Text: Torkel Karoliussen Photo: Chris Holter, Nikolai Schirmer, Sverre Hjørnevik
This Article was published in 2018.
Fill the Chamonix valley with salt water up to the midstation of the Aiguille du Midi cable car, and you’re getting somewhere close. Add a white sandy beach to the Vallée Blanche fjord, a few fishermen’s cabins nestling in the bay under the ENSA couloir, and a fishing village at Grand Montets. Or take the Lyngen peninsula, a few degrees further north, sink the Lyngen Alps halfway down into the sea, turning the valleys into fjords and straits, and you have something resembling Lofoten.
But this kind of virtual guided tour might not be necessary. If you’re reading this, you have probably been bombarded with images and videos from Lofoten through every possible channel for the last few years.
But almost 20 years ago, when the first garments in the lofoten collection were still being developed, it was images of fishing boats and cod that we associated with the archipelago in the far north, while functional, technically advanced and durable shell clothing was mainly associated with serious mountain climbing and expeditions, rather than skiing and snowboarding.
When a blend of backcountry, traditional Norwegian off-piste and Telemark skiing developed, along with new-school, snowboarding-inspired freestyle, you basically had three choices in terms of clothing. As backcountry skiers at the turn of the millennium, we could choose between clothing made for climbing, or clothing made for downhill skiing on pistes or in parks. None of the categories really offered what was right for our style of skiing.
At that time, downhill skiing clothes were typically lightly lined and had a fairly tight fit, designed to look good and be comfortable on the typical skier in European and American winter sports destinations, inspired by downhill racing culture. This was neither something that we wanted to identify ourselves with, nor something that worked particularly well in extreme weather or deep powder.
Snowboarding culture was an important source of inspiration for modern backcountry skiing, and what was then described as “new school” skiing. The tricks, the twin-tip skis—which doubled trick opportunities and variations—and the style came more or less directly from snowboarding. The clothes were baggy and comfortable to ski in, and were more appealing to those of us who could not identify with the racing and carving slopes.
From a technical point of view, most of the clothing on the market was pretty useless for the kind of backcountry skiing we were doing in terms of weather protection, durability and function. The garments got wet when it was mild, were too warm for intensive powder skiing and mountain ascents, and not robust enough to withstand close contact with stones, trees and steel edges.
Climbing clothing, developed through many years of major mountain ascents, had the best technical profile for a combination of lift-based backcountry skiing, mountain ascents and peak-bagging for those of us wanting to find new mountainsides to hike up and ski down. But the functions and fit were only suitable for climbing—no integrated gaiters, narrow legs which did not fit over ski boots, and short jackets without powder skirts to keep the snow out.
The solution came in the form of an outdoor clothing manufacturer experienced in working with users to drive forward technical developments. Climbers, mountain lovers and hunters had been aware of Norrøna’s quality for many years, and when we started knocking on the company’s door with our vision, a stack of ideas, sketches and some home-made prototypes, it was our turn to get some clothes made to the specifications we and many other backcountry skiers had been dreaming of.
A vision of hybrid garments
In the same way as we pictured Lofoten as an Alpine mountain lowered into the sea, we had a vision of hybrid garments, combining the technical properties of climbing clothing, specific functions of downhill skiing clothing, and elements of the fit and style of snowboarding clothing.
And just as Lofoten lacks what lies between steep Alpine mountainsides and the sea—dead time and annoying hikes—there was absolutely no compromise in how we imagined these ideal garments in terms of functionality.
We took numerous small details from climbers, downhill skiers and snowboarders, as well as from a few pairs of custom-made pants, and replicated the ones that worked well. Anything we thought we didn’t need, we aimed to strip away, and even the bold colors were not there just for fun—from a photography, film and safety aspect, there was a point to being seen on the mountain.
The buyers in some of the sports stores were just as skeptical the first time they saw the technical shell pants, in baggy, bright green designs, as some of the residents of Lofoten had been when they saw a group of backcountry skiers standing on the quayside, pointing up at the mountain. These days, you can find technical shell clothing specially designed for backcountry skiing in any sports store within snowballing distance of snow-clad mountains, and colorful backcountry skiers are now a regular feature of the winter scene in Lofoten.
The spectacular surroundings, extreme contrasts and sudden transitions which define the archipelago north of the Arctic Circle are what made Lofoten a natural symbol for our collection, and why we have borrowed the name. Of course, backcountry skiing has continued to evolve since that time, with new skiers who are constantly moving the boundaries. While the same is true of the lofoten collection, there are still traces of our original vision and ideas, and of the expectations that come from the association with what might just be the most beautiful skiing and snowboarding playground in the world.