Discover Splitboarding episode 4. – Couloir Mission

March 30, 2016 | 6:49 pm | 1 comment »

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photo : Teemu Lahtinen @laamaphoto

In this episode we get on to steeper terrain and climb a beautiful couloir in Senja, Norway. I explain the basics what you need you think and learn before stepping into more serious terrain and point out some tips and useful information. Also, new gear like crampons and axes are introduced as additional equipment for ascending and riding steeper terrain.

 

There are many things you need to think and learn before you can start climbing and riding steeper stuff.

  1. Number one is always safety. Get avalanche education and develop your backcountry skills before stepping into more serious terrain.
  2. Patience. Mountains are not going anywhere. Wait for the right and safe conditions. Do not rush. Mountains are fairly static, snowpack is not – it is constantly changing.
  3. Human factor. First of all, accidents happen usually because of bad decisions, not the conditions. Team up with people you can trust and have similar mind set towards riding and mountains. Group dynamics is very important and it strongly affects the decision making of the group.
  4. Fitness. Hiking steeper terrain in deep snow requires a lot of endurance, physically and mentally. Start from lines that you can handle and work your skills. Train and know your limits.
  5. Gear up. Additional gear like crampons and axes are good to have. They will make to climb and ride easier and safer and even possible; it only needs to be a short icy section that you could easily ride over but can’t climb without crampons or you want to have some extra grip that axe provides.  It sucks to turn back because of lack of right equipment. In the glaciers and more serious climbs you need to learn how to use ropes, harnesses, etc.

The gear that I use on steeper stuff :

Crampons : Black Diamond contact crampons or any similar that has straps and you can attach to your boots. beware of the ski/climbing boot clip attachment system.

Ice axes : Simond Fox carving choose a lighter ice axe for splitboarding and touring purposes, ice climbing is a whole another deal.

Ascending plates : Billy Goat plates. I find these very good since you can attach them to crampons if needed. You can climb ice and deep powder with this combo.

Avalanche backpack : Jones 30L for extra safety. If something does go wrong it is better to atleast try to stay on the surface when help is far away.

The story behind this couloir: I first saw it years ago when I came to Senja, Norway, for some spring surfing. It really stands out from the scenery.

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Ever since, I wanted to ride it in good conditions but it turned out to be difficult. It is located between the fjords so the weather and conditions change really fast. Then, it is facing south-southeast and warms up fast later in the season when the conditions and weather is more stable. So, if I want to ride it in powder conditions it has to happen during winter months. In December and January the sun does not yet rise above the horizon much and the day is too short. Basically, I was left with february or beginning of March right after a snowfall as my time window.

Finally, on 10th of February, 2016, the conditions seemed to be right but the weather was yet a question mark when we started hiking towards the couloir. It was cloudy and snowing but with some clear patches every now and then and the forecast was promising. We got to the exit and it was snowing hard and we could not even see the top half of the couloir. We dug a pit and assessed the snow. It looked deep and good but weather was still not looking promising. But suddenly, as we were assembling the boards, the sky cleared and we could see the whole beauty. It was on! We started hiking which turned out to be more like swimming. I was glad I had those plates with me. With their help, I was sinking only to my knee as my friend, Miikka Peteri, was sinking up to his waist without them. It took us way longer than we expected to make it to the top and we lost the best light while struggling in the deep powder. But the scenery and turns down were worth every sweaty step!

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SurfCol (1 of 1)

 Behind the col you can see the waves breaking. I tried to go surfing the day after but was caught by a storm when paddling into the line up.

The couloir turned out to be the pinnacle of the The Discover Splitboarding series for me. I am still really happy that we managed to ride it in such conditions. Big thanks to Miikka Peteri @miikkapeteri who joined for the mission and huge thanks to Teemu Lahtinen for filming, directing and editing series and for all the good times.

If you want to ride in Senja, Norway, contact Senja Lodge for mountain guiding services and lodging.

Island hopping – Surfing and snowboarding

June 6, 2013 | 9:11 pm | No comments »

Second week of May, 2013

Spring is warming up the northern world again and snow starts to melt back to water. Powder starts to be more rare but the surf dreams wake up as the H2O changes state. Storm cycle passed through the northern mountains and coastline with strong winds. Mountains were not really accessible nor tempting  but strong winds create different kind possiblities – waves. I checked swell forecasts for the islands close by and it showed some possible bumps in the ocean so we decided to go island hopping and hopefully surfing.

Mountain islands

 

Norwegian coastline follows the scenic trend best out of the whole the counry – it’s annoyingly beautiful for a neighbourg living in the flat inland parts of the North. The coastline is very broken and full of mountain islands raising more than kilometer high straigth from the crystal clear ocean. The sea looks amazing from the mountains and visa versa. Along the coast ocean reaches far inland with long fjords cutting water passages into the mountain scenery. It’s simply mesmerizing – when the weather is tolerable… and that’s not everyday in Norway.

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Fjord sunset last August

 

Last summers trip to the islands

Henningsvaer in Lofoten

The weather is very variable in the coast and can be extremely harsh. In these latitudes the temperatures are rarely on the warm side which is good for the winter activities but hanging out with a surfboard next to the cold sea with freezing temperatures requires… some dedication and proper preparing. Lot of the days are so nasty that even the dogs like to stay in but I mostly try to fool myslef with a frase: “there is no bad weather… only bad choise of equipment”. But when skies do open up and the conditions come together the islands are unbeatable. On a perfect day you can ride powder on great mountains all the way to the shore and surf after. I don’t think there is many places in the world like that.

After driving around I found a couloir that fell straight in to the sea and a wave close by and  managed to surf and snowboard same day! One dream came true that “spring” day but I still have to keep waiting for the perfect day on the islands. It was windy like never before and the couloir didn’t bring enough shelter so I had to turn back little before the top so I wouldn’t fly away. It was snowing time to time and waves were small but really fun. Even if the conditions we not perfect I had the best time and discoverd the potential that I have been looking for years. The scenery was unbelievable and the nature was strongly present; seals were checking the surf out and eagles were cruising above. I couldn’t stop smiling with my blue lips.

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Waves didn’t mind the weather so why should I?

 

Green waves in the middle of the mountains

Green waves in the middle of the mountains

 

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couloir straight to the ocean

There is so much potential on the islands for surfing and snowboarding but the exploration and finding the right spots takes time and dedication. There are few spots on the map but there has to be so much undiscovered gems on the islands. Mountains are more visible but the waves do not show themselves easily. And also the roads don’t go nearly everywhere so the access to shores is not easy. But who ever said that easy was rewarding?

The storm passed and the wind calmed down. Surf went flat and waves disappeared in to hiding again. Snow was not so good anymore this late in the season on the islands so we decided to return back to bigger mountains. Maybe the storm brought some new snow to higher altitudes since it was snowing in the coast too.

 

 

 

 

 

PART 2. – Mountain Sanctuary

May 24, 2013 | 10:26 am | No comments »

PERFECT SPRING – Sun, camping, splitboarding, powder, lines and couloirs

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Jonas at cauliflower camp pointing at the next line

 

Eventually sky did open,  almost just about the same time as the bird had to leave. How coincidental? We did get some stuff done with the help of the spinning blades but it was like nature was working towards getting us on our feet the whole time this spring. First high pressure showed up on the forecast the same time as the helicopter was still visible in the horizon flying away. But it didn’t really bother me or any of us. Of course it makes filming easier and access faster but at the same time creates this pressure and takes little something off from the peaceful feeling of  being in the mountains. I was happy to return to my own feet and splitboard.

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On the way up to plateau in Stordalen

 

Now we had pretty good idea of the snow conditions in the valley and had a solid plan what to do when the weather finally opened up more than just few hours. We packed our camping gear into big backpacks and hiked up to Stordalen. (Autti, Hagström, Siivonen, Autio, Lahtinen, Kärppä and Ollilla). Jonas came in few days before and brought the swedish luck with him. I was happy to ride with him again!

We had decided to set camp on a plateau in about 1000meters where we had great access to all kinds of riding above and below us. It was a hike an a half to get up there with 30kg backpacks but the spot paid off and back ache disappeared in the surrounding views.. We were in a big bowl between Postdalsfjellet and Sorjfjelltinden. From the tent you could see lines around 270 degrees and the rest was dedicated to a view of the fjord. You could not ask for a better spot! We spent the next days hiking up straight from the tent and riding lines back to camp, fueled up and repeat. The remaining time we spent admiring the sunsets and the amazing views. It was just perfect. Me and Jonas ended up staying one more night since the weather seemed to be on our side this time and could have stayed even longer but food ran out even when the others gave all the remaining food to us before they left. It felt amazing to be all alone in the mountains but in the same time we had to remember that when riding – help was not close either if something happened.

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Riding the cauliflower face. Pic: Jonas Hagström

 

 

 

COULOIR HUNT

When the sun comes out for days this time of the year it’s obvious that it will warm up the snow pretty fast too. At this latitude it rises up early already in April and sets late which gives a lot of time during the days (and nights) but also effects the faces longer. The high pressure that we had during the camping mission heated up the mountains and we had to turn to northernly aspects and sheltered couloirs to find the best snow. We did find some awesome couloirs in Lyngen and Tamok. Sometimes the snow was still amazing powder and sometimes we had turn back or ride more challenging conditions. My legs and body started to feel the stress of the previous non-stop month too. The weather was warming up even more so it was a time to take a little break. I dropped Jonas off in Tromsö airport and drove home admiring the mountains along the way. It was time to visit friends and traditional season ender events and parties but I was planning to come back as soon as the conditions would settle again…

Jonas dropping in unnamed couloir in Lyngen. Own footsetps guiding the way

Jonas dropping in unnamed couloir in Lyngen. Our footsetps guiding the way

 

FIRST DESCENT AT PÖTSI – The NIGHT SHIFT

Approaching Pötsi at 4 am

Approaching Pötsi at 4 am. photo: Mikko Lampinen

I returned north in the beginning of May. Conditions had settled but snow hadn’t melted at all. It hadn’t snowed much either but there was some jewels still to be found. I teamed up with Ape Majava, Tero Ainonen and Mikko Lampinen. Ape had seen this couloir in the backside of Postadsfjellet that might still be in good condition. It is facing northeast and gets the early sunlight. We started at 2 o’clock in the night to catch the best light and for safety if things started to warm up too fast. The sunrise and the light on the mountain were specially beautiful this night and our couloir looked seductive. So we raised the pace. We reached the bottom around the same time with the sun at 4.30. We discovered that the snow was still dry and amazing, tougher to hike up but rewarding to ride down. The sun was fast and we were trying to beat it almost running up the couloir as fast as possible. I didn’t feel too comfortable under the big wind lips and tried to keep my pace fast. We reached the top of 600 meter vertical couloir before six am and were soon ready to drop in. Snow and conditions were awesome and riding was easy besides the leg burn from the fast hike. We succeeded on the first ascent and descent and the couloir got the name Pötsi. One of the best missions of the season for me.

Ape ripping the first turns. May Pow!

Ape ripping the first turns. May Pow!

 

 

 

FROM BEST TO WORST

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Ominous Otertinden couloir. almost 1000m vertical of slippery ice.

Few days after one of the best missions of the year, I did one of the worst. I Hiked up solo this long, almost 1000m vertical, couloir at Otertinden in similar aspect as Pötsi hoping still for good snow or at least soft spring snow when the sun heats it up. I trusted the forecast too much and was concentrated on the hike that I neglected the conditions. I was few meters from the very top of the narrow, partly 45-50 degrees steep and still icy couloir when I realized that the sun was hiding behind the clouds still and would actually not warm up the icy surface at all. I had been to eager to reach the top and had nobody but myself to blame. After swearing for a while and waiting for miraculous clearing of the sky  I had to admit my mistake and make my way down somehow. Teemu was filming from the road below but the low clouds were circling between us so he could not even see me all the time – not the best situation. I started jump turning down the slippery chute with ice axe in my hand in case of slipping. It was one of the worst runs of my life and little sketchy too but in the end I had no troubles of making down safely. Teemu said that he could hear my turns and sliding to the road from kilometers away – that’s how good the snow was! Learn by doing and from you mistakes could be the lesson from this one. Well, anyway I was one experience richer and I did see a wolverine and a snow weasel on the way up crossing the snow field.

Ice axes came in handy - both going up and down!
Scratching and side slipping my way down.

Scratching and side slipping my way down.

 

MAY POW – WINTER AND SPRING CONTINUES

Snow was not really going anywhere. It still stayed reasonably cold the following week and we found dry snow on higher altitudes. It even snowed a little every now and then which gives a short time window for the next day to score some really good may pow on sheltered places. But you also have to be up an early bird to catch the worm otherwise you might get flushed by the slough. May is still awesome time to spend up in the northern mountains even when the snow starts to change quick as the sun circles the sky endlessly. The weather is better usually and there is almost 24h in the day to spend outdoors.  As the sun begins to heat the norhtern world round the clock the sea starts to look more and more tempting…

Sea view from powder house

Sea view from powder house

 

Caravan life - my home in Tamok. Surfer mag awakes dreams of surfing. Luckily the sea is not far

Caravan life – my home in Tamok from end of March to mid May . Surfer mag awakes hunger of surfing. Luckily the sea is not far…

 

Special thanks to Tero Ainonen for the additional footage, Jonas Hagström and Mikko Lampinen for photos and everybody else too riding and enjoying the time in the north. Next up surfing… and snowboarding!

Mountain sanctuary

May 9, 2013 | 7:35 pm | No comments »

part 1 – Road  North

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Tamok valley – Feels like home

After a winter of traveling with airplanes, trains, rentals, taxis and other transports on different continents it’s so comfortable to pack my own car and my second home, caravan, and just drive north. My intention is park the caravan at bottom of Tamok valley which has started to feel like home away from home – a spiritual home, and spend the rest of the winter and little more enjoying the endless possibilities of the northern playground. Our plan was to film for Antti Autti’s new project for several weeks and play it by the conditions.

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Snowing snowing equals pow pow. Photo: Teemu Lahtinen

 

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Face shot? photo: Teemu Lahtinen

Troms commune is situated well above the arctic circle in northern Norway and it has 666 peaks reaching over 1000meters and thousands of kilometers of coast line. I wonder if devil himself will show up for shred if you ride all the peaks! Tamok is situated nicely in the middle of everything in the county, just inland from Lyngen peninsula. It has more dry climate than the coast and the snowpack is between coastal and continental. The snow is usually more stable in Tamok than elsewhere in the commune. 30 kilometer long valley has lot to offer and makes the perfect base for missions of any kind and level. Valley itself is still undeveloped and there is only about 70 inhabitants on the whole stretch. It makes a perfect getaway from crowds. Just friends and mountains, what more could you ask?

Northern Norway is a paradise when the conditions come together but can be harsh too. The arctic location and sea makes weather variable and sometimes difficult. Mountains are magnificent and lose to none in comparison but the weather and the snow can change fast. The northern climate does not produce so much snow as Alaska for example but good years come not too far. This has been one of them.

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Forest couloirs are good option when the visibility restricts alpine terrain. Photo: Aadne Olsrud

Perfect snow

I parked my caravan in Tamok in the end of March and there was tons of snow already then, the most I have ever seen here in seven years, and more was to come. We planned a helishoot with special permits for the beginning of the trip with a help from the “king of the valley”, Aadne Olsrud and Jarkko Henttonen who have basically founded freeriding in Tamok. The snow was awesome and more was falling constantly. We basically got the check out some mountains and the snowpack with the heli and then the weather would close again and bring more snow. Soon it was waist deep and the tree riding felt like I was back in Japan! It was dry, light and deep and stayed so for a long time. Clouds were protecting the perfect snow. Definitely the best snow of the season and. It was inspirational to ride such snow so close to home.

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Slasher in the tree line. Photo: Teemu Lahtinen

 

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Trees, pillows and ollie. Photo: Teemu Lahtinen

Waiting game

With the persistant low pressures circling the valley we were mostly stuck on the bottom and the bird stayed parked next to the caravans. That would have been completely ok to shred the trees and pillows with this snow but big plans and paralyzed helicopter started to create some pressure and frustration after a while. Every now and then we got brief weather windows and got to test and ride some awesome snow but as soon as the cameras came out the clouds rolled in. It started to be the story of the season for me, like the cameras and the weather didn’t make friends this year. But the riding was still awesome and the time spent with friends in the valley is priceless so I couldn’t complain at all. It’s hard to be mad at the weather and it’s better to make the best out it anyway and we did. We rode pillows and discovered new spots in the lower elevations and got creative with the heli too. And the weather has to clear sooner or later, right?

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Buttering through the trees. Photo: Aadne Olsrud

 

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If the night is clear in March the norhtern lights are almost guaranteed.

 

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Antti Autti on Blåbaerfjellet

Check sites for more info:

Tamok Friends FB site for recent events and conditions

Olsrud Adventure FB site. Accommodation, services and more

 

 

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