Shredding With Sami

Sled skiing with the guys who owned Sweden’s powder before the Vikings had horns.
By Doug Schnitzspahn ,

I’m hanging on to a long rope attached to a churning snow machine with three fellow skiers, and the four or five in front of me are sliding back-ward, about to abandon ship. Our guide, Tomas—who is one of the Sami, the northernmost indigenous people of Europe, who’ve herded reindeer in this northern part of Sweden since long before the Vikings ransacked most of the continent—has the snow-mobile at full throttle. I hold on and lean back, inhaling gas fumes.

Tomas stands up on the machine, shimmies it, and bam! We are up the steepest part of the slope and I give our friends stuck below the finger. My rope-mates and I are about to get first tracks on the big wide-open bowl we’d eyed from the windows of Ösjöstugan, a quaint little waffle house up on a ridge deep in the mountains on the Norwegian border. Powder snow is hit or miss here in Jämtland Härjedalen. In fact, our first backcountry experience in the region was a full-on don’t-fall-or-you-tumble-in-rocks boneshaker. “You ever wonder why Swedes like Jon Olsson are so good?” my guide asked. “It’s because we have to learn to ski on shit like this.”

But Tomas has brought us to the goods. We put down big arcing turns on sweet cream in the sun and laugh. It’s a treat to ski here, where skiing is the heart of all things. We started the day at a small ski area called Funäsdalsberget. It’s the type of spot some core skiers from the Rockies might ignore, but it’s packed with kids and parents intent on ripping. And then there are the Sami. Their roots are mysterious, and like most indigenous people they have a history of oppression. They predate the Swedes here, though, and now they are by treaty allowed to roam with their reindeer across the borders of the Scandinavian countries.

Tomas tells me a little about the Sami way of life when we reach the top, and he points to the biggest peak on the horizon—5,982-foot Helagsfjället, a lonely pyramid of snow and the highest mountain in the country south of the Arctic Circle. He tells me he has “summer houses” out there. These seasonal structures are where the Sami traditionally migrate with their herds as the snow melts. He also tells me the skiing there is fantastic in the spring.

The skiing is also fantastic right here right now, as I hop on another snowmobile tow to the top of this ridge in Ösjödalen, a backcountry area near the ski area of Funäsdalsberget, feeling that freedom of turning and connecting to the root of a place. Even better than that? Back at Ösjöstugan there are waffles with lingonberry syrup.

> Ösjödalen can be reached from Funäsdalsberget ski area (funasdalen-berghotell.se) or by touring from Funäsfjällen (funasfjallen.se). You can tour to the hut and backcountry area on your own from the lifts or on the extensive ski-touring trail system. If you want a snowmobile ride to the top, contact the guides at Sportmaffian (sportmaffian.se).

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