Words: Miikka Hast
The Approach & Attack crew was drawn back north in late March as the spring sun starts to warm the powder in the northern hemisphere’s lower latitudes. The guys were still hungry for powder and Tamok provides this spring luxury, more as a constant than a rarity, even late in April. But snow was not the only reason for the crew to set camp in this zone for the end of the season. There is abundance of mountains to explore with no one around. What could be better than a whole valley just for you and your friends?
Tamok valley is located just north of the 69th parallel in the Scandinavian Alps, one-and-a-half hours’ drive from Tromsø, which is the largest city in the area. The coastline of northern Norway’s mountainous region is broken, rugged and extremely beautiful. It is the European equivalent of Alaska, but there are no resorts, heli-, or snowcat-operations around and even sleds are forbidden. Mountains and jagged peaks are accessed only by foot and they reach as far as the eye can see – in fact, the number of peaks in the vicinity of Tromsø is rather divine, or devilish if you prefer; 666. Tamok valley is home to many of these peaks but freeriders only discovered this paradise fairly recently. Most of the mountains were still unridden just a decade ago. Since then, Tamok has established an underground name for itself as the freeride mecca of the north. The more stable weather, snow and good tree riding makes Tamok stand out from the surrounding areas – you can always find something to ride even if the weather gets nasty. This fits perfectly into the idea of Antti Autti‘s movie project: there is always something good to ride as long as you get creative. The plan was to shred, film it and document the unique and wild atmosphere of the valley for the new Approach & Attack movie.
There are not many places left on the planet like Tamok. It is wild, beautiful, harsh, uncrowded and still partly unridden and undiscovered. You can touch the wilderness just by hiking off the road. The crew’s first week was reserved for getting used to the snow conditions, vast mountain terrain, hiking and the wilderness. We were after the zen-like feeling of being immersed by Tamok – the valley becomes your reality and the outside world feels far away and irrelevant. Tamok tends to have this effect on people who love to ride the mountains, enjoy the wild nature and spend time in this quiet valley. That feeling is also the reason why people always seem to return to the area. We were no strangers to the feeling of tranquility being in Tamok brings due to our previous trips but we wanted to try to show it to others as well. Our team consisted of riders Antti Autti and myself, filmers Teemu Lahtinen and Matti Ollila, photographers Rami Hanafi and Jani Kärppä, and guide/rider Osku Siivonen.
The rumours of good snow conditions proved to be true. The snow pack was already thick and soft when we arrived in the valley, and it was still snowing. First, we met up with the man of the valley, Aadne Olsrud. He is a Tamok-grown snowboarder who loves his mountains and also wants to share them with others. He is also the avalanche expert and lodging provider in the valley. We settled in to one of his houses and gleaned valuable information on the conditions. At that moment the snow was good and stable but according to the forecast there was lot more to come. That sounded perfect, as long as the conditions remained safe.
We started our search for the Tamok feeling in the treeline the next day. The forecast seemed the hold true, as it was dumping still, and over the next few days it felt more like we were in Japan than Norway. Tree runs between thin birches and waist deep light powder was not what you would expect in late March but we were not complaining. The unbelievable snow helped us to ease into the Tamok feeling in no time. Soon there was no room in the mind for anything else except the mountains, powder, snowboards… and the private helicopter that was about to arrive.
Heliboarding is forbidden in Norway but Aadne has managed to arrange special permits for several years now with help from Jarkko Henttonen, the Finnish freeride pioneer, who along with Aadne has pioneered snowboarding in these mountains. They made the special heli opportunity possible somehow and Antti managed to squeeze some private hours for the project. We enjoyed the hiking and environmentally friendly snowboarding a lot but there’s no denying that a helicopter just gets things done when filming – fresh legs and elevated camera angles makes a huge difference in such a vast mountain area. The feeling was special indeed when the heli arrived. There was spot reserved for the bird at the small parking lot; it was still snowing and the visibility was poor when we first heard the sound of the blades. After the snow cloud settled the helicopter, our helicopter, was parked next to some camper vans and our house. An empty mountain valley, powder and helicopter for us to use. It was unreal.
But the snow kept on coming. We got to fly a little every now and then but during those short moments we only had time to check the snow conditions in the alpine terrain and film briefly. The snow was awesome but the constant accumulation kept us alert and the persistent low pressures kept circling the valley and kept us mostly stuck at the bottom and in the trees. The bird was paralyzed next to the campers. We could not believe that the Japan-esque conditions just continued. Soon we were literally marooned in the valley when they closed the road at both ends due to massive snow loading and rising avalanche risk.
The sky opened for a few hours on that particular day when the road was closed. We used the short weather window for flying around and riding some amazing powder. The conditions were much more stable than everybody had feared. We still rode with high caution in conditions that started to remind us of stable Alaskan powder. It felt magical to ride and be up on the mountains on that day when nothing moved in the valley except us.
The weather started to calm down and stabilize a bit but we were still lacking the clear days that we needed for the bigger missions we’d planned. We also had to re-check the snow conditions daily and the constant loading kept us away from the bigger faces. The waiting game started to wear on us. The bird was there for a reason and time was running out – some creativity was needed to get the shots. We found some really nice chutes and small couloirs in the treeline that worked out well and we also got few more short moments in the alpine terrain that we used as fast as we could before the clouds rolled in again. But there remained tons of spots and lines just waiting for the sky to clear for full day at least. It did not feel good to ride the bigger stuff in a hurry and zigzag between the clouds. The stand-by mode was driving us little crazy but we had to respect the nature.
The first bigger high pressure system appeared on the forecast around the same time as the helicopter was disappearing over the horizon. It was ironic; like nature wanted to push us on our feet again. And indeed, then there was only sun in the forecast for the next days. Our luck with the helicopter did not work out as we’d had hoped but we were still really fortunate with the record breaking snow conditions. We packed our heavy 30kg backpacks and headed out on a camping mission for few days. Jonas Hagstörm had joined us few days earlier. He must have brought the Swedish luck with him.
Hiking was a big change to the momentum but it actually felt good. The haste and the pressure were gone and the long-awaited sun shone from a clear blue sky. We were immersed in the moment again and everything else drifted away as we set up our tents on a plateau 1000 metres above the sea level. Our campsite was located at the end of one of the mountain valleys that rose straight up from the road. The five hour hike up with heavy loads was tiring but the muscle burn vanished with unfolding terrain and scenery. We were surrounded by lines and spots 270 degrees of the view circle and the remaining quarter was reserved for a sea view. It is one of the most beautiful settings a snowboarder could imagine.
After the tents were set we still had time to squeeze in some good riding. This far up north the days are long in April and in May the sun does not set at all anymore. We all took our own lines and spots above and below the campsite and the filmers just had to point and shoot as the riders dropped in. Conditions were perfect and the setting sun even coloured the powder pink, which was the icing on the cake.
The sky remained clear all night and the for the days to come. The weather window we had waited three weeks for had finally arrived and we were definitely in the right spot to welcome it. The frustrating waiting game with the helicopter was long forgotten, even when the muscles were burning from weeks of riding, hiking and shooting. Nobody said it aloud but everybody felt it; we were experiencing the pinnacle of the trip and the whole season. We were fully immersed by the feeling Tamok gives you and certainly got what we went there for.