“I’m so, so sorry sir. I had no idea that this was in my bag.”
The customs official at O’Hare airport in Chicago had just pulled a large and long beef stick packet out of my vinyl duffel. His hound whined incessantly next to him. He eyed me closely.
Huh, I thought. That must be what Noah meant when he said that he “put” something in my bag.
Noah Howell, a professional skier, ski filmmaker (Powderwhore Productions) and practical joker, and I were part of a diverse team assembled by polar explorer Doug Stoup of Ice Axe Expeditions for an exploratory sailboat ski trip to Svalbard, an archipelago that lies north of Norway within the Arctic circle. More specifically, we were in the region of Spitsbergen, a large island within the Svalbard archipelago (see map on right).
Ice Axe Expeditions is an expedition company with headquarters based in Truckee, California that has become well-known as one of the main outfitters to the Polar experience. Claiming “passion and knowledge of unique landings and first ski descents” with rarely offered trips to a “vast silence of land unconquered by man”, Doug and crew have created a niche in a largely-discovered world with trips like skiing Svalbard by boat.
For more than 10 years, Stoup has based out of Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen for Ice Axe’s North Pole expeditions. During that time he witnessed the far expanse of unexplored peaks and finally decided to tap into their heights. But how to access these peaks? Enter the sailboat.
When I arrived by plane in May to the extremely small capital, Longyearbyen, I was immediately whisked to the vessel that would be our home for the duration of our journey.
The sailboat, the Jonathon IV, is a 60-foot steel hull beauty with a classically gruff yet kind captain at the helm. As the boat cut through the glassy, protected waters of the fjords and gentle inlets, we lined up the peaks and routes from shore that would tempt us into their folds.
With 24 hours of sunlight and no boundaries as to when and where we could explore, our group set out for adventure as late (or as early) as 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. In small groups of four, we traveled by zodiac to shore and then began our climbs up the peaks, with ascents and descents ranging anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000-foot directly from the ocean.
There is an extraordinary power to the pristine areas of our world, and to set foot and ski in this region where few if any had before was an exhilarating privilege. The trip was Doug’s vision—through which we were able to discover new mountains for backcountry skiers and wilderness enthusiasts alike, ascending and descending in uncharted territory within a rarely accessed and remote part of the world.
Watch this Fall for Noah Howell and Powderwhore Production’s film “Breaking Trail” with a segment filmed from our Norway adventure with athletes like Andrew Mclean, Tom Day, Doug Stoup and Ane Enderlund. Powderwhore will embark on a 40-city tour with a DVD release on October 1st, 2011. And, for more on the written word from the Arctic Adventure, stay tuned for a Feature story pending with photos by Keoki Flagg.
ALL Photos courtesy of Noah Howell/Powderwhore Productions.