It was not without a bit of trepidation that I booked a holiday at the Lyngen Lodge, located three hours by road north of Tromso in Norway, the northernmost city of the Arctic Circle. I was traveling solo and this would be the first time I would be traveling so far north all by myself. After a stunning drive through the Norwegian fjords, I finally arrived at the lodge with three more guests. As soon as we got off the car, we were warmly greeted by a pleasant-looking man who graciously welcomed us inside the lodge. He seemed to be in his forties and his British accent surprised me as much as it put me at-ease! Having traveled so far above the Arctic Circle, I did not expect to meet any Britishers here, but I have to confess that it was kind of comforting to hear a familiar accent in an unknown part of the world! (PS:London is home:))
After formal introductions, I found out that this pleasant-looking man was in fact the owner of the lodge - Graham Austick, a professional UIAGM International Mountain Guide, Diploma Ski Teacher and Yacht Master. Originally from Newcastle in England, Graham used to own a skiing company in Austria that offered off piste skiing to worldwide destinations. One of these destinations was Lyngen in Norway where he decided to build the Lyngen Lodge in 2008.
The lodge with its breathtaking views of the fjords, comfortable rooms, spacious lobby, sauna, outdoor spa and world-class kitchen, is the perfect place to retreat from the world. All this combined with the daily Arctic adventures and activities, makes for the ultimate Arctic holiday in the Arctic Alps. Moreover, the genuine and personal caring of the guests extended by Graham and his wife Veronica, who runs the lodge with him, adds that special touch to the holiday that will make you want to come back here again and again.
I caught up with Graham to know more about life in the Arctic and how he came from Newcastle to living so close to the North Pole.
1. So how did it all begin?
I grew up in Newcastle and started out working for my dad's electrical engineering firm. After a while it was a case of 'Son, you ain't going to fit in here'. I spent every possible spare minute skiing, so pretty soon I decided I had to make it my career. I moved to St Anton, Austria, and by 2000 had become the first Briton to have both the top British skiing-instruction qualification and the highest-level mountain guiding certificate. The same year, I set up Piste to Powder, a ski school specifically catering to the growing number of people who wanted to ski off-piste. I started running trips to ever more remote slopes - from Greenland to Alaska, Russia, the Himalayas and South America. I pushed into the least visited areas, until clients were skiing down mountains that had never been climbed, let alone skied before.
2. What inspired you to build a lodge in the Arctic Lyngen Alps?
In actual fact, I felt the lodge’s location chose me rather than me choosing it. I spent several years travelling by charter sailboat through the region guiding skiers. On one particular trip I visited the Kåfjord region on the eastern side of the Lyngen Fjord to ski a mountain called Store Haugen above the small village of Djupvik. Climbing through the forest I noticed a wonderful clearing above the fjord. An instant vision flashed through my mind “Graham you’re going to build a lodge and provide a permanent base for skiers to come and ski”. From that exact moment onwards my life took a deviation down a road I never imagined.
I took out my camera and snapped a photo of the location – on that day I was carrying two cameras, one large SLR and one small point and shoot camera. After taking a photo of the location with the large camera I packed it away only to accidentally lose the small one. A week later, when I was back in Austria, I got an email from the boat skipper in Norway, that someone had found my camera. I hadn't forgotten about the vision of the lodge and decided to go back with my mother and Elisabeth, who co-owns the lodge today. The person who had found the camera was John Johanssen, a property development officer, who helped me acquire the land for the lodge.
3. What is it like to live in a place so far removed from city-life with 24 hours of full daylight or darkness and where aurora borealis play in the night sky?
I feel truly privileged to live under the Aurora Borealis. This phenomena never ceases to amaze me because the Northern Lights are never the same twice, new shapes and colours light the night sky and overtime you witness them it is a confirmation that the universe is a powerful creator. I feel at ease living away from city life, I visit on occasions but am always happy to return to the peace of nature, it is where I belong. I have however had to make some adjustments to cope with the 24hrs light in summer and the darkness in winter. To stay healthy, fit and busy in mind are key factors to surviving long term periods with sunshine.
4. What has been the most challenging part of settling down in the Arctic? How has it been different from growing up in England and living in Austria?
The most challenging part of settling down here has been leaving your root culture and immersing yourself into a complete new life where cultures and language differ from what you are comfortable with back in your earlier life.
5. Is there a Norwegian custom that from a British perspective, is still difficult for you to understand? How do you think the Norwegians are different from the Britishers or even Austrians?
Norwegians on first meeting can be a little reserved but if they invite you into their personal circle of friends then you have a friend for life. There is no pub social culture in Norway and in the UK this is a very strong backbone to the social network of the country, this is a major difference between Norwegian and British life.
6. What is your favorite travel destination in the world besides Norway?
My favourite travel destination beside Norway is Asia, I seek difference and diversity and Asia offers just that to the Arctic.
7. Is there a next?
I will continue to remain focused to offer the richest Arctic experience to our guests who travel a long way across the world to visit this unique region of the world.
8. And lastly, I was pretty surprised when you told me you visited only Varanasi in India. Why did you choose Varanasi?
I was on a skiing expedition to Nepal and after that was completed I decided to travel overland to Delhi and take in the Varanasi on route. Varanasi for me is the heart of the historic Indian culture where all roads seem to point to the Ganges River. I was awestruck by the atmosphere and even though it has been many years since my visit, I still have memories of vivid images of my experience there. What a place, a complete and opposite contrast to my life here!