Travel Stories

Norse Power

Splitboarding in the Norwegian fjords with Enni Rukajarvi and the Nomads Bus

Words & photos by Duthie, video by Will Nangle

It takes a lot to ruffle Enni Rukajarvi’s feathers. Even as a 20-year-old rookie, she was swiping X Games slopestyle gold from under the noses of Jamie Anderson and defending champ Jenny Jones. From the FIS World Cup circuit to the Air + Style, she’s topped the podium time and again in Big Air too. Then there’s her two consecutive Olympic medals, one of which was earned during the most dangerous contest in recent memory.

Now, however, cracks are beginning to appear in that cool Finnish exterior. For the last ten minutes, an aggressively affectionate toddler has been climbing her like a tree. “Wow…” is all she can bring herself to say, as three-year old Fenna wraps a set of tiny arms around her neck and plants her face limpet-like against one of her cheeks. The smile remains, but the eyes look like they’re working on an exit strategy.

Sorry, Enni – for the next five days, there is no escape. Welcome to the Nomads Bus.

Enni extols the merits of the Norway model

“The snow has finally arrived, and so has the welcome wagon – all 40-odd feet of it”

The story of the Nomads bus begins in 2014, when Belgian couple Tim Boffe and Valerie Cook crowdfunded €20,000 to convert a classic American yellow school bus into a “hostel on wheels” – one that would be fully kitted out for winters in the mountains, free to head for wherever the snow and weather were best. The project caught fire, the target was reached, and after a long conversion job the Nomads Bus (affectionately known as ‘Jumbo George’) was good to go.

Before long they’d settled into a nice rhythm: Val does the lion’s share of the cooking, while Tim drives the bus and, in his capacity as a fully certified mountain guide, leads the guests on the mountain. Peak winter is spent travelling around the Tyrol Valley, before driving north to the Lyngen Alps for spring splitboarding. After a stellar Austrian season, things in Norway have been at relatively low tide, but luck is with us by the time our crew (rounded out by videographer Will Nangle) assembles in the Arctic Circle. The snow has finally arrived, and so has the welcome wagon – all 40-odd feet of it.

While it easily dwarfs everything else on the road, getting it to comfortably house six guests – as well as Tim, Val, Fenna and their Swiss mountain dog, Lewis – was always going to be a challenge. A lot of thought has gone into the layout, without so much as a square inch going unused.

Behind the driver’s seat are two booths that can be joined together to form a large dining table, the seats of which lift up to reveal space for food storage. Then there’s a kitchen complete with four gas hobs and sink, and a wood-burning stove that doubles as a boot-drier. At the mid-point you’ll find a triple bunk bed on either side, followed by coat hooks and a stack of mini cupboards. Then comes the shower and toilet, with the family room right at the back. Snowboard gear and avalanche equipment lives in the luggage compartments underneath the bus.

Joining us for the week are live-in videographer Mike Snider, keeping the popular vlog series ticking over, and Marta, who helps to look after Fenna on the days when Val joins the tour. Naturally it’s a bit of a squeeze at times, but the Nomads Bus is comfortable and cosy, with everything we need and nothing we don’t. As Tim shuts the pneumatic doors with a satisfying clank and plots a course for our first stop, it’s hard to imagine where we’d rather be.

“The Nomads Bus has everything we need and nothing we don’t”

Enni enjoying some freedom of movement in the trees

Reaching the start of our first ascent takes less than an hour, at which point we’re all immediately sworn to secrecy (if you want to know where this particular spot is, you’ll have to make your own trip). The trail begins right from the road, and before long we’ve zigzagged up into a clearing. Below us we can just about make out the bright yellow homing beacon of the bus.

The way down is all tight trees – the weather’s just not good enough to bother with anything else – but there are some lovely powder pockets to be found. Lewis leads the charge, with Enni right on his tail; while the park may be her comfort zone, it’s clear that she’s no stranger to pow. There’s only time for one ascent in this zone, as our next port of call is a ferry ride away, but it feels just right for a warm-up.

On the other side of the crossing lives Colin, a Canadian expat who is establishing his own brewery on a remote farm. Sadly he’s got nothing ready for us to sample, but we do get to hook up to his power supply and use his shower. He joins us for dinner – a monster mushroom risotto – and a few rounds of an obscure card game known as Jungle Speed. “Tim and I are gnarly strict, just so you’re aware,” warns Val before we begin.

