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Stuck in Swedish snow

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better...

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better…

I could hardly move in the thigh deep snow even though I was following the tracks made by my boyfriend (who still struggled to plough through but was at least moving ahead). There were no other tracks to follow because of the fresh snow and the season having just started; we were the first on the trail. Once, I got really stuck not able to move for a few minutes as one of my skis decided to check out what was hidden underneath all that snow. As my other ski tried to explore the opposite side, I was left in a “turtle on its shell” (a shell being a backpack in my case) position not even able to take one ski off. It took quite a few complicated but subtle movements of my legs for me to go back to an upright position. But it also left me with less motivation to carry on. So when I finally caught up with Cody, or, more accurately, him having skinned back up the mountain to see what had happened to me, we decided to turn around…

Skiing a part of the Kungsleden trail in Sweden was one of my ambitious goals for February. I hoped I would be able to push myself and experience cross-country skiing for the first time. Snow, long nights filled with northern lights when you hide away in a hut in front of the fire – it was all on my mind when I was planning this trip to northern Sweden. The Kunglseden trail is not very difficult in theory, mostly kind of flat, so it seemed like a good choice for someone with close to zero skiing experience.  Perhaps I was being a little optimistic!
Even when traveling from the UK (especially when adding the long drive to London from Wales, a country seemingly absent of proper motorways), it always seems like a long journey to northern Sweden. Adding in some mandatory plane delays in Stockholm, I finally arrived at the airport in Kiruna late on a Thursday afternoon. Taking the bus to the city centre it was apparent that I had arrived in winter as snow filled my vision for as far as I could see while the city sat in a cold, frozen silence.  After meeting up with Cody, we went to the outdoor shop to get some skis for me. The idea was that it would be cheaper to buy skis in Sweden, rather than it would have been to buy in the UK or rent them for the length of my travels. It seemed also apparent that I should have bigger choice and better advice in the country where it actually snows. I chose the nice looking Nordic skis with metal edges, lightweight but with extra support for turns. Then the boots, bindings, poles and googles. I was ready for a skiing trip! (So I thought…)

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

After spending a night at the hostel in Kiruna, filled to the brim with two bus loads of university Erasmus students on winter holiday, we took a morning bus to Nikkaluokta (first bus of the season). It was just us and two other people on the bus. Normally in Sweden, one pays while getting on the bus, but oddly the driver didn’t seem too concerned as we hopped on. After an hour or so we finally pulled into the tiny village of Nikkaluokta, deep in the Swedish mountains. Cody asked about payment in a broken combination of Swedish and Norwegian (having picked up a bit after nearly 20 trips to the Scandinavian arctic), but was informed that the driver had forgotten his change purse. So we perhaps received the only free bus ride in Sweden.

Nikkaluokta snow mobile. Kungsleden trail

Nikkaluokta snowmobile. Kungsleden trail

On arrival to Nikkaluokta we were presented with an option of taking a snowmobile rather than skiing to the Kebnekaise fjällstation. The snowmobile ride cost 300 SEK (about £30) but as we didn’t pay for the bus, we thought it would not be a bad idea to be lazy. Having hiked the section before in Autumn 2012, I also knew it was one of the least interesting parts of the trail and it could save us 19km of skiing… So the decision was made: snowmobile! I would really recommend it, it was so much fun to move quickly and swiftly on the snow and ice covered trail and lake!

Nikkaluokta snow mobile - excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Nikkaluokta snowmobile – excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Eager to try on my new skis, I quickly checked in at the Kebenekaise fjällstation and got ready to practise skiing a bit. It was my first time on Nordic skis and I could feel it… Having only had a few ski lessons before, being on a real snow was quite a challenge for me. I felt like I could fall down at any time, which I did quite a few times, especially attempting anything even slightly down hill on those long, skinny skis. The snow was still falling as the late afternoon sky grew dark when I finally returned to the warmth of the hut.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.