Words by Jurgen Groenwals | Photos by Eric Verbiest
“A secret spot.”
This is the swift – and somewhat curt – reply from our enigmatic guide, Mathias Andrä, to a group of Italian ski tourers who ask our destination. We are in the train station of Saint Petersburg, ready to begin a “twenty-something-hour” train ride towards Murmansk, and this inquisitive group seems to annoy our guide. It’s obvious that Mathias is not in the sharing industry.
Or perhaps his hangover explains it. Our arrival at Saint Petersburg’s train station follows a sightseeing tour of what must be one of the most beautiful cities in Russia, but also a night of heavy partying and a few too many shots of vodka. Either way, although the details are sketchy, our party is very excited about the destination Mathias has told us about. It lies far to the north, high above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s northwestern corner, near the anonymous little village of Apatity.
The Search for the Remote
A mutual friend had introduced me to Mathias and his SnowXplore company. I have been freeriding for years and developed a passion for unknown destinations worldwide. But where my idea of remote ends is where Mathias enters the game.
For years now he has been offering trips to off-the-beaten-track places like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kamchatka. He says he might stop his Uzbekistan trip because it’s become too crowded there, and he’s rethinking his Kyrgyzstan offer for the same reason. Despite the perfect powder, he doesn’t even want to consider going to Japan. Too busy.
“I have been freeriding for years and developed a passion for unknown destinations worldwide. But where my idea of remote ends is where Mathias enters the game”
Climate change made Mathias move in the direction of the Arctic Circle. Almost ten years ago, a lucky coincidence saw him discover the small town of Kirovsk on Google Earth, and its nearby mountains.