This easter I took the opportunity to visit the Lofoten Islands up north with a group of friends. This is a premium ski destination but I was not sure why, so a trip to find out was in order!
The weather breaks after surprise evening powder.
In the spirit of the DIY series, this post aims to let you experience lofoten as a ski destination without needing to pay huge amounts for a commercial option. I would say however, that more so than other destinations the mountains here are pretty gnarly and the weather changeable. So its not really a place for your first ski touring trip. If you consider yourself inexperienced, consider hiring a guide as this might improve the quality of your holiday.
Looking out to sea
We took the hurtigruten from Trondheim to Svolvær with the car. Despite being extremely slow compared to flying this method of transport turned out to be chilled and well recommended. It can likely be expensive in the summer season but they often have deals in the ski season.
Rows of Tasty Peaks
If you are coming from abroad either attempt to fly into Svolvær or a cheaper option may be to fly to Bødo with SAS or Norwegian . You can then get a fast ferry direct to Svolvær, the recommended base.
We stayed at lofoten feriesenter which was quite good, with OK prices and good local ski touring possibilities. And also close proximity to the local ski resort if you want some powder laps to the avalanche danger is high. It was not amazing however, so if you want something unique or high class, maybe look elsewhere.
Places to Ski
Best bet is to look at the guidebooks and decide what is a good plan based on conditions. As your trip progresses work out which aspects have the best snow and continue to hit similar aspects! The map is also a good place to get inspired.. have a look at the map and go where looks good! However, avalanche danger can be very high mid season so take the precautions necessary.
Scooby and Rulten
varsom.no is the norwegian avalanche forecast site which is worth looking at. Be aware however that often the forecasts and dangers are forecast by the use of weather models rather than on the ground checks / forecasting. This means that sometimes the snow is safer than is forecast and other times it can be more sketchy.
View from Kleppstadheia
Assuming stuff is good to go the following peaks might be worth your attention.
Presten Couloir (on the way to Henningsvær)
Rando training classic style
Toppturer i Norge – Fri Flyt
Norway – Lofoten Ski and Kayak by Fabio Pasini
I put together a wee video of the small amount of footage I captured during the trip.
Japan has been gaining a reputation for a few years as a place with consistently some of the deepest driest snow available. Winter monsoon storms from Siberia bring dump after dump after dump to the northern island of Hokkaido.
With an ailing economy and cheap long haul travel from the likes of Scandinavian Airlines, this powder paradise has opened up for Europeans. After snapping up a flight deal in summer 2012 a group of 5 of us set our sights on the land of the rising sun.
Craig gets his stabilisers out.
This is a simple guide / report on our trip there so if you are planning a similar trip this should give you some info which might be useful.
How to Get There
You need to get to Sapporo Chitose airport. There are some airlines which fly directly to Sapporo but we opted to fly into Tokyo with SAS then get an AirAsia internal flight up to Sapporo. This worked out relatively well but a delay with the AirAsia flight caused some stress. Do not eat the AirAsia airplane food!
Rocking the pimped out toyota vellfire
Probably the best way to get around Hokkaido is with a hire car. We went for a hire car for the half of the trip but I would recommend in retrospect having a hire car for the whole time, as the freedom is excellent and it immerses you more in the culture.
Look at 360niseko for daily snow reports, this also links to daily avalanche reports which are released at about 0730 each morning and are useful because the snow pack is changing a lot.
This is the largest and most famous resort in Hokkaido and well worth the visit. We stayed at niseko lodge when we were there. A relatively cheap backpackers hostel which is right next to the slopes. If you are looking for budget accomodation, this is the place.
Apres ski was relatively poor, but you dont go to Japan for the apres! Also, avoid this resort if you are allergic to Australians.
If the weather is ok, go through access gate 3 and climb to top of annapurri mountain. From here you can ski lines down the same aspect, or ride the backside bowl. (we didnt ride the backside but it might be amazing.) You need to get a bus back for this, so check that it is running.
There is a short avalanche course you can do which allows you to access a semi closed area in niseko village ski area. You get a bib and they let in 60 people a day.. we didnt get round to this but it comes highly recommended from some locals we spoke to.
The trees to the skier’s right in niseko annapurri resort are really fun.
Mt Yotei is a volcano near Niseko which it is apparently possible to ride, 5 hours up 20 mins down. There is also a crater that you can also ride! Black diamond tours might be able to take you on a day trip if you are keen.
Rusutsu piste map
Mark hits it fast
Quiet powder paradise.
Rusutsu, is amazing for snow and fun. Go to Mt Isola and East mountain, ride in the forest to the sides of the black runs. There are some short chairlifts that you can lap on. It would be best to go here after a snow fall when there is fresh snow and maybe niseko upper reaches are closed.
Ally gets deep in rusutsu
Asahidake piste map
Unsure about this one. Despite its glowing reviews on powderhounds we were slightly disappointed.
Mouse with adequate gear
We went there on a bad weather day which I dont think gave us a proper representation of the resort. If you just ride the resort below the single cable it is relatively flat and boring and doesnt suit snowboarders at all.
However it seems to me as if the cablecar is really just an access for backcountry travel and the potentially for long, untracked deep powder lines is large. We however found only wind affected snow in blizzarding cold conditions.
Kamui Ski Links
Kamui Piste Map
In terms of resort action, this was my favourite of the whole trip. This is an authentic Japanese resort for the Japanese and there are loads of people learning to ski using the same hire equipment from 20 years ago! Its amazing to see ski groups of 15-20 people having a great time on skis for the first time.
Generally the level of riding is not super high here which results in lots of untracked powder lines in the trees!
Little gems for this place were skiers left of the main cable car (but remember to exit onto the first piste that you cross horizontally and dont be tempted to carry on.) and the back bowl from the top of the cable car. Warning this involves quite a bit of hiking to get out of and stop riding when you see the flourescent orange tapes. (unless you have skins!)
sapporo teine piste map
OK night skiing, renowned but never properly explored properly by us. It was a nice experience to finally go night skiing in Japan and the trees to skiers right of the night skiing area made for a good time riding in the dark with massive headtorches.
Night skiing at Teine resort..
It did start to get a little dull so craig and I took to breaking rules to keep us entertained.
Smiles and waves
Kiroro Snow World
Kiroro Snow World Piste Map
Lots of untouched super deep lines possible here at Kiroro
Absolutely off the hook, recommended.
Kiroru is amazing. There is a big powder bowl under the main gondola (skiers right) which has a nice exit which mops you up and takes you back to this piste. There are also loads of ski touring opportunities so take your skins to this resort. We skinned up from the car park one day, but there are loads of lines higher up also. Consider hiring a guide here, but we didnt. The snow out of the resort was extremely deep and the same as the films you see of hokkaido riding.
This was the first resort and area where I really saw people using skins and skiing a long way off piste.
Wee windlip drop
We only managed to explore the right side of the area because the riding in the trees was so good and the powder so sweeeeet.
Love this shot
Above you can see some of the epic snow available on the island of Hokkaido.
One of my final face shots of the trip.
I really enjoyed our trip to Japan with good friends and I hope to get the chance to visit it again one day. Craig put together a wee video with the snowboarding footage that we captured during the trip.
Node.js is really fast. We use it to run various APIs and low level HTTP tools in a very high traffic environment. It can be a bit of a mind bender getting your head round callback / event based programming. One of the patterns I often forget is a function which loops over a dataset, calling an asynchronous function which needs wait until all the callbacks have been fired before returning a result. This needs to be done in an asynchronous, non blocking manner.
Here is a real world example in coffeescript.
The main concept to be grasped here is that a results array is maintained and the final callback occurs only when the results array is the same size as the dataset which is being looped through. (In this case the mos object.)
There may well be a cleaner way to do this, if so please let me know in the comments!
At the end of last year after being subjected to Helen’s marathon training and related chat, I decided it would be good idea for me to enter a marathon and see how I could do with a bit of training. Turns out the Berlin marathon is the fastest course in the world so I decided to enter that and break 3 hours. Then I could retire from marathon running. (or that was the plan)
I decided to train with a training plan provided by the veritable 3KM runner Marius Bakken. It would be straightforward to sort out training week to week.. I enjoyed training with a training plan and think that this is the way to go for any level of marathon runner.
How the training went
Eeer min that could be mt blanc up there
I was quite distracted initially with the climbing adventures and the tour de mt blanc on mountain bike so July and early August was a little broken up training wise. However, the training in August / September went well without any major setbacks. All in all I think I could have trained harder for a little longer in the buildup but it was not a disaster by any means.
