Many of my friends are regulars at Riksgränsen. But I had never been to this place that calls itself "Sweden's most legendary ski area".
The legends are true. It is an amazing place. For starters, we were there in midsummer, skiing at midnight. In bright sunshine! The ski area is far above the arctic circle, and for about two months in the summer the sun does not set. For instance, the picture above was taken at 1 AM.
Be there light or not, the mountains around Riksgränsen form a playground that offers an exceptional choice of activities.
|A group of skiers watching the midnight sun|
|Sun, lift, and midnight|
Skiing in Two Shifts
The ski lifts for "night" skiing open at 10PM and close at 1AM. This had some interesting effects. First, my ski days in a typical resort involve skiing during the day, followed by after-ski, shower, and dinner. And possibly some more after ski after that. But at Riksgränsen the ski lifts were open both during the day and the night. At the time that I would normally consider going to bed after a tiresome day of skiing, I now had to start putting on ski gear for another shift. Followed by another round of shovering, clothes changes, and, naturally, after-ski.
|Midnight chair lift ride|
The second effect relates to the after-ski part. After the last ski lift ride up, we always ended up climbing up a bit, taking some time to come down, and then getting a quick shower and change of clothes. But by then the clock was pushing 2AM, and I would only get to the after-ski place to hear the last couple of songs from the band. It is weird that ski area did not prolong the opening times of their bar based on when the skiing was actually open. But it could be that their liquor licenses do not allow later closures.
|The midnight sky|
Riksgränsen has six ski lifts, two of which were operational on our midsummer visit. The ski area itself is relatively small by world standards. It offers a 500 meter altitude difference from the top of the mountain to the base. However, the skiing is exceptionally interesting for a variety of reasons beyond the midnight sun. The nearby mountains (such as Nordalsfjäll, 1051 m) are easily accessible for off-piste adventures. The Rikgränsen mountain itself offers a small detour to reach an abandoned border control hut at the top of the Riksgränsfjället (909 m). Sweden apparently trusts that no military invasion is imminent from Norway. In fact, as the name of the ski area ("riksgränsen" means "national border") implies, the area itself extends to both Norway and Sweden. As we skied down "Gränsleden" (border run), we could visit both countries on every turn.
At this time of the year, the ski runs offered challenging route finding. You have to navigate between the rocky areas to find to the bottom. On the lower part of the mountain there were a couple of sections were we had to cross rocks covered by moss. On the upper part the ski runs were still in excellent condition and easily identifiable. In fact, during the "night" time the ski runs iced up and allowed us to start our 10 PM ski run on freshly groomed, hard surface.
|Some spots with insufficient snow cover on the lower slopes|
|The upper slopes|
|Skis, rock, and chair lift|
The primary place for after-ski in Riksgränsen is Grönan, a small club in the basement floor of the main hotel. Actually, it is the only place. Grönan opens at 4PM and continues until about 2:30AM. They drinks as well as food. Well, at least they have two different snacks, a hamburger and a Caesar salad; I recommend the latter. The bar seems completely empty for most of the night, except at the beginning of their opening times and then very late in the evening.
At least during the midsummer they had a live bind playing until about 2AM.
|The one and only after-ski in Riksgränsen|
|Grönan at 6PM. No one!|
|Grönan dance floor at 2AM. Note the sun shining through the window.|
|The border hut|
Hotel and Spa
There are a couple of accommodation options in Riksgränsen, but the most obvious one is the Rikgränsen hotel. This is the main building in the area, a clean and comfortable hotel a couple of hundred meters from the ski lift. We stayed in a "skier's room", a tiny but OK room for up to three persons. While the relatively expensive price is not necessarily aligned with the quality of the accommodation, you have to factor in the remote location. In any case, the half-board accommodation option is quite reasonable, and lets you eat in the Restaurant Lapplandia. The dinner food is good, particularly the cold fish and other appetizers.
There's even a full-board option available, and this may actually be a good idea as Lapplandia serves OK-ish buffet lunch as well, and I'm not sure there are that many other lunch facilities in the area. There are a couple of cafes, but on the mountain there does not appear to be anything. And the other cafes were closed in midsummer. One day we missed the lunch buffet at Lapplandia, and searched the rest of the village for another option. Having found none, we drove to Norway for half an hour, and still found nothing. We returned back to the hotel to eat at Grönan when it opened at 4PM...
There is an adjoining older building for a more traditional Swedish style accommodation, a series of chalets, and a camping area. I would not recommend staying in a tent in the camping area, however, as the place is quite cold. The camping area sits next to a half-frozen lake even during midsummer. The chalets appear to be quite far from the ski slopes, so count on driving up to the hotel on your car before starting your daily dose of skiing.
|Perfect summer vacation? Camping next to a half-frozen lake|
And then there is a spa in the hotel. Entrace is not included in the hotel price, and you have to pay roughly 20€ extra per person. But this is well worth it, given that the bathrooms in the rooms are tiny. There's a nice sauna, Jacuzzi, and a small pool for laps. Don't bother paying extra for that hot tub, the Jacuzzi is equally good.
|Midsummer birch trees and skis|
|View from the hotel|
Swedish Midsummer Traditions
The Swedish midsummer traditions are interesting. Apparently, in Sweden the idea is to raise a "maypole", a birch-tree decorated cross and then dance around it. This is an interesting difference to Finland where we do decorate with birch trees, but mostly spend the midsummer in saunas and drink even more alcohol than usual. The midsummer celebrations seemed muted, at least in Riksgränsen. Maybe the wild midsummer parties were elsewhere.
|Maypole and the skiers|
|Swedish midsummer tradition, "maypole" on the ski slopes|
Details, Details, ...
The winter season at Riksgränsen ends in late May, but they re-open for midsummer, which was June 21-24 this year. Judging from the amount of snow available, there could be skiing year around, at least if one is willing to hike a bit.
|Sparkling ski slopes at midnight|
|T-shirt, snow, midsummer. And great views behind.|
|Walking in midnight sun|
Riksgränsen can be reached in multiple ways, airplanes or train via Kiruna, or by car if you are willing to spend a long time driving up there. But we chose to fly through Norway, landing at the Evenes airport that serves the cities of Narvik and Harstad. We used Norwegian flights, which meant that we had to change planes in Oslo. That turned out to be a near-disaster.
|Flying to the Narvik airport on Norwegian|
At the Oslo airport, you have to walk a kilometer to exit an incoming flight from another country. And then you have to wait for your luggage to arrive. This is normal on many airports, but usually there will be a luggage re-check point right after coming out of customs. In Oslo, however, you have to walk another kilometer to the same check-in area that everyone else uses, and it was so crowded that even moving around was very difficult. We eventually pleaded entrance to Norwegian's special-service check-in line and checked in our luggage 25 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart. And spent the next fifteen minutes in security check, with a long line and someone's drama scene with the security personnel. We got through, and then ran yet another kilometer to the gate. We made it. What is even more surprising is that our luggage made it. But I'll never transfer again in Oslo, and I don't recommend it for others either.
From the Evenes airport we rented a car and drove 80 kilometers (1 hour and 20 minutes) to reach Riksgränsen.
|Don't drop your camera on your ski binding!|
Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko