Keep bringing on the snow!
After a couple of days of fun and varied non-ski adventures, it’s time to pick up my skis in the afternoon. Much to my relief, I’m not hitting the slopes that day, as they close at 3pm when it starts getting dark, but at least now I have my skis ready for the following day.
I decide to head out in the evening and take a taxi from my on-slope hotel down to Åre town – £15 for a short ride, ouch! The taxi driver recommends Broken, as a nice place for a drink, but I step inside and immediately feel ancient compared to the rest of the clientele. It’s nice enough and not too busy, but certainly not the classy wine bar I had in mind. Instead I go for an Åre village walk in the snow, taking photos of the village still lit up with Christmas lights. A slightly tipsy man, wearing bright-pink ski gear, asks me if I want to take his picture too, but I decline. He is most offended, saying it would surely look great in any magazine…
In the end, I opt for Wersén’s (http://wersens.se/) for a glass of wine before dinner at Vinbaren, inside Åregården hotel (http://vinbaren-are.com/). The evening, which got off to a slow start, then turns a bit epic. My specialist waitress, Bree from Victoria, Vancouver Island, speaks good Swedish and clearly knows her food. She puts together a taster menu of 9 dishes and copious amounts of wine that have me nibbling and sampling for hours. I’m feeling adventurous and try the sweetbread with onion cream, capers and bay leaf, the charred salsify with trout roe and the slow-cooked pork belly with pumpkin and feta cheese, among many other tasty tapas-sized dishes.
The following morning, it’s time to get my skis on – I’m heading off-piste for the first time (https://www.skistar.com/en/inspiration/skiexperiences/are-off-piste-intro/). Sadly, the weather is on the foul side – high, piercing winds and heavy, icy snowfall. I opt for wearing as many layers as I’ve brought, including both of my ski pants on top of each other and a very good choice that is too. Looking suspiciously like the Michelin man – perhaps also something to do with last night’s food intake – I pick up my skis from the hotel storage. I’m supposed to be doing a whole avalanche preparation course off-piste, but with weather this bad, it mostly gets snowed off. Still, I get kitted out with a rucksack that straps on between my legs, around my waist and chest. A bit fiddly, but then I’m ready to get the lift and head up into the wilds.
The wind is whipping at some 30km/hr, it’s snowing very heavily and it’s cold, turning the snowflakes into icy spikes. We ski for a little while and I’m slowly getting into my stride. Reaching the forest, we stop for my instructor, Reidmar, to show me how the avalanche gear works. It’s all quite intricate – we both have sensors on, that can be detected if the sensor’s in search mode. He’s brought along the pole that’s used to mark the spot where a person is found, as well as a shovel to dig, but luckily this is just a course and we’re not actually rescuing anybody. We do a quick training session, with Reidmar explaining the gear. Having taken our skis off for the session, it’s quite tricky to stand around in a snow depth of 60-70cm and getting them back on is even trickier, but I manage with a bit of help. Back on the slopes, the wind is as piercing as ever, so after about an hour we stop for hot chocolate and decide to “abandon slope”. Most of the lifts higher up the mountain have now been closed because of the wind, but it’s still possible to ski down to leave the equipment and I also manage to ski back to my hotel, Fjällgården (https://www.fjallgarden.se/). Feel exceedingly happy to head back, despite only being out for a few hours – my face is battered by the wind and I’m feeling the chill. I gratefully return my skis to the storage, before hitting the hotel sauna straight away – bliss.
Snow quad safari:
By the afternoon I’ve warmed through and feel ready for my next adventure; the “night-time snow quad safari”. It’s hardly night-time at 4.30pm, when we start, but it gets dark here about 3pm this time of year, so it feels a bit like heading out into the night. Me and my guide are taking so-called snow quads – all-terrain vehicles equipped with tracks – out into the forest along snowmobile paths. I decline driving mine, having never driven one before, so I get to sit behind my guide instead. We don helmets and soon we’re off into the dark, snowy forest.
This is the part where I’m gonna be a bit of a spoil-sport and say, out of all the adventures in Jämtland, this was probably my least favourite. It’s dark, it’s quite uncomfortable and quite noisy. I hold onto my guide for dear life, thinking perhaps I should have tried driving one of these monsters after all. It seems something of a lads’ adventure, suitable for those wanting to go tearing through the forest in the dark and then call it “awesome”. I, on the other hand, feel slightly sad that we’re making such a racket in an otherwise still and peaceful environment. The magic for me, only happens when we stop and have a hot chocolate, lighting an open fire under the trees and wading through the deep snows. That moment is thoroughly worth the slight discomfort of getting here.
Next day I have more time on the ski slopes (https://www.skistar.com/en/ski-destinations/are/). It’s still snowing cats and dogs, with worse visibility than the day before, but I have found my ski legs now and I’m in my element as we ski down to VM6an chairlift. When I’m visiting, preparations are in full swing for the Alpine World Ski Championships (4th – 17th February, https://are2019.com/). This will be the third time Åre hosts such a major competition (they also hosted in 1954 and 2007). Unusually, many of the slopes are still open to the public during the championships, through a clever system of tunnels. I head up the slopes at Ullådalsbacken, take the lift to lunch and then ski down again – there’s something very lovely about being able to ski to and from one’s lunch! I also check out the slopes at Duved and Tegefjäll in a whirlwind tour, before leaving the skis for the day and descending on Åre village, visiting the local arts & crafts shop and stopping for tea at Krus, the pop-up branch of Michelin-starred Fäviken (https://www.krusare.se/krus). I try their “malt bun”, which has a sweet, toffee-like flavour, together with a pot of Earl Grey. The pot of tea is so warming and inspiring that, back at the hotel, I feel compelled to try the outdoor hot tub for more heat. Getting there is the real test, as you have to walk through the snow, barefoot, to get to the tub, but once in, it’s a lovely 37C. It’s a great feeling sitting there with snow falling on your hair, while you’re toastie warm. Chat to my fellow “tubbers” from Scania and Stockholm and enjoy a good soak, before a sauna session. Then it’s time to change for dinner at Copperhill Mountain Lodge (https://copperhill.se/en/).
Copperhill has got to be one of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever come across and there have been a few over the years. Named after a nearby old mine, it’s situated 7 km outside of Åre, up the mountain slopes. It was built, ten years ago, by star architect Peter Bohlin, and this hulk of a wooden building blends in quite nicely with its surroundings. To say it’s high-ceilinged is quite an understatement – the vast central part reaches over 30 metres and all the rooms are situated on 5 floors surrounding it. There are two restaurants, a lobby bar and an absolutely lovely-looking spa and relax facility. Apart from a hotel show-round, I’m also here to try out the dining options and settle in at Biblioteket (The Library) restaurant. After some bubbly to start, it’s Arctic char, followed by the rabbit for me, washed down with a nice glass of Nero d’Avola. Round the meal off with an ice cider from Brännland in Norrland, in the far north. Unsurprisingly I sleep like a log that night, before further adventures await.
To be continued…
General information (and for booking activities):
easyJet (www.easyjet.com) flies direct from London Gatwick twice a week in winter.
Where to stay:
Hotel Fjällgården (www.fjallgarden.com), Åre’s prime ski-in, ski-out hotel. Perfect location, cosy open fires, outdoor hot-tubs and the après-ski with live bands has to be heard to be believed.
Copperhill Mountain Lodge (www.copperhill.se/en), Åre’s most luxurious, also offers ski-in, ski-out options. Surrounded by pristine countryside, with excellent spa facilities. Highly recommended.