Skiing, Sweden: Seduced by an Arctic roll

Riksgransen is not only Europe's most northerly ski resort but it is also a Mecca for snowboarders. By Stephen Wood

For most European ski resorts, stocktaking has already started. With the two peak periods of Christmas week and the February holidays over, they cannow assess what sort of season 1998/9 will prove to be. For some of them, of course, the simple profit-and-loss account will be overshadowed by thecost - in terms of avalanche damage and loss of life - of the heavy snowfalls which, a few weeks ago, were a source merely of optimism.

For most European ski resorts, stocktaking has already started. With the two peak periods of Christmas week and the February holidays over, they cannow assess what sort of season 1998/9 will prove to be. For some of them, of course, the simple profit-and-loss account will be overshadowed by thecost - in terms of avalanche damage and loss of life - of the heavy snowfalls which, a few weeks ago, were a source merely of optimism.

Things are different up in Riksgransen, 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. There the season has only just got under way: becauseof the short midwinter days, and the flat light cast on the slopes by the low sun, the resort opens in the middle of February and closes - after aMarch/April peak - in late June. Stocktaking at Riksgransen will begin in May when, on a good day, skiers will be out on the slopes dressed only inT-shirts and shorts.

As a winter-sports destination, this small corner of the Arctic wastes has a reputation which varies between "Where?" and "Wow!". To Swedish skiersand boarders, Riksgransen has a truly international name, one which translates literally as "state border". Originally nothing more than a spot whereSweden and Norway met, it still - so the resort's marketing manager told me - sounds to non-skiers like an incomplete address. For skiers, however, itslocation permits the rare pleasure of going down a piste, the Gransleden, which begins and ends in one country but switches for most of its length intoanother.

The "Wow!" response comes from snowboarders: for them, Riksgransen is one of the world's winter-sport capitals, a reputation based on the terrain -the undulating dips and crests of its off-piste area make it a natural "fun park" - and built up by the resort's clever marketing and snowboardingsponsors' desire to keep their brand-names in the public eye until the early summer. With only a 400m vertical descent, it doesn't seem to offer much todownhill skiers. But for anyone seduced by the singular atmosphere and miraculous landscape of Arctic Scandinavia - since this is the third seasonrunning that I have travelled there to ski, I must count myself a victim - visiting Europe's most northerly ski resort is irresistible.

Oddly, Riksgransen owes its existence to Europe's biggest iron-ore mine, based 75 miles to the south-west in Kiruna. To exploit the rich seam of ore arailway was built across the mountains to the port of Narvik, on Norway's Atlantic coast. Built in several sections from 1884 onwards, the single-trackrailway was finally completed when Norwegian and Swedish rails were linked at Riksgransen in 1902.

At the time, the two countries were also linked, in a national union; and this symbolic junction demanded an appropriate gesture - a railway stationwhich was then the second biggest in Sweden (bigger even than Stockholm's, so I was told), with separate waiting rooms for all three classes, anadjoining hotel, and enclosed tracks with doors at either end to keep the cold out.

A dozen years later this absurd white elephant was demolished, its timbers taken away to be used for building houses. But in 1930, Swedish Railwaysembarked on another attempt to make something of Riksgransen, by building a hotel for visiting skiers. Taken over by a national youth organisationsoon afterwards, the resort flourished, and the country's first ski-school was established there in 1932; a succession of subsequent owners installedmore lifts, and built apartments.

The original 1930 hotel has become the reception area of a large complex - still, admittedly, with something of a youth-organisation flavour, exceptdown in the basement, where the Lapplandia restaurant serves extraordinarily good food at up-market prices (main courses from about £10). Themenu supposedly reflects Lapland cuisine; whether the indigenous Sami people usually put an avocado and feta cheese crust on their salmon I couldn'tsay, but I certainly didn't complain.

A ski area whose lifts (one two-seater chair and one three-seater, plus four drag-lifts) climb only to 909 metres clearly couldn't match the heightsachieved by the cooking in the hotel's basement. The pistes, mainly easy reds, all run down a north-facing slope into the huge valley; and you couldcover them in a single morning. But as was obvious from a first ride up the chair-lift from the resort base, on-piste skiing is not what Riksgransen isabout.

Beneath the lift, snowboarders darted down the gulleys between the rocks and searched out ridges from which to attempt - usually unsuccessfully -ambitious flips and spins. Elsewhere, on off-piste areas between and beyond the marked runs, telemarkers knelt into the soft snow on their way down,and tourers used their ski-skins to climb up. Alpine skiers such as myself were easily outnumbered.

Riksgransen habitually opens with one-and-a-half metres of snow; this season it had only 70cm. With the limited snow cover available, many of thepistes had not been groomed. So the one black run remained a very challenging lumpy snow-field; and the blue run down to the bottom of the lifts wasa switchback ride with some significant ascents between the descents.

The latter was, however, the resort's most enjoyable run, a lonely trek across the ski face towards an escarpment from which, across the railway, the road(built only in 1985) and the frozen lake, the awesome Arctic valley opened up, spreading about 25 miles to the east.

Was it cold? Yes, freezing: at least minus 10 degrees centigrade. But it was good, too - with another dinner at the Lapplandia restaurant still to come.

Sweden Tourism: 0171-870 5600

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff