Skiing the Slopes of Greenland’s Wild West

  • Ski touring on western Greenland's Sermersut Island.

    Ski touring on western Greenland's Sermersut Island.

  • The Rembrandt van Rijn in the icy waters off Maniitsoq.

    The Rembrandt van Rijn in the icy waters off Maniitsoq.

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Untouched snowfields abound on a ski-centric schooner trip through the fjords of Greenland’s wild west coast.

By Will Hide

You’ve thrown snowballs in Hokkaido, chiseled ice sculptures in Harbin, posed with a penguin in Antarctica, and gazed at the northern lights in Lapland. So if you’re a fan of holidays as far away from a sun lounger as you can possibly get, your next excursion should be ski touring in Greenland.

If nothing else, it’s exclusive. Each season, the 56-meter schooner Rembrandt van Rijn offers just three sailings along the island’s southwest coast, carrying a maximum of 33 passengers per trip. Cruises begin and end in the tiny, ice-bound town of Maniitsoq, which you access via a 40-minute turboprop flight from the even tinier settlement of Kangerlussuaq, home to Greenland’s largest airport. Once on board, your days unfold under the shadows of snow-clad mountains and ice-strewn fjords patrolled by guillemots and bowhead whales, with inflatable Zodiacs on hand to shuttle skiers ashore for daily sessions on the slopes.

For those of you thinking, “Who builds a ski lift in Greenland?” the answer, of course, is no one. Here, getting up a mountainside means climbing for several hours on touring skis fitted with specialized bindings and detachable “skins” on the underside that grip the snow. After that, it’s all downhill, speeding through fields of knee-deep snow secure in the knowledge that apart from your group, the nearest powder hounds are thousands of kilometers away in Europe and New England. (Alternatively, you can just go snowshoeing, if all that climbing sounds far too energetic.)

A well-appointed former fishing boat, the Rembrandt van Rijn has 16 en-suite cabins, all on the cozy side, though no one spends much time below deck when the scenery outside is so spectacular. There is a large dining area and library where guests—on my trip, mostly Germans, Austrians, and Swiss—meet to chat about the day’s skiing, play cards, or catch up on their reading. The English-speaking crew of 12 is a mini United Nations, originating from the Philippines, Germany, Siberia, and South America, including a jovial Argentine chef who does an amazing job of preparing restaurant-quality food in his small galley.

By late April and May, when the short season operates, the days are already long, and I enjoyed a week of unbroken sunshine. That said, good weather is far from guaranteed at these latitudes, and you have to accept a large degree of flexibility on the itinerary in case winds pick up and make a landing impossible. You have to be a good skier, too, with previous touring experience, to come along.

On my trip passengers split into two groups: the hard-core skiers, who climbed up to around 1,500 meters or more each day, skied down, then did the whole thing all over again in the afternoon; and a smaller band, of which I was one, who ascended in a more leisurely fashion to 1,000 meters or so, with plenty of stops for photos and snacks, then swooshed down just once, content with that being enough exertion for the day. The highlight came on our last day near Kangaamiut Kangerluarsuat Fjord, when we skied a wide bowl on crisp, forgiving snow, sweeping past glaciers in complete solitude under a cloudless blue sky, with magnificent scenery of endless ice and mountains all around. Afterward, back aboard the schooner, we sat out on deck with wide grins, soaking up the arctic rays. Who needs a sun lounger?

KE Adventure‘s eight-day Alpine Peaks of Greenland tour operates in April and May only, priced from US$4,551 per person not including return airfare from Copenhagen.

This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Glacial Progress”)

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