Throwback Thursday! I published this from my Marker/Volkl Norway trip last spring of 2015. For those of you who are not out having backcountry fun this Christmas Eve, enjoy a read you might have missed. Also, we here at Wildsnow dot com wish you all the most wonderful Christmas ever. Be safe, get lots of turns, enjoy your loved ones and friends — and beware the Troll Blood! Lou
My day begins with guilt. The boys were having nothing to do with a rest day at Leirvassbu Mountain Lodge. I mumbled something to boss Stian about needing to do research, spoke with the lodge owner and a few clients for a couple of hours, then began quaffing pints on the snow patio while the crew did 600 vertical foot photography laps on a nicely featured bump south of the lodge (the Stehoe). It looked fun. So much fun I had to keep watching and resting my quads.
While the guilt remained as a tiny burning ouch in the back of my conscience, I redeemed myself as a blogger by interviewing a woman whose husband had convinced her to do a first — and clearly last — night of snow tent camping next to the lodge.
After completing an impressive spectacle of human powered digital imaging (witnessed by many of us on the patio), the group dropped in for a beer before dinner time.
This was the last day Leirvassbu Lodge was open for the winter-spring ski season. Stian had been dropping hints for two days about a fanatical dance party held every year to close out the year. So after the salmon and chocolate feast I sneaked to bed, as jigging to the relentless beat of euro-techno music was not my sport plan.
Instead, my agenda was to complete a day of power rest and tomorrow be in my best condition of the trip (Stian has also hinted it might be a big day of “going up to a summit and back around to the cars,” which translates to something like this in Norwegian: “We will walk for many hours, much without using heel lifts, and I will rib you about how many ibuprofen you pop”).
So, I have achieved blissful REM sleep in our room, far from any noisy happenings. Dreams are strong. One excellent fantasy involves myself wearing a Viking helmet with my now blond wife sporting a few Norse fashion accessories. Alas, I’m jolted awake by Scott, bless his heart, loudly asking “Hey Lou, you wanna go for a moonlight ski?”
There are those, many of our clan, who having once achieved a cozy blissful Norwegian sleep involving viking fantasy would have either bitten Scott’s head off, or simply groaned and rolled over. Or worse, fully ear plugged and sleep masked for hut living, our hapless protagonist would not have heard Scott in the first place. Such pitiful individuals are under the false impression that to stay healthy and safe they need sleep.
I, being a man with my soul tied to the peaks like a sailor lashed to his mast (as well as a man looking to assuage his rest-day guilt), could only jump out of bed, quickly, stating “Sure!”
We meet in front of the lodge. Headlamps not required as the moon is bright. Not that any of that matters, as Stian and the others are plenty lit up. Their power source? Stian offers me a sip of weird black fluid in a water bottle. Aha, troll blood, the worst thing I’ve ever tasted in Norway, or perhaps on planet earth.
Troll blood has a sort of chemically licorice taste, but roofing tar might be a better description. It smells like burning plastic. After a few sips I realize there is only one place this hallucinatory rocket fuel could have come from: Stian must have exsanguinated the stuff from a Viking tomb; making this a beverage that’s been aging more than 2,000 years!
A sip or two of troll blood is enough — at least if I remember correctly. I notice the bottle getting passed around but it remains strangely full. Magic troll flask, or skiers wise to the perils of the jotun?
We skin up the same track on the Stehoe that the guys had used for their daylight photography extravaganza, only now it’s shiny hard — a caramelized pastry. Problem is the snow surface everywhere is glazed after sun and a re-freeze. Troll teeth rocks lurk below every awkward kickturn. The terrain isn’t particularly steep, but any experienced skier knows that given a recipe of surface glaze and rocks, the distinctive sound of nylon fabric sliding on snow might be the last thing your friends ever hear from you.
Scott is wisely sporting a Whippet pole and helm, but the rest of us are naked when it comes to spikes and cranial protection. Ski crampons would have made it a stroll. We have them of course — back in our rooms. In front of me, I notice Adam removing his pole straps, essential if you’re really going to use your ski sticks for a self arrest. I do the same.
The full moon is a blinding orb, hanging in the sky like a gigantic LED headlamp and appearing to move much slower than normal (it’s on the long track, just like the Norwegian springtime sun). I climb slowly, side stepping up slick sections of trail, using my ski pole basket to feel the snow below the track, to ascertain just how likely a slide for life would be. The results are not inspiring. I rationalize by telling myself that conditions are variable and if a slide-fall begins, I’ll hit a patch of powder and stop before ending up in the rocks, fully lacerated.
My troll blood level has remained minimal. This is a good thing, since I’m getting little spurts of adrenaline anyway both from my own hacking around each switchback, as well as from watching the other guys dependence on a few strands of goat hair sewing them to the mountain.
The situation is spectacular — some of the coolest night skiing I’ve ever done (I’m in Norway!). We can see the lodge, now far below with a few small yellow windows. Inky black shadows mark mysterious northerly reaches on the dark sides. A breeze picks up, but the air is not particularly cold and we’re heated from the climb. Despite the aesthetics I’ve had enough of the spicy skinning. Relief is swift; we hit softer snow for a final traverse over to a moonlit rib where we’ll strip skins.
Stian and Scott set up an action shot. This goes poorly in one sense, but elicits more laughs than a Will Ferrell movie scene. The resulting hole in the breakable crust is large. In fact, it appears as if a giant troll has rolled down the hill, digging bomb craters with each impact of his troll-gut (all trolls have large bellies). Any more description than that shall remain yours to imagine.
The rib we’re on is moonlit. My eyesight doesn’t do well with skiing in the dark, or in a moon shadow, so I stay high on the illuminated terrain. I hear joyful whoops coming from the darkness where the snow is more northerly and semi-pow. Adam comes flying by me. We both slow down at the top of a roller with no clear view of its topography. I don’t recall seeing anything heinous when viewed from the lodge, but still, a blind roll is never 100 percent when it’s 2:30 am and your only illumination is lunar. A bit of slow-skiing gets us over the transition. I’m still tentative as the moonlight is playing tricks on my perceptions. Or perhaps it’s the troll blood?
“It’s just marginally steeper,” says Adam as he blows by me and does a big fast slarve down the steep hardened snow. I follow.
With the suddenness of a power failure in a movie theater, I transition from moonlit piste to black powder. Fear chews me for a moment, but instinct takes over. “Let it go,” my inner voice says, “Just like skiing in a whiteout.” So I do, the turns flow, and in a few hundred yards I’m back in the moon glow following everyone to the lodge. My rest day has been avenged, my guilt dissolved just like my stomach lining after being doused with troll juice.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.