Life on the bus is far from a digital detox – we’ve had perfect 4G coverage for the whole trip, and when they’re off the clock our hosts like nothing more than watching trashy reality TV – but these opportunities to go screen-free are definitely part of the Nomads experience. As is the carousel of new faces, of which Colin is just the first.

For Tim and Val, the bus isn’t just a way to make a living out of chasing the snow. The dynamic is a million miles away from your classic, aggressively perky chalet-host experience. In every way, it resembles something much closer to family. It’s people that matter most to them, not powder, as made clear by the names of their early crowdfunders written all over the bus. We find ‘Whitelines’ etched into the toilet wall, but decide not to read too much into that.

“The dynamic is a million miles away from your classic, aggressively perky chalet-host experience. In every way, it resembles something much closer to family”

Meanwhile Fenna experiences what they call ‘adventure parenting’. The bus is the only true home she’s known up to this point – “this is where she took her first steps,” says Val proudly, pointing to the small area of floor between the sink and the hobs. Fenna’s days are spent drawing, cooking, playing and exploring – either on the mountain, or just around wherever the bus is parked. All winter round long she’s making fast friends out of strangers, and as a result she is as outgoing and confident a girl as you’d find anywhere. Enni would no doubt agree.

The poor weather seems to have followed us across the fjords, but the hills surrounding Colin’s patch are packed with trees, so we head up in search of some definition. Tim guides us to some good spots, but makes it clear that this isn’t really what journeys on the bus is about. If, like us, you’re trying to get some photos and footage in a whiteout, then scratching around in the woods is fine – but it feels like we could be anywhere in Europe.

Once Enni has a few shots in the can, the clouds start to let up. The day is too far gone to have time to get everything organised and drive to another spot, but Tim comes up with a plan and makes a few calls. The next thing I know I’m in a clapped-out old banger being driven by a local and his daughter, neither of whom speak any English. They drop us in a snowy lay-by, where we meet Colin’s friend Kjarten. A sled owner, he has offered to save us some daylight by shuttling us up to a nearby ridge.

Once reassembled at the top, the first thing we do is trade our stories of how we each fell off the back of Kjarten’s sled. Enni’s years of getting snowmobile lifts at the X Games have done nothing to warm her to them, and when our throttle-happy escort spins his steed around to collect another passenger, she’s visibly relieved. Besides, the reward – a powdery ridge-line descent with a stunning fjords-and-fishing-villages backdrop – is well worth it. We’re definitely in Norway now.

Hopefully no cliff-edge situations here

Having scoped out a line or two, the next day’s plan is to park the bus near the same spot and swap horsepower for good old skinning. There’s a slight hiccup as we leave Colin’s place when the bus gets stuck in a ditch, but the Nomads are nothing if not prepared; with the help of some chains, shovels and rolls of carpet, we’re soon back on the level. For Lewis it appears to be the highlight of the trip, backflipping with jaws agape every time a shovelful of snow flutters back to earth.

There’s been a bit of an overnight reset, so yesterday’s line is looking just as enticing as before, but there’s more than enough time to first head up to a nearby face; a wide, untouched cruiser broken up by saplings. Val, who has swapped her skis for a splitboard, lets out a whoop as she reaches the bottom, as Lewis bounds along just behind. Tim is a little red-faced after a premature ABS activation, but otherwise it’s been another memorable day. With the weather closing in, we finish up with another blast of the ridge.

By the time we rejoin the bus, it has a neighbour. Xavier, a member of the ‘Trailer Trashers’ (a group of van owners who travel in convoy around the Alps like an Austrian Car Danchihas pulled up alongside. His wagon is a more modern affair than Jumbo George, not least because it’s set up for working remotely as a web developer. 

Crucially, it also contains a few slabs of Belgian beer; this being Norway, all but the most financially masochistic tourists are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers for a post-shred refreshment. Tim fires up the bus’ external speakers (betraying a passion for novelty rap in the process) as we pop the tops and discuss the next day’s plan.

“Enni looks at a loss for words. She eventually finds five that will do the job; ‘This is a fucking bummer…‘”

By this point in the trip, we’ve all started to find our morning rhythm; not yet Eric and Ernie, but we’re at least moving in that direction. Whether it’s scrambled eggs or her signature burritos, breakfast à la Val is always worth getting up for – especially with hot takes on last night’s episode of Temptation Island served on the side.

One of the many positives of a springtime splitboarding mission is the fact that there’s no mad scramble to get your boots on. Forget elbowing nuclear families in the ski lift queue to score fresh tracks; we can ease into the day however we see fit, knowing that the powder will still be there once we’re suitably fuelled up. For Enni, that means squeezing a sachet of gooey, weapons-grade vanilla coffee into a flask. Meanwhile Fenna is spreading honey onto slices of cucumber, and asking me to pass the Marmite.

With time on our side and the weather playing ball, we drive to Nordlenangen for the biggest mission yet. Tim leads the way up a narrow path through the trees, which soon opens out into a monster bowl. We’re looking at a climb of almost 1000 vertical metres, but the down will certainly be worth the up.

Heading for the sunlit uplands?

After a four-hour climb, the clouds arrive moments before we reach the zone we’d been eyeing up, and soon we’re in a thick pea-souper with no breaks in sight. For the second time on the trip, Enni looks at a loss for words. She eventually finds five that will do the job; “This is a fucking bummer…”

Still, we’ve seen enough on the way up to know the lay of the land, and the snow is absolutely top-drawer. Bluebird days are all well and good, but when things are this premium underfoot then anything else is just a bonus. By the time we return to the trees at the foot of the mountains, everyone is absolutely buzzing. And while the top may not have delivered, further down there are more than enough stunning views of the Norwegian fjords to confirm why this part of the world is true bucket-list territory.

"We spend £millions on European ski resorts - let's fund our splitboarding instead"

Tim mentions that if we were disappointed in what the weather did earlier, things might be looking up. He has been tracking the likelihood of a Northern Lights appearance on an app (all part of the service) and reckons that tonight is the best chance Will and I will get to see them for the first time. We’re grateful for the update, and tell him that while it won’t make or break what has been an amazing trip, it has the potential to be the icing on the cake. At some point this gets lost in translation, and a few hours later Tim bursts back on to the bus shouting, “Hey guys, here’s your cream pie!”

By Nordic standards, this one is pretty average – a few wispy streaks of faded green – but for us it’s quite a sight; enough to merit standing outside the bus in the freezing night air for a good half-hour. Eventually our Finnish friend steps out in a show of solidarity, visibly amused by our enthusiasm at this bang-average Borealis. Chilled to the bone, we eventually head for the warmth of our bunks, with pies well and truly creamed.

While that feels like the natural end point of our trip, our flight home isn’t until the following afternoon. There’s time, says Tim, to squeeze in one last tour before we head off – and the skin track begins right where we’re parked. With no coding required today, Xavier joins us for the ascent of Buren, a peak less than an hour from Tromsø.

Norway Plus

“For Tim and Val, the bus isn’t just a way to make a living out of chasing the snow”

There are telltale signs of strong winds as we make our way up, and as soon as we reach an exposed patch it’s almost impossible to hear Tim’s instructions over the noise of the gale-force gusts. His verdict is that we’ll never make it to the summit in this, so we’re to reassemble the boards where we stand and take route one back to the bus. The changeover is hairy, with some riders’ skins nearly embarking on an unplanned Polar expedition, but soon everyone’s ready to drop.

Maybe it’s too much time spent cooped up in his van building websites, but regardless of the conditions today Xavier has clearly turned his dial up to full send. Will and I are left slack-jawed as he launches off a blind roll, emerging a few seconds later with a Cheshire cat grin, looking like he’s just popped off a roller on a blue run. Another heart-in-mouth moment comes when Lewis goes off the radar, but before long he’s back in view, bounding happily through the white stuff like an Andrex puppy.

At the end of another long, leg-burning, holler-inducing descent, the sight of the water’s edge means that our time is up. Tim appears behind me through the trees, then drops onto the road and slides off in the direction of the bus. His home. Our home.

A few hours later and he’s once again pulling the lever for the door. With aching legs we step out of the comforting chaos of the Nomads Bus, and into the cynical functionality of Tromsø airport. It feels like madness. Meanwhile, Tim and Val fire up the engine and head off to prepare for the next set of guests, and the next adventure.

The Nomads Bus will be in Norway in March, April & May 2019, with options to suit all ability levels. They also welcome guests in the summer for hiking, fishing and bouldering. Spaces are extremely limited – to book, or for more information, head to

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