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Story | Lofoten Spring Break

10 days low-budget camping & cabin vacation; tips & tricks

by Jonathan Pietsch • 04/11/2016
The Lofoten Islands are no longer an insider tip for most people living in the Alps - but they are still a highlight for every continental skier. With long days and guaranteed snow, the Easter period is ideal for a trip to the steep island kingdom. But low budget? In the unaffordable Switzerland of the north? Yes, it works - provided you have a bit of luck, skill and a vehicle. Four cold- and odor-resistant students have tried it out.

The initial situation

Many other exchange students in Trondheim had opted for a flight to Tromsø and a vacation in Lyngen. Fortunately, we - a Spaniard, two Bavarians and a Swabian - had a VW van called Osskar at our disposal. A comparison of travel times (1 day Lofoten vs. 1½ to 2 days Lyngen) determined Lofoten as our destination long before departure. Ski tours were of course at the top of our list and our sparse planning was aimed at getting the most out of them. The ferry to Moskenes, the westernmost island in the group, had already been reserved for a long time and so we would start our trip in the part of the Lofoten Islands with the least snow. We had planned very little else in detail in order to retain as much freedom as possible in our choice of activities. Researching touring tips, buying a map and studying it a little - apart from packing and buying food, these were the only things we did in advance. In view of the extremely unreliable weather forecast (which is almost always off the mark, even when looking back over the past few days), more detailed planning is not worthwhile in most cases and quickly leads to disappointment.

From 0 to 100

After a full day's arrival and a first night in a hut or tent, our fears were confirmed: Almost no more snow on Moskenesøy and Flakstadøy, mostly just 'dust on rocks'. What a shame, because the combination of sea and mountains is one of the most beautiful here in the west? As on the previous day, our stupidly astonished faces dominated the drive to the east as even more beautifully shaped peaks, boulders, cliffs, beaches and couloirs appeared around every bend. So it happened that just half an hour after leaving our overnight accommodation (Selfjordhytta), we couldn't stand it any longer and parked in the village of Vareid, with a feasible couloir in front of us and the sea behind us. The long warm phase in mid-March had cleared a lot of tricky terrain, so we found the gully well filled with frozen avalanche snow, plus a thin layer of loose snow. However, winter sports were no longer possible here outside of such gullies. The ice axes, which we had only borrowed for safety reasons, were therefore used on the very first day. We assume that we were the first to ski the couloir and are making this public in this way. From now on, the gully will bear the name 'Kari-Enge-Couloir' in honor of the very helpful Erasmus contact person at NTNU Trondheim. We will only relinquish our first ascent status after providing photographic evidence to the contrary.

The day ended with the best weather, a leisurely tour through the main gully of Guratinden (near Leknes) and a not quite so leisurely night on the Kvalvika surfing beach. The latter is also known from the movie 'North of the Sun'. The driftwood hut built by the surfers is still standing and - if you can find it in the rocks - offers dry accommodation and a wetsuit (size M, fits snugly). So Benni hadn't dragged his surfboard into the not-so-easily accessible bay for nothing. In the morning (he had overslept) he was able to use it for the first time north of the Arctic Circle. What a debut.

Less steep, more snow & downdays

After the eventful first few days, we had to take it a little easier, but camped outside again, this time on the beach at Unstad, about 2 hours' drive further east. It should be mentioned here that ten days of pure camping with our equipment would have been very uncomfortable, especially as one of our two tents was designed for the three warm seasons at best. So it was very convenient that we could at least move our meals (lunch and dinner usually coincided) to the cleared-out bus if necessary, where it was fresh but windless? On days 3 to 5, we had a longer stay in one of the DNT self-catering huts - as we had done immediately after arriving; we were now in the area around Svolvær. The snow conditions are usually better here and this year there was also a good base down to (almost) sea level. The hut itself, called 'Nøkksetra', situated at a fabulous 249 meters above sea level, presented a deep wintery exterior and exactly how a hut should be inside - warm, cosy, like a home as soon as you enter.

