Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heliski and giggling in Swedish Kittelfjäll

Last weekend I went to Kittelfjäll in northern Sweden with my three crazy and highly entertaining friends Eva, Henrik and Thomas. We had a blast!

We arrived by coach from Stockholm with a travel guide company called Active Ski after a long ride over night, with some interesting sleeping arrangements. During a stop to eat supper, all the seats in the bus were rearranged to form two long rows of bunk beds along the long sides of the bus. It was very intimate and cozy, as can be seen from the picture below…

Kittelfjäll is located in southern Lappland, about 130 km from Vilhelmina. It is generally perceived as one of the best offpist ski resorts in Sweden with its varying terrain with a mix of ravines, forest as well as clear-cut forest areas, corridors and drops, and of course the helicopter rides to surrounding mountain tops.

When we arrived to Kittelfjäll we had breakfast at the Kittel Hotel and then went heliskiing with the Kittel Guides. I heliskied twice last year and at the time had the good fortune of skiing after a whole day and night’s snowfall – which kept me smiling happily for days afterwards – but this time around there was rather little snow since it hadn’t snowed for weeks (too warm winter here just as in the Alps and Sierra Nevada, if you remember). We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, though. The sun was shining, we had clear-blue skies and 6-8°C on the ground in Kittelfjäll and around freezing point up on Risfjäll and Marsfjäll where we were dropped down on three different spots and skied all the way down to the pick-up points. Our guide Magnus Nordström was the same as we skied with last year, a very nice and friendly guy who describes the ‘best runs’ down the mountain to the group of people he brings down and asks people to spread out so they don’t spoil each other’s snow. There is usually a mix of alpine skiers and snowboarders on these heliski trips. A number of photos below showcase the experience of the day (click on them to see the hi-res versions).

Hitting the slopes and making excuses for coffee breaks and a beer in the sun

Kittelfjäll only has four different lifts but none of them are very long, nor are the slopes very challenging. If you’re in decent shape you generally don’t have any problem skiing down in one go without stopping to catch your breath or rest your muscles. You definitely spend 4-5 times longer time in the lift than actually skiing. Given that there was so little snow this year, it didn’t make much sense to go offpist in one of the ravines to vary the skiing either. If you did you ran over rocks or twigs that the thin snow layer didn’t manage to cover. After every ten or less rides on the same slope(s), we therefore found it a legitimate excuse to visit the ‘Summit Cottage’ (Toppstugan) for a coffee, hot chocolate, waffles, chocolate cake or whatever presented, or having a beer on the hotel balcony terrace in the sun. We just enjoyed sitting talking and laughing hysterically at just about anything.

I don’t know if it was the general atmosphere in Kittelfjäll of all down-to-earth people who work and visit there, memories of fun episodes from last year’s trip, the general relaxation and fresh air, or the company that made us all so giggly, but we basically laughed constantly for 3.5 days.

Hilde and Rut, two cool chicks (not mine, I might add) coming along for the ride…

HiQ invasion and Pink Hink after ski band
In the late afternoons and later at night, a very popular and entertaining after-ski cover band with the creative name Pink Hink (“Pink Bucket”) was playing in the bar at the Kittel Hotel. This particular weekend, there were probably a hundred HiQ consultants from Stockholm in Kittelfjäll for conference and teambuilding activities. They actually brought their own band, The HiQ Experience, who altered on stage with Pink Hink. The HiQ Experience was what Swedes would call “hellre än bra”, which basically means that their willingness to play wildly exceeded their skills… The HiQ consultants nonetheless partied and danced like crazy, regardless of who played, so there was nothing wrong with the party mood of the pack and we all had great fun.

“My skis are stolen!” Eva exclaimed when she came out of our ski lodge on day two, and she went to call the rental shop in Stockholm and file a police report. A couple of stressful hours later she suddenly ‘discovered’ the supposedly stolen skis on the same spot she had left them the day before, i.e. before she entered the after ski party… She had not undertaken the same adventurous way of transporting our heavy luggage downhill to the ski lodge as Thomas and I did after the after-ski – see photo below…

Eva and I also ran into an old friend, Peter, from a ski trip to St. Anton six years ago, which of course brought up more skiing memories and topics for conversation and laughs. My friends Anneli & Bosse, who own the apartment in Engelberg where I skied in February (see blog posts 1 and 2), are now married as a result of meeting each other during that trip.

All in all, this was a great and fun ski trip to the north of Sweden. I am looking forward to the planned photo and video viewing evening with Eva, Henrik and Thomas, when the giggling will continue… :-)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring skiing on Mammoth Mountain

This past weekend I was in Mammoth Mountain with my brother Urban. We were skiing for a couple of days in fantastic weather. It was sunny and warm, 62-65 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 16-18°C. The skiing was beautiful but there was much less snow than usual and due to the warm weather it got a little slush in the afternoons. Of course I got sunburned and dehydrated. I look like Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer and start peeling off skin.

Mammoth Mountain is located in Central California (US) on the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, 5.5-6 hours’ drive from Los Angeles. Mammoth has 29 different ski lifts (9 express quads, 2 gondolas) and 150 named trails. This was my third or forth time in Mammoth – it has become somewhat of a tradition with my brother after GDC. Skiing on high altitude is hard work and makes you much more tired than you realize. Mammoth Mountain is over 3,300 m above sea level (the summit of Mammoth Mountain is at 11,053 feet), which is a lot higher than the highest mountain top in Sweden. After a few hours’ skiing, it was good taking a break and kick back in the sun with a beer.

You can view a selection of photos below.

Beer at the Outpost Café

Main Lodge
Grizzlies in the Village

Mammoth seems to be something of a snowboard Mecca but I didn’t see a lot of advanced skiers. The latter probably go to Whistler in Canada or to resorts in Idaho and other states where it’s colder and they have more snow. It was quite cool to watch the crazy snowboarders make 360’s in the Unbound trail jumps and go down the half-pipe.

There was not much happening in Mammoth except for on the slopes. There was no action whatsoever in Mammoth at night so we went to bed early and got up decently early to get the best morning skiing conditions. They have tried to make Mammoth a ‘happening’ ski resort but it does not seem to really take off. There’s a center plaza (the ‘Village’) with shops and restaurants and bars but there are hardly ever any people. I also heard that American Airlines was going to start with commercial flights to the local airport not far from Mammoth, but herds have yet to pick their water hole in Mammoth. The only place where we could get something to eat after 8:00 pm was the Pita Hut (not Pizza Hut!). Two friendly and nice seasonal workers from ‘Down Under’ – cool snowboarder dudes from Australia and New Zealand – fortunately made incredibly good pita wraps.

The drive up and down to Mammoth from Los Angeles goes through hundreds of miles of scarcely vegetated lava land and sandy mountains, in the afternoon light showcasing a rainbow of beautiful, earthy colors that the camera never does justice to (some shots below). You pass a few Indian reservations, numerous poor trailer park homes and small towns called things like Lone Pine and Independence. The bigger town Bishop, located about 45 min drive from Mammoth, has a great sports equipment outlet where you can buy ski and snowboarding clothes – this time of year always on sale. :-)

There’s been very little snow this year – as witnessed by my ski trips both to the Swiss Alps and to Sierra Nevada – so I am hoping my ski trip to the north of Sweden next weekend will prove richer in that department.