Summit-to-sea steep skiing & first descents in one of the wildest, least explored mountain areas on earth
Lodge and hut-based, offering an insight into the unique way of life in a tiny Inuit community
Highest standard of professional mountain guiding in Greenland: join our small dedicated team of IFMGA guides led by Matt Spenceley, a highly experienced mountain guide who has made this area his home
Experience this pristine arctic coastline of alpine peaks rising out of frozen fjords, icebergs, vast glaciers and, in May, almost 24-hour light
Join our close-knit team of passionate guides, headed up by Matt, a local UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guide, in opening up the massive steep skiing potential of the beautiful mountains surrounding our home village of Kulusuk. Thousands of glaciated alpine peaks dropping to the ice-bergs and sea ice of the fjords offer many lifetimes of brilliant lines amidst one of the greatest wilderness areas on earth. Skinning from the village, towing in by snowmobile to the base of the peaks, or travelling in by boat, we’ll set out from our comfortable lodge each day searching for the best snow and descents in this superbly wild area. We can also overnight in our wilderness hut that’s located in the fjordlands to our north, providing access further in and an experience of just how peaceful it is here. Matt has an intimate knowledge of the mountains and a long list of possible first descents to suit different conditions. Our small guiding team love steep skiing and helping skiers develop new skills.
Places fill quickly so please contact us early if you are interested in joining us!
Location and Ski Terrain
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.
Glaciation is extensive, crevasse risk generally low due to a deep snow pack. With knowledge of sea ice travel the fjords offer great access to the peaks. Geologically, the mountains are gneiss, offering many couloir and face lines from classically sharp alpine summits. There are countless first descents to be made.
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. Descents there average around 800m of vertical and we’ll aim to make several a day. A typical day might start with a 15 minute snowmobile tow-in over the sea ice to reach the point where we start skinning (we look to keep our snowmobile use to a minimum, keeping to the sea ice); we then traverse around and above the calving facing of the glacier to reach our chosen peak; with crampons on, we boot pack to the summit and ski the 45 degree face; skins back on, we reach a col and lower 20m in by rope to reach a couloir; a brilliant descent of 500m leads to the far side of the island before crossing another col and skinning for one last run down the steep flanks that only finish on the sea ice at our pick-up point.
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, making for perfect steep skiing conditions: a stable, relatively soft surface. The strengthening sun in April can be warm enough to set up spring corn conditions on southern-aspect steeps, 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. Persistent weak layers are uncommon.
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.
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 are few places as wild or remote 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.
For two nights, we’ll also make use of our wilderness hut located further north in the fjordlands. We take in a stove and all the supplies necessary to explore further afield. 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).
Guiding and Safety
IFMGA Certified Mountain Guides
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.
Please note: Steep skiing is highly contingent on snow pack stability and surface hardness. We have access to a great variety of aspects so can search out the safest, best snow on the mountain – please bear in mind that safety is our first priority when choosing the day’s objective. On this trip, we work on a ratio of 1 guide to 6 skiers. There are many brilliant lines accessible without complicated technical rope-work or climbing, allowing us to work to this ratio. If you are interested in skiing the steepest most complex terrain, involving technical mountaineering to reach or descend our chosen line, we would do this on a 1:2 or even 1:1 guide to skier ratio. Please have a look at the info on customized guiding or contact Matt to discuss ideas.
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.
This is an example plan:
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.
Skins on after breakfast and we ascend from the sea ice of the bay towards our local mountain. Following the ridge, the first lines of the day appear to our right; reasonably short, there are a number of options to warm up on. After a couple of runs here, conditions allowing, we may head for the summit. Kick turns take us to around half height before a boot pack. The views from the top are outrageous, extending from the ice-filled ocean to the Ice Cap and inland, thousands of mountains. A number of choices of descent before we return to an evening meal back at the cabin.
We’re heading for Matt’s favourite mountain today. After a 10-minute tow-in by snowmobile, steep entry slopes gain a glacial bowl. A bootpack takes us to the summit and the choice of 4 different aspects (and a number of big new lines that are yet to be skied – will they be in condition today?). Last season, we skied a first descent here that dropped 800m to the shores of a fjord carrying many icebergs stranded on a shallow reef.
Snowmobile tow-in to the calving face of the glacier, an amphitheatre of ice breaking into the fjord. From here, there are many lines waiting to be skied. We’ll look for the best aspect in light of conditions. Skinning up onto the glacier, we might head for the high point of the island to access a number of great couloirs that lead to the northern side. In this case, we’ll skin again to regain the southern side and another descent to our pick-up point.
Travel in with all the kit to one of our basic huts. Nearby, there’s a cirque we’ve been exploring for a couple of years with a couple of major lines yet to ski. The plan is to try these. In the evening, with the stove on to heat our little wooden cabin, we often sit out until the sun sets over Ammassalik Fjord.
Where to go today? Visibility, new snow, wind? Perhaps we’ll skin over the sea ice to boot pack up a line that’s been on the list for years – a fall line couloir that drops from a summit directly to the fjord below. The lower section is around 35 degrees, rising to 45 from mid height. With stable soft snow, this descent will be stunning.
In the evening, we’ll either return to the village or have another night out in the cabin.
Back on the glacier, headed for a big pyramidal mountain first ridden on snow boards by Chamonix guide Neil McNab and friends when they came to visit us. The south face offers a beautiful spring snow descent from a narrow col just below the summit. If the conditions are right, a NW facing couloir drops off the other side and hasn’t been skied yet. It’s fairly wide, so big fast turns could work here. Mid height, the angle lessens before the line pinches down between rock walls to reach the valley. A striking line…
One last evening in the village.
Back to the snow-strip for the flight back to Reykjavik, Iceland. This small northern capital city with its vibrant downtown area full of cafes, restaurants, bars and music venues is a great place to celebrate the end of the trip.
Rich T, UK
Greenland Steep Skiing Week
Matt, your guiding was second to none; the fact you managed to get into into steep aesthetically beautiful lines in light of the wind and snow conditions is a testament to your skills as a guide. Also the continual tips and skills for big mountain skiing and access were fantastic.
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!
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.