The weather forecast for the next day was good - which made us fear the worst in view of the last few days, which had all been badly forecast and then beautiful. And so perhaps the most promising day in terms of terrain around the hut (lots of steeps, but also some 'avalanche-safe' variants) ended up as a downday in the hut; apart from a sunrise tour and a schnapps-from-the-car tour. However, the ascent and descent days were first class? The latter, Maundy Thursday, was also the day with the most vertical meters, because after descending from a side summit of the hut, we continued, interrupted by a short car ride, with the summit siblings Torskmannen (755) and Breitinden (672); in unexpected dream weather, mind you. You can tell that mountains are popular tour destinations: There were comparatively many people and also guided groups out and about, and that wasn't just due to the start of the Easter holidays. In general, the mountains near Svolvær seem to be more populated than further west.

In the evening, the time had come: after 5 days, we were through and ready to spend 250 kroner on the drying room and kitchen (not counting the hut). And anyone who has ever been camping in winter knows how nice a hot shower can be, however many extra coins it costs. Warm and softened up, it's also more pleasant to sleep in the tent on a clear night and in severe frost.

About halfway through our trip, the weather forecast was right for the first time and the snowstorm - unfortunately with a lot of storm and not so much snow - came as predicted. That's why we only climbed up to the tree line twice on Runtinden (another well-known and beautiful tour destination), as our petite Spaniard was in danger of taking off in the wind. Psychologically, we sold the descent in the heavy snow as technical training for Geitgallen, the highest skiable and most famous ski mountain in the Lofoten Islands at 1085m. It had been recommended to us several times by various sources and, especially in view of the rising temperatures, the high altitudes still promised fresh powder fun. Unfortunately, the wind was getting stronger and stronger by the time we left, so the tour was out of the question. It was a shame, but it wasn't going to go away.

Originally, we wanted to cross the Lofoten Islands from west to east and make the return journey by ferry (except for a very short obligatory one) without any further crossings (Svolvær - Narvik 240km, Narvik - Trondheim 900km, speed limit 80km/h), but we weren't far enough east for that and the weather remained unsuitable for alpine adventures. So back to Unstad (west), alternative program surfing? The friendly local rental companies made the project a pleasant 'no-brainer', but they also charge a lot for it. They know that people are prepared to pay extra for the "I was surfing north of the Arctic Circle"-prestige (new German: hashtag suitability). Healthy economic competition is also lacking in winter, but well, it was still worth it, after all, we were surfing north of the Arctic Circle! (25% Swabians in a group is perhaps too high after all; is stinginess contagious?)

We spent the days before and after surfing on campsites again, once even in a 4-person bungalow rented there (with fridge - how practical), because there's not much worse than putting up a wet summer tent in winter at 1°C and heavy sleet.

We split the journey home into 2 days, taking the ferry from Lødingen to Bognes in the morning and driving to the bus shelter directly on the E6 highway at Saltfjellet (southern end), a kind of high valley or pass between Bodø and Mo i Rana. We had already discovered the shelter on our arrival, it has a heated lounge with two picnic benches, toilets, running water (including hot water) and nobody cares if you spend the night in it. There are a few beautiful peaks on both sides of the road, and so we ended our successful vacation on a still very windy, nameless peak under almost cloudless skies, followed by miles of non-stop carving downhill.

Tips & tricks (as of March 2016)

General: Exchange rate rule of thumb 10 NOK = 1.1 EUR

Food: Food, especially dairy and meat products, is significantly more expensive in Norway than in Germany and Austria, and students can tick off individual items on their shopping list with a hearty dip into a Dumpster or two. Food prices on the islands are no different from those on the mainland. Many supermarkets are open Mon-Sat, some even on Sundays and public holidays (expensive). Alcohol is so expensive that it no longer tastes good. If possible, import it! Importing beyond the exemption limit and paying duty at the border crossing may also be attractive (e.g. approx. €2 per liter of beer)

Transport: The cost of flights and rental cars depends heavily on the starting city and season. The airline SAS offers greatly reduced fares for students under 26. Once you are in Lofoten, the driving is limited, you rarely drive more than 100km at a time, because otherwise you would simply miss too many scenic highlights. Fuel is only marginally more expensive than in Germany? The ferry Bodø - Moskenes takes approx. 3 hours, costs approx. 700NOK for car plus driver, passengers approx. 200 NOK. ?Lødingen - Bognes costs 200NOK for car plus driver and 70 for passengers, takes a good hour and is less exposed to the swell. Vomit bags are free (but not free) on all ships operated by the ferry company.

