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Martin Letzter skiing light powder with a nice view of the dark waters of the North Atlantic in the background.

Martin Letzter skiing light powder with a nice view of the dark waters of the North Atlantic in the background.

Skiing the Arctic — a Powder Junkie's Guide to Western Greenland

Skiing on Greenland had long been an exotic dream. Martin Letzter and Fredrik Schenholm decided to do a expedition using a combination of boat, tent, skins and leg power, and traveled to the ice-covered island to find the best skiing that Northern Europe has to offer.

Bye bye, see you in nine days!

Bye bye, see you in nine days!

Our local driver carefully navigates through the floating ice, before the water in front of us turns into a compact floating layer of ice. With smoke from the engine in the cold afternoon air we slowly push through 500m of increasingly thick ice. Often by backing up, and charging the ice with our poor fiberglass hull.

Two hours after departing Maniitsoq we finally reach our destination and find an ice-free bay where we can go ashore. "See you in eight days!" is the last thing we hear before the little boat leaves us alone in our new home.

We made our way to Greenland by air to Kangerlussuq and Maniitsoq, via Copenhagen. Quickly gathered supplies for a week's stay and have now made the final 40 nautical mile voyage by boat.

“1500 meters high alpine peaks, in an unprecedented concentration with the dark waters of the North Atlantic in the background”

After quickly setting up camp in the sustained snowfall, we take a 2h reconnaissance trip to find a route up to the peninsula’s glaciers and make the trip's first powder turns down to the camp as night falls. Dinner is taken in the tents as we plan for tomorrow. Anxious to beat the two helicopters we know operate in the area, we agree on an alpine start to stand on our first peak already at 09.00 the next morning.

After an all too short rest, we leave the camp at 05.00. The snowfall has finally stopped and as the sun's first rays begin to burn away the morning clouds, the mood rises. Slowly a fantastic landscape is revealed around us. 1500 meters high alpine peaks, in an unprecedented concentration with the dark waters of the North Atlantic in the background.

After 4h of skinning through 20 cm of powder, we reach our first summit, and lose our breath as we gaze at the surrounding area. The nearest square kilometers around the Evighedsfjord have been populated with more skiable peaks than the Alps of France, Switzerland and Austria combined.

There are no valleys or other barriers between the mountains, and the alpine peaks sit so close together that one could throw a rock from one to another. And between them, the powder lies ready for us in a wide range of constellations, from wide snow fields to narrow couloirs. We need not worry about the heliskiers and realize that you would need a lifetime of heli-time to cover all possible lines we can identify, just from this vantage point.

“You quickly realize that you would need a lifetime of heli-time to cover all possible lines we can identify, just from this vantage point”

We relax, and focus on what we came here to do. Point our skis downwards and start skiing the coolest lines the area the area has to offer. Three peaks and about 2500 meters were skied the first day, in as close to perfect powder conditions as you can find, before we cruise back to camp for a tasty dinner in the dug out kitchen pit.

The surroundings are impressive with large, slow glaciers that flow over the terrain and sometimes offer as fun skiing as the peaks surrounding them. We use ropes but never need to test their dynamic properties. Instead, we continue to link up great runs of between 500-1200 meters each, in 8-10 hour day trips out of our camp, without ever having to repeat a run. Stable sub-zero temperatures and the lack of strong wind make the snow safe, light and inviting in all aspects.

After a rest day with renewed snowfall, we steer east along the coast to meet the Greenland ice cap. Five kilometers of touring through narrow valleys bring us to the point where the ice cap forms the link between the mainland and our peninsula.

The massive glacier is pushed out towards our peninsula and forms a T-junction where it crashes into a vast mountain massif, turning 90 degrees in either direction, and heads down towards the fjords. It's an impressive sight. With an edge of over 100 meters, the glacier abruptly drops into the ocean in front of us, with a few icebergs serving as signs of the constant calving.

One of the most spectacular runs of our lives slowly takes us from our look out point 800 meters above sea level and down to the beach where large and crystal clear square blocks of ice have stranded on their journey out to sea. We admire the view, eating our lunch sandwiches and wash them down with pure water from a thousand-year old glacier. The fact that the oldest parts of the Greenland ice sheet have been dated to 110,000 years ago, makes us wonder how old the ice we are drinking really is.

“The landscape is reminiscent of Norway's fjords, but on steroids”

It is impossible not to be enchanted by Greenland and its scenery. Everything is big, but in some way inviting and welcoming.

Thanks to the Danish state, basic infrastructure has been built up in a number of communities around the island, meaning that a visit now does not need to involve an expedition. A total of about 56,000 inhabitants live scattered along the west and east coast of the island (more than 6 times larger than Germany).

The villages are beautiful with colorful houses in varying shades of red, blue, green and yellow. All in stark contrast to the spectacular backdrop of snow-covered peaks, glaciers and extremely productive waters. Seals, walruses and whale species such as humpbacks, minke whales and beluga whales are just a few examples of animals often seen in the area.

We end our last day in the Evighetsfjord by crossing the peninsula and getting a fantastic spring snow run down a 40° glacier that stretches all the way to the northern shore. The powder from the first days has now turned to a new base, which yesterday's snowfall has generously added to. Huge plumes of powder spring from our skis as we make our descent in the May-sun, skiing the long and steep slopes towards the sea.

The north side of the island, in contrast to our campsite, offers direct access to a couple of steep mountain sides, where the snow-covered rocks resemble large pillows and form an unbelievable adult playground. And with one of our favorite runs as the access point to the alternative northern shore (and camp site) we now know where to pitch our tents the next time we visit the peninsula.

Happy with our week, we pack up our skis, tents and camera equipment for the boat trip back to Maniitsoq, a couple of cold beers and tasty whale steak. The next day we board our flight south and leave Greenland for the time being, determined not to wait too long before visiting this area again.

Colorful houses in Maniitsoq.

Colorful houses in Maniitsoq.

Johan Engebratt making turns down from summit 1255.

Johan Engebratt making turns down from summit 1255.

After a steep start from the summit of 1255 the descent goes into a flatter phase.

After a steep start from the summit of 1255 the descent goes into a flatter phase.

Johan Engebratt, Martin Letzter and Tom Seeman drying clothes in the base camp.

Johan Engebratt, Martin Letzter and Tom Seeman drying clothes in the base camp.

No lift needed. Skins under the skis is enough.

No lift needed. Skins under the skis is enough.

Johan Engebratt charging down the offpiste of Greenland.

Johan Engebratt charging down the offpiste of Greenland.

Big glaciers are many in this area.

Big glaciers are many in this area.

ARTICLE CREATORS
Photographer
Adventure & Expeditions, Skiing
Fredrik Schenholm is an award winning adventure photographer and an educated geologist. He does commercial and editorial work as well as teaching photography.
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Writer
Climbing & Mountaineering, Skiing
Martin is an experienced ski mountaineer with multiple high altitude climbing and skiing expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes, Alaska, Yukon, and Antarctica. He loves traveling to exotic locations and has taken sking to places such as Uzbekistan, Uganda, Greenland, Jan Mayen, New Guinea, Turkey and Pakistan.
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