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The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

Alex Jeffers
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At the end of a long busy winter season, I relish the prospect of being able to have a rest.  Not a rest from the physical graft. Not a rest from being out in the cold, nor a rest from teaching. It’s a rest from looking at weather forecasts and deciding where to go that I long for.  None more so than after our final week in Arctic Norway this spring. 

It’s an ongoing process.  Whilst driving back from a fabulous day on the Lyngen Peninsula, the clients are quietly reflecting on the day and drifting off to sleep in the back of the van.  George, the guide that I am working with, and myself are whispering away in the front, already thinking ahead to tomorrow. As he drives, I’m on 3G checking if the weather forecast has changed for the following day.  The conversation never deviates far from the weather, always striving to deliver a day that exceeds the client’s expectations. 

After dinner we are on the Internet again, the rain radar quickly becoming our best friend. Our clients trust us and we trust the weather forecasts. The evening ends with a conversation about the weather and it begins in exactly the same way the following morning. “Morning George ... have you seen that the rain is now due at midday” Of course he has, he’s been looking at it from the moment he woke up too. I long to just get up and not have to check the weather forecast. 

However, it’s satisfying when all the long hours trawling the forecasts pay off. For our final week on the Arctic island of Kvaløya, we were battling with a period of unsettled weather, always searching for the small weather windows, working hard to be in the right place at the right time, to take full advantage of the “brighter spells”. One morning, as we were looking at the rain radar (now a trusted member of the guiding team) with the rain bouncing down of the terrace outside, it was clear to us that the bad weather was going to pass through and clear, briefly, around 7pm. 

The majority of our clients were experienced Alpine ski tourers, where heading out at 5pm wouldn’t be an option due to the change in snow conditions and limited daylight hours.  This is one of the true delights of skiing in Norway. You have a 24 hour period in which to ski.  The clients looked doubtful when we went to brief them to explain that we’d be having an early dinner or late lunch at 3pm and head off skiing at 5pm.  We assured them that tea and cake would be on the table when we got back around 11pm. 

Sitting in the isolated car park at 5pm, with the rain still battering sideways into the van, the doubtfulness was creeping towards George and I.  We glanced at each other.  Maybe our luck had run out.  Maybe this was the day when the forecast had let us down.  Patiently we all sat for another half hour. Waiting. Watching. Finally the small gap in the clouds appeared and the cloud base lifted slightly above road level.  Whilst the clients still remained dubious, George and I knew this was the break approaching, that we had been waiting for all day. 

We skinned up the mountain, deliberately taking our time, as there would be no point being on the summit before the skies had cleared. As we went, he clouds parted progressively to reveal the sea below, and further patches of sunshine glistening on the sea out to the west.   Trying not to be too distracted by the view, our focus needed to remain on the terrain ahead for a section of technical kick turns.

The client’s expressions changed. They became more relaxed; mouths wide open with the beauty of the scenery opening up around them. I sensed they might be starting to share my feeling of this being one of my favourite mountains.  When you look west, the next stop is Greenland. 

As we gained height, we realized that we were going to profit from all the rain that had been falling so heavily throughout the day. A lovely fine layer of fresh powder snow now surrounded us.  The mountain looked like it had an untouched velvet cover. Just waiting to be skied. 

We made a ski depot and continued with crampons to reach the summit.  From there we could peer down the sheer drop which plummeted into the fjord below. There was no rush.  The light wasn’t fading; the snow wasn’t going to change.  With nobody else in sight, there was no race to get fresh tracks. We could relish the Norwegian pace to ski touring and had the time to appreciate our surroundings.  The air was still. The only sounds came from us.

Eventually, we couldn’t wait any longer. The draw towards the powder was too strong.  Selecting our line carefully, we were each able to make our own fresh tracks, not forgetting to glance out to sea, smile, and remind ourselves where we were.  

Slightly smug that the waiting had paid off, we did wonder how the skiers that arrived in the morning might feel to see that they’d not be getting first tracks. They’d need to be quick though, as the clouds were already rolling in again. In this case, being early enough meant going the night before.

I’d highly recommend anyone taking a ski trip to Arctic Norway makes the drive out to the west of Kvaløya to ski on “Storstolpan”, a true Arctic gem. But wait for the weather window.

Thanks to Alison Culshaw for the words and to her clients for the images.  Alison is the owner of Chamonix-based Off Piste Performance and is a member of Jöttnar's Pro Team.

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