On the first day, I become conscious of the silence. The ship’s motor had turned off, so, while below deck, I thought we were not moving. I had never been on a sailboat before, and the safety drills we conducted in Alta’s harbor all involved using the motor, making me feel like I was on a motorboat.
When I glance out the ship’s portal, however, I nearly jump through the ceiling. We aren’t just puttering along, we’re hauling, going significantly faster than we had been with the motor running. And it is so eerily silent. I throw on my coat and sailing PFD and return to deck. Helly Hansen athlete Kaylin Richardson recognizes my amazement.
The wind generated by the nautical movement over the Arctic sea reminds me of the wind one feels on top of a mountain: cleansing, sweet, and pure. It’s my favorite type of wind, but in a place that is strikingly foreign. My group is sailing from Alta to Tromsø in northern Norway, spending a week in early May with Sail Norway while testing Helly Hansen ski and sailing outerwear. The planned route is more than 200 miles north of the Arctic circle, and our only objective is to sail from fjord to fjord and ski tour remote lines that have rarely, if ever, been skied.
By the time we arrive at our first ski tour that day, it’s 7:30 p.m. We take the zodiacs to shore and start trekking uphill. We are so far north that the sun is just starting to hint at setting, casting “golden hour” light that would last for the entire tour. We reach the summit of our objective, Loahppa, at 10:45 p.m. Only then does it feel like dusk is setting in.
We ski down quickly while snapping photos, and get back to the boat by 11:30 p.m., just as true darkness catches up to us. Cold beers are waiting on the two sailboats, the Valiente and the Humla. My home for the week, the Humla, sets sail under our skipper Mats Grimsæth’s guidance as we prepare for bed, anxious to wake up somewhere new the next day.
We repeat this routine—sail, anchor, zodiac, ski tour, beer—three more times that week. According to Sail Norway founder and skipper Emil Engebrigsten and local ski guide Vegard Karlstrøm, the weather isn’t just good, it’s unbelievable. Every day provides perfect sailing winds, calm mountain conditions, and cloudless skies.
On the third day, after skiing yet another amazing descent of corn snow all the way to the sea at a place called Stølfjellet (“It means ‘summer farm’ or ‘muscle-soreness’ mountain. Your pick of what describes it best,” says Karlstrøm), we set sail across the Lenangen fjord with steady 40-knot winds. I had proven myself as a capable skier but a novice sailor, so I am relegated to the group of people getting photos, videos, and making sure to test the outerwear by sitting on the ship’s bow and getting sprayed by the frigid ocean waters in between fits of laughter.
Sail Norway, knowing how to make an impression, saved the best for last. Standing on the summit of Store Kågtinden on our final climb, we can see the Lenangen fjord to the east, where we had sailed the day before, the open Arctic to the north and west, and where the Lyngen Alps begin to the south. The crew is so excited by the weather, the trip, and the snow, that a few guys do backflips all the way down to the bay where we started. Engebrigtsen, Grimsæth, and the rest of the Sail Norway crew are waiting at the bottom with a locally sourced meal and more cold beer.
“Whether it was the weather, the landscape, the crew, or a combination of all,” Richardson later reflects, “that was maybe everyone’s ‘best trip of their lives.’”
Sail Norway Trip Planning
Getting there: Sail Norway’s “Ski and Sail Lyngen and Finnmark Southbound” trips start in Alta and finish in Tromsø, both of which have daily direct flights to and from Norway’s capital, Oslo, home to the closest major international airport. There is also the Hurtigruta coastal express ferry from the capital city, providing much more scenic journeys than the plane.
Cost: 23,500 Norwegian Kroner per person ($2,580 at press time). Does not include getting to/from Alta and Tromsø.
Guides: Vegard Karlstrøm has spent years guiding in the area and can help get you to the goods from land and sea. He also coordinates hut trips around Alta; sporguiding.no
Info: Sail Norway's Website
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of SKI Magazine. For more great writing delivered directly to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE NOW.