Untracked No.6 – Kebnekaise And Sweden’s Arctic Wilderness

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Untracked celebrates the places you may, or may not, be aware of. The places where snow falls in abundance and crowds are rare. Want to ride pow? Here’s where to go. 

Sweden is sometimes a little overshadow by its neighbour Norway when it comes to the scale of its mountains. However, Sweden does have a some special mountain areas of its own. The Kebnekaise region is a wild and remote range that is a perfect destination for adventurous splitboarding and ski touring.

Kebnekaise is Sweden’s highest peak, sitting amidst a huge area of mountain wilderness north of the Arctic Circle. The small truck stop town of Abisko is the usual gateway into the Kebnekaise massif. There you can find a few places to stay, including Abisko Mountain Lodge along with a couple of shops to stock up on supplies. There are several options when it comes to accessing the mountains; the network of ski tracks is very good and many people ski in, although motorized transport is allowed in the area so snowmobile and helicopter are also an option. For the traditional Scandinavian experience dog sledding is the way to go.

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Big vertical and good snow – the perfect combination
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Nallo Hut
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Kebnekaise has some impressive terrain on her flanks

The STF Mountain Station Kebnekaise hostel is conveniently situated at the base of Kebnekaise and many people use it either as a base or an overnight stop. Beyond that you’re looking at a small network of huts for accommodation or camping. The Tarfala and Nallo huts are situated in prime areas for mountain access and utilising them is a great way to experience the mountains in the area. Due to the abundance of valleys that cut into the range, day touring from a base camp would also a great option here. Heli skiing and boarding is also available and is pretty good value compared to other destinations in the world.

The skiing and riding in the Kebnekaise massif is characterised by long descents above treeline in vast and spectacular surroundings. Some of the biggest faces in Sweden are here which translates into several possible runs of over 1000m vertical. The terrain includes couloirs, cliffs and big open faces, many of which appear to be at a perfect pitch.

The Kebnekaise mountains experience a relatively cold and dry climate, especially when compared to the mountains closer to the west coast. Snow therefore doesn’t fall in massive quantities but good conditions last well into May, and potentially even later due to the cold temperatures and northern latitude. The chances of riding super deep powder are slim and sometimes the wind storms can last for days creating less than ideal conditions. However, for much of the late winter and spring stable dry powder combined with clear conditions overhead combine to make the place just perfect for scenic touring and riding big lines.

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Skinning towards Drakryggen
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Big line in the Nallo area
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Waiting to drop with a sea of peaks behind

There are long, beautiful runs off the ridge of Drakryggen, Kebnekaise’s closest neighbour. Pyramiden is a beautiful peak in the range that also provides some nice lines as does the long ridge of Duolbanjunecohkka. As ever though local conditions will dictate where the best options are and with so many faces at different aspects the choice is big. Bear in mind too that from April onwards the daylight increases each day and from early May the midnight sun means you’re not restricted to ‘daytime’ skiing, which further increases the window of opportunity. Riding down a big face at midnight in the Arctic twilight back to camp must be a pretty cool experience.

It’s not just the Kebnekaise massif that provides great untracked opportunities in Arctic Sweden. To the north and west the mountains extend towards the resort of Riksgransen then Narvik and the coast. Closer to the coast the climate tends to be wetter which in turn translates into a deeper snowpack. To the south is Serak National Park – an even more remote and beautiful area often quite rightly referred to as Europe’s last great wilderness. Snowmobiles and helicopters aren’t allowed in Serak so the only way to experience the area is on foot or ski. Get that pulk loaded and go exploring as there are many 2000m peaks in Serak National Park and a plethora of long beautiful lines waiting to be ridden.

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Duolbanjunecohkka on the right, Kebnepakte and at the back Kebnekaise

Sweden’s remote north may be a place that is reserved for splitboards, touring skis and helicopters but if the effort is made to get in and amongst these mountains the possibilities for making big untracked descents is obvious. The combination of proper wilderness, spectacular mountains and the magical Arctic light make Kebnekaise and her surrounding mountains a pretty awesome place to go skiing or snowboarding.

A big thanks goes to Tobias Granath for the images.

Image – Mattias Fredriksson

Tobias is an International Mountain Guide based in the Swiss big mountain mecca of Engelberg. He has extensive experience of skiing and climbing in many mountain areas throughout Europe and knows the Kebnekaise area particularly well. Check out his website for info touring and climbing trips and courses run by Tobias throughout the Alps and Scandinavia, including the Kebnekaise Haute Route.

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