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

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
  • Get to the point
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

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'