White nights are the secret to a perfect summer holiday in Sweden

The white nights of summer bring out a rare wildness in the otherwise measured Swedes. On one such evening in mid-May, by the time the lift dropped us at the summit at Riksgränsen, the world’s most northerly ski resort, there was already a jubilant hubbub. Some of my fellow skiers and snowboarders posed for photos with the sun hovering over the Norwegian mountains behind them; others, apparently already half-cut, heaved crates of beer to rocky outcrops where they held sundowners in silhouette. We just sped straight down.

Tracks of shimmering gold

My legs felt leaden after a day spent mastering the six off-piste runs that snake down the front of the Riksgränsen peak with Joel, a mustachioed young guide from Gothenburg, who ended every sentence with the word ‘najs’, Swedish slang for ‘sweet’. But as soon as we got going, I accessed new reserves of energy and found myself racing once again down runs like ‘Bränten’ (the steep one), ‘Uffes Väg’, (Ulf’s wall), and Rimfors. The sun was so low over the pistes that it turned the ski tracks a shimmering gold. “Will the sun even set?” my skiing companion asked as we arch around in the chairlift between runs.  

When there’s enough snow, Riksgränsen also reopens at the end of June for Midsummer

It’s a question well beyond my school geography. The Arctic Circle, we agreed, marked where the sun does not set at midnight on Midsummer, but Midsummer was still nearly a month away on my visit in May 2021. Then again, we weren’t at the Arctic Circle, but more than 100 miles north of it.

From May 8 to May 22, the lifts in Riksgränsen, Sweden’s most northerly ski resort, reopen twice a week between 10pm and 12:30am to make sure guests can experience skiing on these extraordinary white nights.

“It’s something that has to be a bit exceptional, a small event in the week,” explained Christophe Risenius, the resort’s affable marketing director, on why they don’t do it every day. When there’s enough snow, Riksgränsen also reopens at the end of June for Midsummer, the biggest celebration of the year in still-slightly-pagan Sweden. 

According to a Swedish television executive I met at one of the resort’s small restaurants, it’s magical. “I brought my daughter here from London, and we were skiing in T-shirts,” he said. “She could not believe that she was standing on a mountain top with blue skies at midnight, and that then we could ski down. It was absolutely fantastic.”

On the night train from Stockholm

Skiing so late in the season is the glory of this resort on the far-northwestern tip of Swedish Lapland. Swedish skiers know this, with the real enthusiasts doing the Alps over Christmas or New Year, Sweden’s more southerly resorts over Easter, and then rounding off the season in late April or May with at least a long weekend in the north. I joined them for the very last week of the season, when the snow, for the most part, was buttery and spring-like.

I reached the resort on the night train from Stockholm – one of Europe’s great rail trips. In mid-May skiers leave the city with the cherry blossoms in full bloom, then awaken in northern Sweden where the winter ice and snow is only starting to thaw, passing rivers swollen with meltwater, and hour after hour of snow-speckled forest. Then the mountains spring upon you, with awe-inspiring views of the Lapporten, two peaks divided by a deep u-shaped glacial valley, and the ice-covered Torneträsk lake.

Riksgränsen is not for the faint hearted – the area offers some of Scandinavia’s finest heliskiing (Richard Orange, left)

Credit: Emil Ericson

This dramatic arrival is the epitome of this off-the-beaten-track destination, which beginners and small children would do best to avoid. Riksgränsen is not for the faint hearted – expert skiers, ski tourers and those in hunt of some of Scandinavia’s finest heliskiing will find bountiful opportunities. The award-winning Niekhu Mountain Villa, a few hundred metres up from the 600-room main resort, is known to a wealthy international ski elite, who take their private jets to Kiruna airport and then get whisked by helicopter to the remote outpost. Unlike the well-known heliski destinations of North America, Riksgränsen is just a short flight from Europe’s capitals, with no risk of jetlag. A helicopter can take you to the steep slopes of Kebnekaise, Sweden’s tallest peak, within 15 minutes.  

Calling experienced powder hounds

But you don’t have to be a wealthy daredevil to enjoy the very best of this northerly ski gem. The resort still has a lot to offer those with ordinary budgets, with the 15 marked pistes representing only about a third of the skiing made accessible by the lifts. There is an equal number of off-piste runs that boast fluffy powder well into late-season, and for the rest of the winter are enough to challenge the most experienced powder hounds. Then there’s ski-touring on the many surrounding peaks, starting with Nordalsfjället, the next mountain along, which you can hike up in ski boots in half an hour on a well-trodden track, to be rewarded by a view of one of the Norwegian fjords.

Poor visibility stopped me from reaching the top of Nordalsfjället and I never dared take on any of the resort’s notorious drops, such as Sheriffen (the sheriff), or Käps (the cap). But the view from the top of Riksgränsen at midnight was stunning enough. 

After nearly two hours of night skiing the sun did indeed set, dipping behind Norway’s Bukkerfjellet mountain in the distance. But that didn’t bring darkness. The surrounding peaks turned a pinkish peach and, while the slopes around us stopped sparkling, we still had more than half an hour’s skiing to do before the lifts closed – Riksgränsen is the Swedish summer skiing secret that keeps on giving. Najs!

Riksgränsen opened on February 25 2022 and will stay open until May 29 2022

Credit: Lapland resorts/Lapland resorts

How to get there

Riksgränsen opened on February 25 2022 and will stay open until May 29, 2022. A five-day lift pass costs 1795 SEK (£150) for adults, and 1,410 SEK (£120) for youths/seniors. 

Ski Safari offers a package tour to Riksgränsen with a seven-night B&B stay at the Riksgränsen Hotel based on two adults travelling starting from £995 per person, including flights from Heathrow and transfers to Riksgränsen.

See more in our guide to summer skiing.