One mess up from my execution of the training was my pace for the effort 1 sessions (of which there were many). I tended to run these at 6:30 min/km, when they should have be run at 5min/km. This might have why I felt that the marathon training was relatively easy.
View of svånåtind
Preparation and strategy
After a half marathon of 1:27:42 I looked at the options for projecting my marathon time. Marius said something around 3:10 and Runners World were saying 3:01. I decided to go for the Runners world prediction and aim for a marathon time of 2:59:30.
Feeding strategy would be to stop at most drinks stations and drink 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of water along with SIS Go Gels every 30 mins. Garmin would be used only for reporting km pace splits and for displaying overall race time. Not any more info as this clouds the mind.
Up early and a white carb breakfast of white rolls and honey, plus a coffee and a bit of water. Drank some more on the way to the start. Due to staying near the start I opted to bypass clothing drop and thus the main start entrance and approach the start from the south. This meant that there was less queuing and more time to chill before the start.
I dont think I drank enough before starting as my pre race pee was a little yellow. Bustling around in the start area, the sub3 pace makers were in the 2:45 -> 3:00 pen, while I was in the 3:00 -> 3:15.
Boom, all the balloons lifted and we were off! People everywhere.. follow the blue line and try to keep to the correct pace. Dont run too fast. 4:30 for the first km was OK. My aim now was to slowly reel in the pacemaker balloons.
The first 20km went well, was relatively comfortable and I did the first half at like 1:28:30 and felt strong. Sadly this didnt last long. By 25km I could feel that I was beginning to get tired and I needed a plan. I decided to back off the pace slightly to see if this helped. When 30km rolled past, my quads were pretty sore. Was this the wall? No seemed like a pretty small one.
I needed to switch to plan B which was a sub 3:10 with km splits of around 4:30. By 35km I was finished physically but still well under the 3:10 final time. I decided to just keep going and put everything into keeping moving. Mark provided some valuable spectating to keep me inspired. A caffeine gel along with a few roadside bands succeeded in pushing me toward the brandenburg gate.
Reccying the course beforehand proved to be very helpful because I knew what was coming and how far I had left mentally. Its good to know what is coming up rather than being in the dark.
Sprinted for the last 200m from Brandenburg gate to the finish line. Surprisingly the sprint didnt feel that hard and came in at 3:09:23. The way the race went, I put everything into that time so was satisfied with no regrets.
After finishing, my body really did feel like it was about to collapse / cramp up but I kept moving and all was OK. Surprisingly, some non-alcoholic erdinger beer was a great recovery drink.
In the days after the marathon I could barely walk down stairs or sit down! Mark found this pretty amusing and one of the main recovery sessions was a visit to the Berghain world famous techno club.
I can relate to the reasons that Es Tresidder mentions in his recent marathon post for reasons to come out of the mountains and onto the roads. But also agree with the feeling afterwards that marathon running is a great activity. Read es’s post for a much better discussion on this point. Definitely more marathon racing to come!
I had wanted to complete this traverse since Jack, Hallvard and I didn’t manage it in 2009 due to weather conditions, tiredness and access to the mountain restricted due to mine removal in the area.
I reccied the mountain in 2010 with Emily Wall and it looked doable. A rough route description (in Swedish) is very helpful and google translate can also improve the reading experience.
You can actually do the traverse both ways. Vestoppen to Stortoppen has one roped climbing pitch, where Stortoppen to Vesttoppen has 4 pitches. We went Stortoppen to Vesttoppen but saw an equal amount of traffic (guided) going the other way.
There was a party with the mountain guide guiding company that we bumped into. They seem like a good bunch and have seen them guiding around Romsdalen before; they seem to know their stuff. Tor Olav Naalsund has a guiding gig with field productions and I heard him give a good presentation about this last year.
Thwarted from the beginning
We rocked up at Hjerkinn at 10pm on the Friday night, planning to drive into Snøheim and sleep there, with plans for a 7am start. Weather forecast was excellent.
However, there is a new bus service which only runs at certain times of the day, so we had to camp 20km away from where we had initially planned. Max scrounged a duvet from the army camp as he had no sleeping bag. We planned to get the first bus at 8:30 am. Jose then arrived and we briefed him on the shitness.
