Alone in the midnight sun

Sam Vincent tackles a snowfield open 24 hours a day.

On a night with no darkness, on a hill with no name, I lace up my boots, strap into my snowboard and slowly slide away.

I'm in Greenland, riding under a sun that hasn't fully set for a week and won't for another three. Its faint light has turned the sky the colour of bushfire haze and the snow beneath me silvery-blue.

Above, the full moon is barely visible; ahead, snowy islands litter a calm sea. It's well past my bedtime but I'm sure Mum won't mind.

The Apussuit adventure camp is one of the best spots on Earth to ski and board under the midnight sun. Situated just south of the Arctic Circle on Greenland's west coast, it consists of four brightly painted cabins, one cafeteria and 250 square kilometres of rugged, nameless mountains. Despite having a top altitude of just 1100 metres, for most of the year there is too much snow here, and the camp is inaccessible before mid-March.

To get here I boarded a boat from the fishing town of Maniitsoq, an hour's flight north of Greenland's capital, Nuuk. My skipper was Gedion, full-time ski guide and free-time seal hunter who carefully scanned the waters for the creatures as we cruised the fjords.

We docked at a small jetty where another boatload of skiers were already waiting and from there everyone hopped on snowmobiles to be ferried 10 kilometres up to the cabins, perched 931 metres above Davis Strait.

With a daily limit of just 24 guests, Apussuit has become an exclusive retreat since opening in 1978. Pro skiers and boarders are regular visitors. But, as Gedion fondly recounted as we entered the cafeteria, the most famous visitors were Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary in 2004. Greenland is part of the Danish Commonwealth and soon after their wedding the couple visited Apussuit. Gedion showed me two pairs of sparkling ski boots sitting alone on a shelf. "Royal boots," he declared with pride.

For three days, the other 10 guests and I explored Apussuit's terrain with the help of the guides and their snowmobiles (there are no lifts here). Each day we slept in until midmorning before riding a series of vast glaciers and bowls, retiring to the cabins at 10pm.

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But now, on my last night, I am intent on boarding when the clock strikes 12. The guides and other guests - all of them Greenlanders - are fast asleep back up the hill. Midnight sun is no big deal for them but for me this is as good as it gets: complete isolation, stunning views and vast, empty slopes bathed in a sunset that is quickly turning into a sunrise.

For safety's sake I don't stray far from the cabins, riding a huge nearby glacier in surprisingly mild weather. Conditions aren't perfect, with recent rain making the snow a little heavy, but I'm not complaining.

The uniformity of the glacier makes it hard to tell how fast I'm going and it's only when I rise a crest halfway down the slope that I can check my speed against something - the cobalt waters of Davis Strait, stretching towards the horizon and eastern Canada beyond.

The glacier ends at sea level on a beach where two seagulls noisily wheel above their nests. As midnight passes, I watch the confused duo wait for the last rays of sunlight to disappear so they can get some sleep. They'll be waiting a while.

In Greenland they call these weeks without darkness "the long day". Time loses relevance, allowing people to do what they want, when they want. In years gone by, Inuit hunters would pursue herds of caribou across the tundra late into the morning, while nowadays those who choose to stay up late play soccer or go fishing with mates. Midnight snowboarding isn't a popular option, which is fine by me, out here with the mountains to myself.

It's a long hike back to the top and, after a few runs, I am utterly exhausted. When I return to my cabin, it's 3am and the sun is already high in the sky. Perhaps it's the jet lag, or maybe the fatigue but I stare at the stars in amazement, struggling to believe how bright it already is.

I'd been told of an elderly Maniitsoq man who recently went to a 10am doctor's appointment only to find the practice closed.

Confused, he looked at his watch: he had accidentally arrived at 10pm. I had laughed when I'd heard the tale but now, looking at the rising sun through my goggles, I can sympathise with the poor chap.

The writer was a guest of the Maniitsoq Tourist Office.

TRIP NOTES

Getting there

Air Greenland (www.airgreenland.com) flies weekly from Copenhagen to Maniitsoq with a change at Kangerlussuaq, from $1300 return. From Maniitsoq, Apussuit staff take guests to the camp by boat and snowmobile.

Staying there

Cabins consist of simple but cosy dorm rooms, with toilets, showers and sauna in a separate building. The price for a day's skiing, accommodation and meals is 1100 Danish kroner ($295) but considerable discounts are available for groups. Snowmobiles and skis are for hire.

When to go

Apussuit opens in mid-March and usually closes in July. Mid-June is the best time to ski and snowboard under the midnight sun.

Further information

See www.greenland.com and www.come2maniitsoq.com

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