Summit-to-sea backcountry skiing in one of the wildest areas on earth – the coastal mountains of East Greenland
First descents, exploration & beautiful skiing in an arctic environment of glaciated alpine peaks, icebergs & frozen fjords
Nanoq Lodge: ski from our comfortable arctic lodge & experience life in a tiny Inuit community
Dog sled, boat and snowmobile-assistance to reach the most exciting terrain
Highest standard of professional mountain guiding in Greenland: join our small dedicated team headed by locally-based UIAGM/IFMGA guide Matt Spenceley
The longer of our two lodge- and hut-based trips, exploring the most exciting Greenland backcountry ski touring accessible from our home village of Kulusuk… Matt, a UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guide who has made this area his home, heads up a close-knit team of passionate guides who love to ski! Together, we’ll search out the very best snow on some of the stunning and uniquely Greenlandic mountains of the region – glaciers running down to the ocean, alpine summits & cols, all linked by the frozen fjords. We’ve factored in 3 extra days on this trip, the aim being to use motor boats to access the north of Ammassalik Fjord and the huge inland ranges of the region. The peaks there offer big vertical and some very beautiful big ski lines in an extremely remote area.
For those looking to experience Greenland but not keen on a full-blown expedition (or camping!), this is the trip. You’ll gain an insight into the traditional Inuit way of life up here in the north whilst staying in our simple but comfortable lodge in Kulusuk and spend each day out amongst the glaciers, peaks and frozen fjords. For part of the trip, we’ll overnight in our remote wilderness hut in the heart of the stunningly wild area in which we’ll be ski touring. To suit conditions, dog sled, snowmobile and boat assistance will be used to give us access to a large area of brilliant ski terrain. We love these trips. Having read the info below, we hope you will too. Do give Matt or Helen a shout if you’d like to join us up north next season.
Ski Terrain and Location
Big alpine peaks rise directly out of the frozen ocean, bounded to the west by a huge ice cap. This is one of the richest areas for exploratory backcountry skiing on earth – our passion is discovering and skiing the incredible peaks we’ve found here.
The mountains are made up of gneiss, heavily glaciated and surrounded by the frozen waters of a complex of fjords. They offer a myriad of great touring and descents, often directly from the summits. The terrain is classically alpine, linking peaks and cols with mellow glacier runs right up to steep couloirs and faces. We look to find suitable objectives for each group and will discuss with you the type of skiing you like best. There are countless first descents to be made. The sea ice of the fjords allows us to link different tours together, finishing one glacier descent at sea level, before following the shore for two kilometres to gain another ascent.
Vertical height gain from sea to summit starts at around 700m and rises to over 2000m further inland. We’ll likely focus on the coastal ranges. Ascents/descents there average around 800m of vertical and we’ll aim to make several a day.
The weather system in the Kulusuk region oscillates between long periods of high pressure – bringing stable, cold, clear conditions – and low-pressure storms driving in snow from the NE. Coming in off the ocean, these weather systems are relatively warm, sticking snow to even the steepest peaks. When the high pressure returns, this moist snow is dried out. The strengthening sun in April can be warm enough to set up spring corn conditions on steeper southern-aspects, whilst northern aspects keep powder (note: long daylight hours and low-angle sunlight due to our northerly position keeps spring snow good for many hours). Whilst avalanche conditions are dynamic and require constant vigilance, our snowpack usually settles quickly due to moisture content and temperature during storm events. Persistent weak layers are less prevalent here.
Greenland is known as Tunu ( ‘Land at the Back’) to the Greenlandic Inuit, referring to the area’s extreme isolation. Of Greenland’s population of 57,000, fewer than 4000 live in a handful of settlements on a coastline that runs 3000km from south to north. The first trading colony was only established in the 1890′s, and to this day, the local community keep alive many of the ancient ways of life used to survive in this beautiful but severe environment.
Flights to East Greenland depart from Reykjavik, Iceland and land on our home island of Kulusuk.
Safety and Guiding
Pirhuk sets by far the highest standards in professional arctic mountain guiding in both qualifications and experience. As in the Alps, we strongly believe that only the IFMGA international mountain guides’ qualification is appropriate in this environment. Unlike the Alps, Greenland currently does not enforce any minimum guiding standard in mountains as serious as anywhere on earth, effectively meaning that anyone can claim to be ‘guide’. IFMGA Mountain guides hold the highest, and only, internationally recognised certification in avalanche assessment, ski and mountain guiding. We combine this expertise with many years of experience in managing the unique risks Greenland presents.
Bears, Sea Ice & Storms
To ski in Greenland, polar bears, changeable sea ice and arctic storms must be understood and managed – it’s not enough to grab a gun and ski out from the airport. We set the standards in managing these risks through training, management plans and a huge body of experience that has grown through guiding here season-after-season. We pride ourselves on providing the most professional guiding in Greenland.
Icebergs drift by our village, dog sleds are used to hunt and fish and the Aurora Borealis often lights up the night-time sky – there are few places as wild as East Greenland.
We will be based in Nanoq Lodge in the tiny village of Kulusuk, home to 250 mostly Inuit folk and surrounded by beautiful alpine peaks. We take great pride in the work we’ve put into our ski lodge and look forward to welcoming you. Built to withstand severe arctic conditions, the lodge has running water (a rare thing in the village!) and is set up as a comfortable and practical place to ski from. Spending time in the village provides a rare insight into a community that has adapted to and thrived in the high arctic over the last thousands of years.
On our extended trip, conditions allowing, we’ll boat north to the remote settlement of Kummiut and from a typical Greenlandic heated wooden cabin, explore the stunning skiing in the mountains surrounding the village.
