The end of the ski season in Norway's Lyngen Alps coincides with the days when the sun never sets - giving you the unmissable chance to spend a night swishing through the silver birch forests
The Lyngen Alps: 450km north of the Arctic Circle and setting for the most spectacular ski show on earth. Jagged snow-capped peaks stretch up to 1800m high on either side of an 82km-long fjord. Imagine quadrupling the Chamonix valley and flooding it, and you get some sense of the spectacle. But what you truly don't expect is the smell and perpetual sight of the sea. Seagulls wheel through the air, their white wings merging with the snowcapped mountains and you can, quite literally, ski from the summit to the sea. What's more, there are hundreds of different mountains to choose from.
The ski season runs from February through to June and towards the end of the season you can also ski here by the light of the midnight sun. The midnight sun is a phenomenon that takes place above the Arctic Circle, where for six weeks either side of Midsummer's Day, the sun never sets. This is an experience not to be missed.
It begins in the Lyngen Lodge, a beautiful log-built chalet on the banks of the Lyngen fjord. The Lodge opened in 2008 and is a luxurious and style-conscious base from which to explore the surrounding mountains. It sleeps up to 16 people and comes with sauna and outdoor hot tub overlooking the fjord. It has a very contemporary, Scandinavian feel and interior designer Anniken Zahl Furunes admits, "it's great timing for Norway that antlers are so in vogue".
The lodge operates full-board, with skiers encouraged to make their own packed lunch or, in our case, midnight snack. The locally themed and sourced food is excellent - think delicate salmon and robust game - and is the ideal fuel for the skiing day, or night.
We left the Lodge at 11pm and carried our skis down to the old harbour where, among the fishing vessels and drying racks, waited the Spirit of Lyngen, a state-of-the-art customised RIB boat, specifically built to operate in the Arctic, with two 400hp engines, cruising speed of 28 knots, comfortable 14-man cabin and all the mod cons.
On some of our day trips, we cruised out of the mouth of the fjord to mountainous islands in the Barents Sea, but tonight we were heading for one of the mainland mountains just along the fjord. Skiing such breathtaking scenery does not come without a catch; heli-skiing and even ski lifts are banned here for environmental reasons. And the catch is that you have to get up to the peaks under your own steam, and that means ski touring.
Ski touring involves walking uphill on your skis by attaching a synthetic skin to the underside of the ski to avoid the ski slipping backwards. Special bindings allow your heel to lift in walk mode so you can, quite literally, ski uphill. The Lodge supplies skis and avalanche safety gear. If you have not tried it yet, hire yourself a guide in one of the more mainstream European resorts and you will be amazed at how much prestine terrain can be opened up by even a short tour out of the main ski area. It will also prove an ideal warmup for this incredible trip.
By midnight we were pushing through the silver birch forest as the moon rose in the east and the sun refused to set in the west. The westerly mountains on the horizon’s island chain blushed a deep red, and the jagged peaks across the fjord were dramatically backlit by the low-slung sun. The sun may still have been over the horizon but every time we stopped, the sweat froze on our skin. We were still 1000m from the summit, but it would be light every step of the way.
We crossed fresh moose and wolverine tracks - this really is a wilderness - and the noise of our ski skins on the snow sounded like a dawn chorus of birdsong, although here of course, night is perpetual dawn. After three hours of uphill, we reached a plateau at 1000m and, for the first time, the sun came into direct view, a tantalising orb in the saddle of two mountains.
It was a fabulous spectacle, glowing blood-red. The sun was to the left of me, the moon was to the right and here I was, stuck in the middle with a sensational view. Ski touring - where you earn every turn by skinning up the mountain - is rather like running: sometimes you're about to hit a wall, but go through it and you can keep going for hours. By the time we summited the peak of Nord Mannviktinden (1355m), we were at the same conjecture as the sun, and our long shadows seemed to stretch right across the fjord.
It may have been 4am but we had never felt so awake. After a midnight snack of gravad lax sandwiches (what else?) and hot glug, the skins came off, the heels clicked in and we were ready to go. The cold night air had sucked the moisture from the snow, and the surface snow crystals glimmered like salt flakes. It was payoff time, and every earned turn felt truly spectacular as we cruised down the fall line, the ever-present fjord glimmering beside us.
By 6am we were in the outdoor hot tub and it all felt like a dream, but that is just life under the midnight sun. Perpetual daylight is surreal and disorientating; particularly when you flip the clock to ski at night.