A GUIDE TO ANTARCTICA: SKI TOURING
Swedish mountain guide PER ÅS has skied some of the most awesome backcountry on the planet not least in his home backyard of La Grave in the Haute Alps. But guiding in Antarctica for the first time was, he says, 'the most amazing trip I have ever been on'. Proving the point he took over 1500 photos. Here he shares a few of them - and memories - with STYLE ALTITUDE.
Q. So what made you decide to go to the Antarctic?
I had heard about this amazing trip for a couple of years and, last year, I got a group of clients committed and well, we had a great trip!
Q. How do you get to the Antarctic? And travel around once you are there?
We meet in Usuhaia, Argentina. Usuhaia is a fantastic little town surrounded by mountains and glaciers. We did one ski tour there before we boarded the Sea Adventurer the following day and set off to traverse the Drake Passage which, I have to admit, was one the things I was uneasy about. I have been at sea since I was a kid, but this is different. Kind of for real!
Q. What size group were you? Were you the only guide?
The Sea Adventurer takes 120 passengers. We were 20 guides and about 80 skiers. You work in teams of one guide and four clients. Very often we worked two groups together. The zodiacs takes 10 people. These we used every day to get from the ship to land.
Q. What was a typical day like, skiing the Antarctic? Is it significantly more dangerous?
The whole trip is super well organized. Even with this amount of people it works really well. I was a bit worried about the number and logistics but, in fact, Doug Stoop, the guy running the trip, is an amazing organizer and very professional. It all went really smoothly. We would line up ready to enter the zodiacs on slot times that are made up in the morning. So you will hear your guide's name and departure time over the speaker system. As there are almost 20 hours of daylight in Antartica, this time of year, there is no stress for light.
Some days we did a morning ski tour, got back on the ship for lunch and then went back out in the afternoon. A couple of days we spent the whole day skiing. The landscape is more than breathtaking. We move constantly on very big glaciers that drop straight into the ocean often by a huge serac edge. You almost always tie in on the climbs skinning.
Antartica is a very dry continent. It is constantly snow covered but it does not snow often or big amounts. This means you have to be very careful with crevasses, snowbridges and bergschrunds. There is also no rescue what so ever that would be able to get there. Too long for helicopters and planes, no other boats in the area. For that matter, it is good to be 20 mountain guides on board so as to be able to organize a rescue in case it is needed.
Antartica is not a place where you are going to try your latest trick or charge down a run losing control.
I feel it is also important to get the whole Antartica experience. Many days in the end of the ski tour we were cruising in the zodiacs around icebergs and watching leopard seals, penguins and even whales. We had the opportunity to visit a few research stations, most of them unmanned this early in spring. Every day there are lectures from the very professional expedition crew on board the Sea Adventurer. Great, interesting talks and slide shows about the bird life, ocean, and the wildlife in the southern hemisphere.
Q. What was the weather like - and the snow?
Like anywhere sea meets mountains, the weather changes very fast. We had it all! From cold fresh powder to perfect corn, with all the temperature ranges that this involves.
Q. What was the worst thing about the trip? And what is your best memory?
There was no worst thing on this trip! It is the most amazing trip I have ever been on, so I have only great memories and about 1500 pictures! There were quite a few people who got seasick during the Drake Passage; they probably have some bad memories of the 52 hr trip. Twice. But I was fine, so that was great.
Q. And so you are going again? How many clients?
I am lucky enough to be going back in early November with a group of clients. A couple of Swedes, two Norwegians and one Brit. I am sure it will be as amazing as last year - if not more, as I will be better prepared.
Q. Is the Antarctic the new Lyngen?
Well, it is a very different trip and place compared to Lyngen in Norway. Some scenery you could compare, like mountains and ocean, but Antartica is so big. Glaciers all over and they all just dive straight into the sea. Actually, one of the most difficult tasks was to get from the sea up onto the ice. I love Northern Norway; I been going a couple of weeks every year for more than 10 years. But Antartica is special.
Q. How much skiing touring and/or mountaineering experience do clients need to 'do' Antarctica?
It is not the place to go for your first ski tour; at the same time we found everything from easy climbs and descents to the most challenging terrain. I would say it is good to be fairly familiar with all the equipment involved, such as skins, ski crampons, crampons and ice axe, as well as the transitions that comes with this.
Q. What was your favourite/best performance clothing that your wore?
I wore my Patagonia Powslayer Bibs and the PowSlayer ski jacket everyday. You kind of want waterproof for one reason that the sea could be very rough when in the Zodiacs. I always had my Patagonia DAS Parka - if not on, then in the pack.
For more about Mountain Guide, PER ÅS go to www.peras.se