Land of the midnight run

At a resort that never sleeps, hitting the slopes way after his bedtime brings out Sam Vincent's inner shredder.

IT'S 2am in Sweden's northernmost nightclub and as a lone dancer shuffles awkwardly to Basement Jaxx, the staff are pulling blinds over the windows to prevent daylight from streaming in.

"This is the first ski resort I've been to," quips the bloke standing next to me at the bar, "where the sun parties harder than the skiers."

From mid-May until mid-July the sun doesn't set on Riksgransen ski centre, 1200 kilometres north of Stockholm and 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Despite having a top elevation of just 910 metres, Riksgransen's latitude means its 285 hectares of skiable terrain remains covered with snow well into summer, when the lifts run until their operators want to go to bed (usually 1am).

For years I've been tempted by stories of Swedes in speedos and bikinis skiing and boarding under the midnight sun between downing icy shots of liquorice schnapps. Then there's Riksgransen's place in snowboarding folklore as the site of Ingemar Backman's 6.5-metre air in 1996 - a world record (for height) that would stand for five years and a feat that is widely considered to have changed snowboarding's reputation from a fad to a genuine extreme sport.

I'm spending three days snowboarding Riksgransen's jet-black mountains, their spring streaking of snow making them resemble a series of giant, dormant Dalmatians. Though there are just 16 groomed trails, hiking up the nearby Nordalsfjall face offers great off-piste opportunities, with steep, winding chutes that duck in and out of Norway (Riksgransen translates as "the national border").

Unfortunately, the fog refuses to lift for the duration of my stay, keeping the temperature below 3 degrees and the outrageous pair of budgie smugglers I've brought consigned to my board bag. Nonetheless, it's a thrill to be snowboarding late into the night and the constant light and temperature keep the snow from getting too icy or slushy.

What Riksgransen lacks in size and vertical drop it makes up for in variety, with each run a virtual terrain park in itself, offering kickers, drops, rocks and rushing creeks to negotiate (skimming across these is particularly fun but mistime it and you'll be up to your waist in glacial snow-melt).

Riksgransen is an athlete's resort where respect is won from on-slope prowess, not the bagginess of your pants, size of your headphones or length of your bandanna.


In this competitive atmosphere, I find myself trying harder than usual to impress, my customary wussiness swept away by the recklessness of the place.

This is also very much a snowboarder's resort, with shredders outnumbering skiers on most days and the nearby back country playing host each May to the Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships, an extreme free-riding contest that usually involves a few broken bones.

Emulating my snowboarding heroes, I spend my first two days overtaking as many Swedes as possible on the groomed trails, interspersed with the occasional gruelling hike up 1050-metre Nordalsfjall for hair-raising descents among the boulders.

Each night, I retire late to Hotel Riksgransen, a 500-bed homage to Ikea furnishings, which has an award-winning restaurant offering local fare such as reindeer steaks, Arctic char and fresh cloudberries.

For a place that never sleeps (in summer at least), Riksgransen is surprisingly quiet.

The "resort" is little more than a cluster of wooden buildings painted the same tone of red as every other building in rural Sweden and the one supermarket is guarded by a dozing husky.

Indeed, Riksgransen is lucky to exist at all, having only been established thanks to a diplomatic gesture. In 1903, a 20-year railway project linking northern Sweden's vast iron-ore mines with the Norwegian port of Narvik was drawing to a close. In a symbolic ceremony, the two countries joined their tracks on the border - on the Riksgransen.

The hotel was built in celebration but it was only in 1930 that the place started to attract visitors, when Sweden's first ski school was established there. Alas, early on my third day my new-found competitiveness gets the better of me. Going way too fast down my favourite run, I catch an edge, hurtle out of control and slam into an unpadded T-bar pole, escaping with nothing worse than broken goggles and a headache.

Shamefully forced to catch the chairlift down to the hotel, I am cheered by the view of a lone skier in speedos - my first sighting! - and a thought pops into my head: thank god this place doesn't fall within Tony Abbott's electorate.

Sam Vincent travelled courtesy of Singapore Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and Riksgransen.

Trip notes

Getting there

Singapore Airlines flies daily from Sydney to Copenhagen via Singapore, priced from $1900. 13 10 11, From the Danish capital, Scandinavian Airlines flies twice daily to Kiruna via Stockholm (for about $350 return), from where a connecting bus plies the 130-kilometre route to Riksgransen. Alternatively, fly straight to Stockholm with SAS and catch an overnight train to Riksgransen.,

Staying there

The resort has midsummer ski packages including accommodation in Hotel Riksgransen, lift tickets, three breakfasts and "a surprise" (complimentary budgie smugglers?), priced from $220 a person.

Skiing there

Riksgransen opens in late February and usually closes in early July, with midnight skiing available from mid-May.

Further information