Johan Jonsson’s favourite places to go ski-touring
Whether you’re just starting or you're a backcountry pro, here are five places to skin up and ski down.Adventures | 7 minutes read
Sunnmøre Alps, Norway
The Sunnmøre Alps offer a fantastic mix of ski tours that are well suited to beginners and intermediates. “You can find really cool locations to ski that won’t risk your life,” says Johan. “It’s extremely dramatic terrain. I’ve been there many times but I never get tired of these jagged peaks towering over the fjords – it’s just so, so cool.” The ski-touring culture is really strong in Norway and you’ll find families with young kids and people in their 70s and 80s touring around Stranda and Ålesund. “It’s really inspiring. They walk super slowly, but they still do these tours because they’ve done them their whole lives.”
“These are my home mountains now. And I’ve just started scratching the surface of what’s around here. Most people think the magnitude of the mountains is what makes for a good tour. But in my opinion, nothing could be more wrong. You can have fun on basically everything, even smaller mountains close to home.” The region offers some easy-going, great beginner level touring through birch forests. And Johan recommends Offerdalsfjällen as “totally enough for half a day of ski touring”.
Narvik is regarded as the best ski resort in Scandinavia. Despite relatively small mountains, because you can ski right down to the fjord, the resort offers lots of vertical metres of skiing. Plus “it’s just so beautiful and dramatic,” says Johan. Regarding the touring, Johan says it’s ideal for those just starting out as you can access great tours right from the lift. However, it also has some amazing tours for proficient and expert riders off the backside of the mountain. Despite being neighbours with the much-more-famous Lofoten, Narvik is still quiet but offers just as exciting and interesting terrain.
For more than a decade Johan has spent almost 50% of his time in the stunning Swiss resort of Engelberg, so it’s a place close to his heart. Despite perhaps being a little biased as a result, he assures us that it truly is a fantastic place for ski-touring. “You can hike a few hundred metres from the groomed ski area making it ideal for beginners. The cool thing is that you can go on tours and see the entire tour up and down and this is a good thing for when you’re getting started. If you’re more advanced and have a guide, you can drop in on the backside. The reward for just a little more effort is massive.” Johan also describes “farmer gondolas”; local farmers’ ways of accessing their high alpine farms when roads are non-existent. “They’re not meant for skiers, but you are allowed to use them. You need to have some kind of knowledge about the area, though, so I recommend going with a guide. But they are really cool. You just end up at a farm with no other facilities. You tour directly from the farms – it’s a special experience and I really like it. You’re close to big cities and the modern resort of Engelberg, but if feels like you’re travelling in time when you end up at these farms.”
When it comes to skiing, Alaska is the holy grail. It’s steep, exposed and feels just so far, far away. As a result, Alaska is for very advanced skiers only. “This is the end station for many free-skiers and snowboarders,” says Johan. “When you’ve skied everywhere else, you go to Alaska.” Alaska isn’t just for heli-skiing, despite being the most popular – and fastest – way to access the big mountain terrain. Due to the coastal, maritime weather, the snow sticks to slopes that would be barren or ice-covered in other places. This means you can ski really steep mountains under exceptional snow conditions.
“I did an amazing tour in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. You generally fly in, over the moraine – as we did – with a seaplane and then set up a basecamp and tour from there. It was an amazing experience; it really feels like you’re ‘out there’. It scares you a bit, but it also makes you feel very alive.”
But even Johan’s love for steepness and speed was challenged by Alaska’s demanding terrain. “I’ve always liked to ski fast and go full on, but it’s something else in Alaska.
You stand at the top, look down and think ‘wow, that’s a lot of snow and it’s so, so steep’. My gut feeling was, like, err no. You take two big turns and it’s like whoa, this is so fast! I kind of over did it for quite a few runs. But you get into it and learn about how to ski that kind of snow. In the end, I loved it.”
Johan’s top tips - For beginners
"Make sure you use good equipment. Using old, heavy, out-dated equipment will leave you exhausted and you won’t enjoy it. Rent or borrow the best you can.”
“Don’t overdo it the first time. You don’t have to do a 1000 vertical metre tour on your first try. Go smaller to begin with, then build up.”
“I recommend skiing with mountain guides. Some people think it’s expensive, but it’s money well spent. When you go with a guide you get the best skiing. You can ask them questions; they can give you tips and you also you get the best tours. Plus someone is breaking trail for you, too.”
“Spend lots of time in the mountains and take your time. Learn about risk and dangers; educate yourself about avalanches and different types of snow and how they react. And, as with everything in the back-country, backing off if it feels wrong can never be a wrong decision.”
When to go
It depends on the location and altitude, but often spring is best. Though for lower altitude ski touring, such as in Jämtland, February is ideal.
Later in the season ski-touring is often on corn snow. This is snow that has a rougher, more granular surface. It’s not that white fluffy powder many people dream of, but Johan actually loves skiing on corn snow. “The Swedish mountains are fairly wind affected, so corn skiing is something that needs to be considered. But I prefer corn over 8 out of 10 different types of powder – I know that’s controversial. But it’s magic snow for me. World-champion corn means you can go fast and it’s easy to ski. People get provoked when I say I love it. But, honestly, it’s only when it’s perfect powder that I prefer pow. Otherwise corn skiing is what I really love. It’s really easy to ride. You can pop off things. You never have breaking crust. Really deep powder is exhausting. When you ski corn it’s just so easy, it’s this effortless niceness."
Images: Oskar Enander & Adobe Stock