here, despite the still uncertain weather and conditions. We don’t cross a single trace on the snow (apart the one of a wolverine), we don’t see anyone during the whole day and for us, in addition to the snow and the good weather, this solitude and this isolation are an incredible added value to our experience. We share a few beers at the end of the afternoon around the BBQ watching the sun struggle while sinking beyond the horizon, eating fish pancakes, fat-saturated sausages and other Norwegian specialties that we fill with ketchup and mustard. Then we say goodbye to Torkel who returns with his children towards the woods of his home…


It’s 4.38am and I go out to pee in front of the house, the stars have long, the sun is already coloring the peaks around the valley and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. I go back inside and wake up everyone. While we’re on the road, I think about the many times I’ve tried to reach the top of this massif without success. The last attempt was one of the most demanding one due to the difficult snow conditions and the bad weather which had forced us to spend four hours in a snow hole listening to the wind blowing up and sweeping away, little by little, our desire and motivation. We always hoped for a window of good weather but our mood was already low and then the clouds parted to give way to a polar atmosphere that accompanied our retreat from the fjord… Today is a different story, weather and snow conditions seem good and the long climb is pleasant. After 6 and half hours we reach a flat top the size of several rugby pitches, swept by a steady wind that has turned the snow into ptarmigan feathers, as Layla observes. We didn’t define anything in advance about the descent, we decided to evaluate once there and choose between the many options offered by this beautiful mountain. Our decision falls on the western couloir, a long canal over a thousand meters high which we attacked at the right moment but which would have deserved a few more days of wait. Despite everything, the soft and crumbly snow offers us a beautiful descent and a long adventure. The immense slope that runs under a ridge of rocks develops into gigantic slabs of ice beaten by the wind and which the sun causes to melt, hitting us regularly as we descend from the cliff on the right… A long and relatively steep no-fall zone that takes some effort. We hit a series of crazy curves that we are happy to forget as we head to buy beers and chips on the way back. This too takes some time but we let it slide slowly. The freeway is still far away, even the adrenaline begins to vanish and we stop under a beautiful pine tree. We wallow on a thick carpet of mosses and lichens, we devour our sandwiches, appreciating the effort of this long day. With my head resting on my bag, I stare off into the distance as we say something stupid.

Husqvarna hoskehogget

The engine is running and I’m the last one to get into the front seat of the van. Snowflakes escape from the belly of clouds that the wind carries to hell. I don’t think that’s a good omen. The low fog that has formed because of the cold transforms an environment that has become familiar into a hostile landscape. Then the sun pierces the haze like a yellow evil eye before disappearing into the storm. The scenery flows behind the misted windows… The noise of the engine and the scraping of the wiper on the completely clouded windscreen accompany the crackling of the radio wonderfully, but nobody seems to be disturbed by these distressing sounds. We park and walk along the road, dark again and wet because of the melting snow. On the slopes, the snow is dirty and mixed with fine gravel. The powder is very wet in the birch forest, the snowpack is heavy, sticky… Then the slope straightens out without significant changes in the quality of the snow. The sweat of our effort joins the wet flakes that turn my jacket and base layer into an oven in which I’ll marinate until the first ridge, where we’ll change into the blizzard. Our skins are soaked and now that the storm is over, the cold snow accumulates so much that we have to remove it regularly. I smile as I hear Thor stopping and cursing as he takes off his skis… Oddly enough Layla is luckier than us and she doesn’t have this problem. The fifteen centimeters of cold snow placed on a hard and icy ground make progression difficult, the skis slip and pull me on my hips and knees, we follow a ridge with a high profile but dotted with black rocks and swept by gusts that also slap us in the face. The canal entrance is not easy to find. The presence of a large number of belay ropes, more or less baked by the sun and ice, surrounding a rock that we cleared of the snow with an ice ax, confirms that we are in the right place. Thor descends first while I hold Layla by the harness while she’s suspended into the void so that she can immortalize these intense moments. After a while the tension in the rope disappears. I shout out to Thor to know what the snow conditions are in the couloir… “It looks great” he replies. I call out to Layla, while wondering if we’re doing something stupid. Even a narrow couloir can be tricky to manage in these blustery conditions… Hanging from the rope, I watch Layla and Thor atop the swath of snow plunging between the rock faces, then see them quickly disappear. We don’t talk much, united by the language of silence activated by the will of intention. Thor takes it easy, he turns steadily and optimally… Things are slowly starting to feel good again. This will also be the highlight of our stay. That we will end with a very good impression. Returning to the road and to the car, we watch the mountains stealthily reveal themselves. A world of solitude in perpetual change.

On the morning of the departure, it snows a lot, a storm is coming and it will surely give Thor and his friends some wonderful days on skis… We promise to do everything we can to come back to these mountains that grow as the sky changes, in this place at the end of the world .