Den Norske Turistforening - DNT: The equivalent of the Alpine Club. Maintains huts, most of which are self-catering. The prices are very fair, as a student you generally pay about half the price for many things (values in brackets). The annual membership (minimum duration) costs ~600 (320) NOK. We stayed in 2 of the cabins, each of which was excellently equipped with a gas stove, wood stove (+ ready wood). Water has to be fetched or melted. The cabins cannot be reserved and are paid for in cash on arrival or afterwards by bank transfer (Norwegian banks only). The toilets (Plumps) are not located in the main buildings. We never had any space problems, they are apparently very little used in winter.

Selfjordstua: Suitable if you arrive in Moskenes on the late ferry. Reachable from the parking lot in 5 min walking time (30-60min if the road is not cleared) without any difference in altitude. The area was free of snow for us, but has a lot to offer in high winter. Approx. 10 beds in 2 cabins? Overnight stay 300 NOK (150), tents incl. shared use 150 NOK.

Nøkksetra: Super cabin in a beautiful alpine location, about an hour's walk, not easy to find in adverse conditions. Two triple rooms plus a dormitory with ten +X beds in the attic. A few enjoyable tours and mostly steep terrain are directly accessible. Overnight stay NOK 300 (150), tents incl. shared use NOK 150. Other interesting accommodations are the Trollfjordhytta (20km avalanche-exposed approach, or by boat through the Trollfjord; almost exclusively very steep terrain) and the Snytindhytta (according to the map, beautiful touring mountains in the surrounding area). The number of huts increases steadily towards the east, so there are bound to be a few treasures. More information on the official tour page of the DNT (click on huts/tours on the map for more information).

Camping: The famous Everyman's Right allows wild camping as long as you are not on agricultural land and at least 200m from the nearest building. However, with good will and possibly prior agreement, you don't have to take these restrictions too seriously. Taking garbage with you and burying what you have digested is a matter of honor. The larger campsites on the Lofoten Islands, e.g. der and der are open, but do not expect camping guests in winter. However, these three have provided us - mostly without being asked - with kitchens and lounges, as well as fan heaters, at no extra charge. Wifi is often free. During the Easter holidays, it can be useful to reserve permanent accommodation in good time. Overnight stay: 2 tents around NOK 250; small bungalow (4 beds, without kitchen, bathroom) around NOK 400; cabins with bathroom and kitchen are also usually available (from NOK 750, not tested)

Surfing: The only option we know of for renting is 'Unstad Arctic Surf'. If the waves at the house beach are not suitable, you can also take the equipment to another beach (in our case Flakstad). Rental fees: Wetsuit NOK 400 for 4 hours, surfboard (free choice of model) NOK 400 for 4 hours. Shorter rental times are unfortunately not possible, 2 hours would be enough for an (advanced) beginner to be completely exhausted. Showers afterwards are free, sauna/wellness (not tested) if you stay overnight.


All in all, the Lofoten Islands are still a jewel among ski touring destinations and are almost ridiculously underpopulated compared to the Alps, even on the best-known routes. You don't have to look far for untouched nature, solitude and lifelong dream-fulfilling descents. Even if you've already seen photos, it's hard to keep a dignified expression on your face at the sight of the impossible terrain, especially in the first few days. A classic case of 'must see/experience' (the Lofoten Islands, not the faces). Our low-budget approach worked out, we spent a good EUR 220 per person for the whole vacation, plus EUR 80 for surfing. However, in our case, of course, expenses for the journey from Central Europe and a rental car on site were not included. Like every conclusion, this one ends with the standard of successful trips: ? The 10 days were far too short to do everything we wanted to, but we will definitely be back. So, don't plan too much, make the most of every good weather day (that's where we have the most to improve) and come roaring back to the pointy Viking islands next spring!

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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