A helicopter lodge in Sweden, a ghost town in Georgia and an Arctic cruise.
At Niehku, a new 14-bedroom heli-lodge, everything is geared towards skiing, says Toby Skinner in Condé Nast Traveller. It was built out of a disused railway roundhouse and sits on the edge of Riksgränsen, a cluster of red-barn buildings 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden. At nine in the morning, the helicopters are fired up, each shared between groups of four or five. Unlike in the heavily regulated Alps, here it is a relative free-for-all. “I ride almost as much powder in a few days as I have in the rest of my life.”
When snowboarding took off in Europe in the 1990s, Scandi pioneers such as Terje Håkonsen and Ingemar Backman filmed their early videos here. Word soon spread that Riksgränsen was a place where you could ski at midnight in May, where the runs rivalled Alaska, and where the heli-skiing was limited only by the size of the fuel tanks. Riksgränsen duly became the hangout of Europe’s best free-ride skiers and snowboarders.
Niehku, which means “dream” in northern Sami, is the pet-project of two local ski-bums made good – Johan “Jossi” Lindblom, who is one of Sweden’s top mountain guides, and Patrik “Strumpan” Strömsten, a skier and restaurateur. They hired Swedish architects Krook & Tjäder to ensure Niehku’s design echoed the oily industrialism of the old roundhouse – the former engine pit has become the wine cellar, visible through a perspex floor, while the interior is an exercise in masculine purity, from the blonde-wood sauna to the grey, timberclad rooms featuring super-comfortable Hästens beds. “We built our dream lodge,” says Lindblom. “The place [where] we’d want to stay.”
Doubles from around £220 – Niehku.com
Cat-skiing from a comfortable if basic lodge in Georgia
Cat-skiing offers a cheaper alternative to heli-skiing, says Matt Carr in the Financial Times. It was invented some 30 years ago in British Columbia, western Canada. Instead of choppers, snowcats – truck-sized, tracked vehicle designed to move on snow – with passenger cabins grafted onto the back chug uphill to deposit skiers at the top of a mountain, allowing them to enjoy the untracked descents into a powdery wilderness. They are not as reliant on good weather as helicopters. On the downside, their top speed is tortoise-like.
Bakhmaro is a mountain village in southwestern Georgia that is popular with Georgians in the summer. In winter, it becomes a ghost town. Yet it’s exactly because of the abundant snowfall, which makes the village only accessible by snowcat, that Ingo Schlutius, a Swiss ski instructor and hotelier, decided to base his new adventure-skiing operation here. He found a guest house that was unused in winter and pressed it into service as a lodge. The first guests arrived in December 2016.
Arranged over two floors, the bedrooms, dining and sitting rooms at the lodge were comfortable if basic – closer to what you might expect from an Alpine mountain refuge than the kind of luxury you’d find at a North American cat-ski or heli-ski lodge. Hot showers are fired by wood-burning stoves and the Wi-Fi is patchy. So, it’s just as well that evenings were spent sitting around a fire in comfortable chairs, playing cards or comparing notes on the day’s skiing.
From €2,100 for a week’s cat-skiing package – PowderProject.ch
Heli-skiing from an Arctic cruise
Imagine taking a five-star hotel, tipping it on its side, and sending it afloat through some of the world’s most pristine, icy, otherworldly waters, says Roxana Popescu for Travel + Leisure. That’s the approach polar adventure cruise company Quark Expeditions is taking with its new 200-passenger ship, set for launch in 2020.
The ship will be equipped with 20 Zodiac inflatable boats, and adventurous types will be able to heli-ski on snowy mountains and vast expanses of Arctic backcountry thanks to the vessel’s two onboard helicopters. A fitness room with panoramic windows will be the perfect place to practise yoga, and there will also be a luxurious spa onboard. There will even be an indoor-outdoor grill, protected from the icy winds, for a spot of al fresco dining. Cabins will have large windows or balconies, all with views over the water.
Quark has a number of other modern vessels plying the icy waters around the Poles. World Explorer is new as of this winter. Naval architects were consulted on the build, and all of 176 passengers (limited to 144 in the Antarctic) will benefit from deluxe cabins, with a walk-out or Juliet balcony, says John Wilmott in the Daily Telegraph, as well as a pool and sauna, and lecture theatre.
Quark Expeditions will be taking bookings for its new ship from early next year – QuarkExpeditions.com