For two to three nights, we plan to overnight in our remote wilderness hut in the heart of the stunningly wild area in which we’ll be ski touring. Set up with a stove, small living space and a separate sleeping area, it’s good to experience spending some nights out amongst this huge wilderness of mountains, glaciers and fjords and often provides the chance to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
Please note: East Greenland is an extremely wild frontier region with little infrastructure, big mountains and very few people. Sea ice and snow conditions can change on a daily basis so flexibility in the plan is essential. Together, with safety as our primary focus, we’ll decide on each day’s objectives to maximise good skiing!
Fly from Reykjavik Domestic airport to Kulusuk, East Greenland (roughly 2 hours). After settling in and lunch, we’ll head out for a short tour, taking some time to run through avalanche safety and rescue systems. Overnight in Kulusuk.
Our first full tour. Early starts aren’t normally necessary as the days never get too warm. After a good breakfast, we’ll take a short snowmobile tow-in to the base of our first chosen peak. We’ve a long list of brilliant peaks to ski, whether we aim for something we know well or attempt a new tour and descent. At the end of the day’s adventure, Georg and the guys from the village will travel out and take us home for the evening.
Each evening, we’ll check weather, consider prevailing conditions and decide where we think the best snow to be. Come the morning, we’ll travel in and explore, potentially using snowmobiles again or motorboat from a nearby ice edge. At the end of the day, we should have plenty of time to relax once back to the village. The lodge has hot showers and there’s a drying room to store kit. We spend a lot of time sourcing good food (that’s caught locally or can be sent out by boat before the ice returns) and aim to provide varied, plentiful meals.
A big day. Conditions allowing, the aim is to make a traverse of the mountainous glaciated island to the north of the lodge. We’ll ski one of the northern-aspect descents that often holds great powder to reach the head of a fjord and an hour’s skin over the frozen surface to reach the ice edge. Here boats will meet us for the journey to Kummiut, a small Inuit settlement deep in the inner fjords. We’ll get set up in a simple cabin in the village (sleeping bag accommodation).
There are several classic ski peaks within a short distance of the village. Working with snow conditions, we’ll select a suitable objective for the day. One of our favourite peaks provides a fall line descent from near the summit all the way to the fjord below, following a couloir just at the right angle to properly open up! This leads to a bowl and then stream valley below. Overnight at the hut.
Using boats to access the day’s tour is a strong possibility. Within 20 minutes of motoring, we have access to many different ski peaks.
After completing the tour, we will travel back to our cabin in the village.
Leaving the village behind by boat, we’ll travel south (around 30 minutes in good ice conditions) to the ice edge – the point where thick sea ice attached to land meets open water – and skin to the base of a glacier that reaches the fjord-edge. Gaining height, we access a shoulder from which we can follow a ridge-line on skins to within 100 m of the summit of the area’s highest peak. A short boot-pack and we’re on the summit. Conditions-allowing, for those who want to, it’s sometimes possible to ski from the top. A great descent finishes back on the sea ice and our remote mountain hut. Fully kitted out with sleeping bags and food, we’ll be skiing with day packs. The hut itself is simple, with seats and a table by a big stove and alpine bunks for sleeping. While a lot more basic than our lodge back in the village, it’s always special to spend some nights out in such a wild location, one that opens up many ski lines that would otherwise be the preserve of much more involved ski expeditions.
Day tour from the hut. There are a lot of options to suit prevailing conditions. We have access to 4 different glaciers as well as several other mountainous islands reached by skiing over the sea ice. Overnight at the hut.
Leaving the hut behind, aim of the day will be to make a traverse of the island, summiting one or more peaks. The final descent may well finish on the sea ice surrounded by the amphitheatre of ice cliffs from which the glacier calves directly into the ocean. We’ll be met by dog sleds or snowmobiles and travel over the frozen bay to reach Kulusuk, warm showers and a big meal at the lodge.
Our last day of skiing. Travelling in to a tour by snowmobile or boat is an option or we could also ski from the village, heading for the main peak of Kulusuk Island, Qalorajaarneq. The outermost peak, the views out to the ocean and westwards along the coast are breath-taking. Home to the lodge for dinner and the last evening of the trip.
Back to the snow-strip for the flight to to Reykjavik, Iceland and a culture-shock! It’s nearly always necessary to overnight in Iceland due to flight times and Reykjavik city offers a good place to celebrate your trip with lots of great restaurants and bars. We’d be happy to point you in the right direction, especially if you plan to extend your trip and explore some of the backcountry skiing on offer in Iceland.
Ali T, UK
Greenland Steep Skiing Week
Thank you so much for such a great trip. It really was amazing and I learned so many new things. You have a great set-up and really were super hosts.
Elisabeth M, Norway
Apusiaajik Backcountry Ski Expedition 2010
Hi! Just wanted to say thanx for a great skiing trip to Greenland in April! Perfect settings, and Dave and Owen did a really good job as guides.
Gemma A, UK
Greenland Steep Skiing Week
Our time with you in Greenland just couldn’t have been better and I’ve got home feeling exhilarated and inspired. Thank you!
John N, Scotland
East Greenland Exploratory Backcountry Ski Expedition
The expedition was a fantastic experience that was definitely the pinnacle of my ski touring life.
Ron M, USA
East Greenland Backcountry Ski Expedition 2008
Thanks again for a great trip. Stay in touch!
Steve C, Quebec
East Greenland Exploratory Backcountry Ski Expedition
Hi guys, just back from a fantastic ski trip with Pirhuk. This was great and we are looking forward for our next trip with you in Greenland.