For the ultimate exclusive skiing experience, reach Norway’s unblemished and unpopulated slopes by boat
The adventure: Most visitors to the Norwegian fjords arrive in summer by cruise ship, alighting now and then on the shore for a tour or a hike. During northern Norway’s wintry spring, however, when snow lies down to sea level, the way to explore is by expedition yacht, laden with all the requisites for a ski touring adventure. Each day the yacht, with a small party of experienced, energetic skiers, a mountain guide and a skipper on board, sails to wherever conditions are best, hundreds of miles from the nearest ski lifts and with barely a hamlet in sight. Then it’s simply a case of gliding to shore on a Rib and heading uphill behind the guide.
Touring skis are fitted with acrylic “skins” that prevent the ski sliding backwards when going uphill, and the technique is easy to master. Summits are 3,000ft to 4,000ft (900m to 1,200m) and ascents take up to four hours – but it’s worth it to be the only humans sharing the mountain with white ptarmigan, hares and raptors, and to survey the slate-grey water from high above, the boat a mere speck in a bay. Sometimes there is fresh powder all the way down, too.
How to do it: Prepare for boat skiing by learning or practising off-piste skiing: often the downhill is trickier than the uphill. Of course, it is vital to enjoy the uphill too, so try a couple of day tours during your regular ski holiday: the Monte Rosa region in Italy, Obergurgl in Austria and Val d’Isère in France are well set up for day tours through the ski school or guides’ office and there is equipment to rent. Get fit: ski touring is for all ages, shapes and sizes but it’s a lot easier if you have a little strength, stamina and puff. That said, boat skiing is arguably less physically demanding than “hut-to-hut” touring because skiers only need to carry in their rucksacks what they need each day – everything else stays on the boat.
Yachts take ski-tourers to several districts in Norway. Most popular is Lyngen, in the far north (nearest airport Tromso), where some routes take in islands as well as coast. Farther south, near Bodo, the coast of Steigen and the Lofoten islands are far less “trodden”: I saw no other parties – indeed, no other human – during a week of mountain forays there.
When to go: Boat skiing is best between late February and late April. Day tours in the Alps are possible all winter.
The accommodation: In Steigen, the boat to opt for is Lille Polaris, a 44ft expedition yacht built to withstand icebergs and with hot showers, two lavatories, comfy cabins, plenty of drying space, outstanding food and a convivial Norwegian skipper. Boats of similar quality are available in Lofoten and Lyngen.
The details: Zuba Ski arranges tailor-made boat skiing trips to all three areas of Norway from £2,000 per week, full-board, excluding flights.