Waiting in a filthy bus queue
Saturday morning arrived on the back of many mosquitos and we were greeted by a bus at 8.15am. Shit we thought! Its early! I was also totally full. As were the next 3 buses. We eventually got started the traverse at 10:30am pretty pissed off. We didnt see any wild reindeer; starting 3.5 hours later than planned. Also 150kr between the 3 of us, 300kr return where driving was like 50kr for the car. The snøheim bus is a pilot scheme, fingers crossed it gets binned and that its not just a tourist tax.
Walking out from Snøheim
If you are considering doing this route, sort out the logistics and ideally get the bus into snøheim the night before or cycle.
Fun and Games
We hammered up to Stortoppen with excellent pace and no rest stops in under 2 hours. At the top with wind increased quite a bit so we had to put lots of warm clothes on. We were surprised at the few cm of fresh snow and how cold it was on the top ridge. We gobbled down some lunch then started with the traverse for real. Some walking along to Midttoppen followed by downclimbing, then scrambling up to the base of the first pitch at Hettpiggen.
Max led the first pitch; a snow grotty start then it opened up with some nice blocks in a wee gully. The climbing was nice and fun and he was up at the bolted belay ledge in no time. The norwegian TV program 71 grader nord came over here and there are 3 bolts left at the top of the Hettpiggen pitch. Apparently they are getting removed so dont rely on them being there.
Max at the top of the first pitch.
Following the first pitch, there is fairly straighforward scrambling up to the top of Hettpiggen on loose rock. Following this there is some downclimbing to a sloping plate (platta on the topo). The topo shoes a rappel after the plate but we opted for a short abseil down the plate itself, then the standard abseil. Take some tat with you to avoid relying on what is there at the anchors.
About to start abseiling
At this point we were moving really well through the traverse and it was going smooth, like clockwork.
The Waiting Game
After the notch between Hettpiggen and Vesttoppen we ran into a DNT Fjellsport (mountain sport) party that were working on the final pitches up to Vesttoppen and the completion of the traverse. They were already on the pitch ahead of us so all we could do was sit and wait, it was about 4pm. At 6pm we got kitted up for climbing.
Ali Babas Pitch
It was my turn to lead up a muddy, wet and snowy diagonal crack. Fun and games and a great introduction to alpine trad leading. It turned out to be fairly desperate and I had a small fall 1/3 of the way up onto a ledge with served to put me into a really intense survival focus. After I had completed the pitch (had to pull on a cam it felt very good to have completed it.
My sunny belay ledge.
More waiting, waiting for the party ahead of us and Jose who was now spurred into action, led the next pitch beautifully. It was about 9:30pm.. and one of the party ahead had an injured shoulder.
Unsure of the correct route and it being late in the day we sent Jose ahead to scramble away up towards the summit with rope to avoid a potential silly fall. This went pretty smooth and we passed the group ahead of us, it was looking good. Next, instead of traversing out right and onto the summit ridge we decided to climb direct to the summit.
Jose did another sweet lead up here and I followed, hauling up the Norwegians’ rope who had asked for help. Max, rocked up next and some brief smiles about finishing the traverse were shared.
All smiles on the ledge near summit of vesttoppen
As I belayed up one of the locals it became apparent that they were in need of help, it was getting dark and they had an injured climber benighted close to the summit. Max stepped in here and took control of the situation. We setup a hauling system and brought the injured climber up (he was quite heavy) and then the remaining members of the party. It was now circa 1am, well and truly dark.
Red sky at night
We bid farewell to our new friends and the Chilean, Belgian and Scotsman wandered back to Snøheim from Vesttoppen. This was grim and took ages!
Snøheim Matress Madness
We rocked up at the shiny new DNT hut at about 3am and ate the rest of the apple cake. From here grabbed some matresses and slept in the hall. A good nights sleep actually as we were pretty tired after 16 hours!
The next day after waiting for ages we eventually got on the shitty bus back to the cars at Hjerkinn.
Beside the shite snøheim buss
All in all a really exciting ridge traverse, the bus system makes access annoyingly complicated.. cycling in is a better plan. Also starting as early as possible in summer will mean you should get the route to yourself.