I had heard many good things about Saltoluokta Fjällstation, a Swedish mountain lodge, located just outside of the Laponia World Heritage Site near the border with Norway.  Not only is the scenery beautiful, but the 100 year old lodge is charming and isolated and they cook some of the best food around.  In December I submitted a job application along with a shiny new translated-into-Swedish CV for a cooking position.  A few weeks later, I was contacted by Johan who manages the lodge at Saltoluokta.  Humorously, our phone conversation transpired only in Swedish, a rarity because usually Swedes will speak English to me when they discover I am American.  Johan seemed interested in me as a cook, despite my lack of mastery of the Swedish language, so he invited me up to the lodge for an interview.  Saltoluokta is northwest of Jokkmokk, and the drive takes two hours on snow covered roads.  The lodge is located 4 kilometers across a lake, and during the winter, visitors either ski in or are brought by snowmobile. During the summer, they travel by boat.

Our trusty volvo, ready to drive except when its too cold to drive

Our trusty Volvo, ready to drive except when it is too cold to drive. (Aaron)

Temperatures had not risen above -15°F in the last two weeks, and Thursday morning, the day of the interview, the temperature was -25°F, a normal morning start.  I brought our car battery inside the night before to warm up, and Amanda marveled how something the size of shoe box could weigh as much as a loveseat.  Our 1987 240 Volvo is perhaps the only vehicle above the Arctic Circle without an engine warmer that you plug in at night.  Starting the cold car was extremely difficult, and necessitated calling Nila (one of my bosses at Utsi Ren) to help.  After he pumped the gas with the choke all the way out for about 10 minutes, the engine finally caught.  I was low on gas and was hesitant to turn the car off, but Nila assured me that no one turns their car off while pumping gas in this kind of weather. This was a shock considering laws in Oregon prevent customers from even pumping their own gas, let alone leaving their car on while they do so.

sunset in jokkmokk

Sunset in Jokkmokk at my local clear-cut ski hill. (Aaron)

While all the landscapes around Jokkmokk are beautiful, one can take for granted the evergreens, birch trees, snow, and lakes.  Driving to Saltoluokta revealed snowy mountains, rising high, treeless, and majestic.  I craned my neck out of the window, salivating for future ski adventures.  I arrived at the parking lot in Saltoluokta, where three frozen cars, glazed with ice and frost, huddled together in a small turnaround.  Across the lake the mountains were even bigger, and I was greeted by a strange and beautiful sight, a chunk of a rainbow hovering in front a particularly large peak.  It was not raining, of course, so I guess you would have to call it a “snowbow,” except it wasn’t a bow at all, just a chunk of colored light.  I will name it a “SAUSSB” (Small and Unusually Shaped Snow Bow).

A snowmobile was dispatched to pick me up and I heard it roar to life across the lake.  I could see it briefly, winding its way towards me following a worn snow path marked with reflective poles across the ice.  I waited in the -20°F weather, taking short breaths of the clear, cold air.  The snowmobile arrived piloted by a large man with a beard wearing a preponderous amount of clothes, a ski mask, and goggles.

“Jag heter Jore. Har du varma kläder?”

”Ja,” I said.

We took off and I tucked my face into my jacket and hunched behind Jore to divert a little of the icy, piercing, wind.  Though there was much beautiful scenery to look at, I mostly kept my head down where I could stay warm and not have to worry as much about frostbite.  We arrived and went inside where we decreased our bulk, onion-peel fashion, by removing many layers of our outerwear.  I was introduced to Johan, who runs the mountain lodge.  He spoke to me in Swedish and gave me a quick tour of the staff living quarters while we waited for lunch to cook.  In addition to having lodging, all the staff are on the meal plan, which is good because otherwise I think you would have to hunt or fish your own food.  Saltoluokta is very isolated,. It is 80 miles to the nearest grocery store, plus you have to get yourself across the ice.  The staff lives onsite in simple private rooms, with a nice communal living area complete with a big fireplace.

view from Saltoluokta lodge

View from Saltoluokta Lodge (photo stolen from their website)

Johan pulled up my CV on his laptop (yes there is Wifi there) and we sat down for the interview.  It was a good challenge to both understand his questions and then make semi coherent responses in Swedish.  Sometimes I am pretty sure I answered questions that he didn’t ask, but I think I made a good impression overall, and he was excited to hear that I had extensive baking experience, especially sourdough breads.

I haven't lost all my moves: crusty baguette with respectable "ear"

I haven’t lost all my moves: crusty baguette with respectable “ear.” (Amanda)

We sat down to a delicious lunch that Johan had prepared, baked arctic char from the lake with boiled potatoes, a green salad and a sauce of red onion, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and vinegar that was the boss.  Glancing out the windows I could see mountains just begging to be skied and our conversation turned to skiing.  Apparently not only does Johan enjoy Alpine Touring skiing but also Telemarking.  Furthermore his wife and a friend were out using an “up ski,” a 15 foot parachute/kite invented in Colorado that pulls a skier up the mountain using wind.  I could see treeless slopes right outside the window, and even bigger mountains were visible in the distance.  We chatted about skiing and then he gave me a tour of the lodge and the kitchen.  The kitchen is small and well equipped, even having an outdoor kåta for smoking fish and meats.  The dining room has not been changed since its inception in 1918, which means that it does not have electric lighting; candles provide all the lighting.  Wood floors and walls, wooden tables and chairs, and a big fireplace rounded out the small dining room.

Saltoluokta lodge reception area

Saltoluokta Lodge reception area (stolen from their website)

They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner every night, but reservations are required (popping in seems hard anyway) and they have one sitting for dinner, which starts at 6 pm.  The first course is plated, as is the dessert, but the main dish is buffet style, which should make it easier on the chefs.  While working as the evening chef at Gathering Together Farm one of the most difficult things was the timing of dishes so that the appetizers flow seamlessly into the main dishes with just the right amount of pause.  This is easily accomplished for a few tables, but if you are juggling a dozen or more tickets it can become hellish.   Lunch at Saltoluokta is usually not well attended as most people are out during the day skiing, trekking, or exploring.  Breakfast is a typical Swedish affair, fresh baked bread, jam, cheese, egg, yogurt, musli, coffee, tea, etc.  Dinner might be roasted leg of reindeer, with potato gratin and red wine sauce, or whole arctic char, smoked whitefish from the lake, or moose meat.  Desserts are simple but elegant, like pannacotta with lingonberries, crème brulee with cloudberries, or the venerable chocolate mousse (I want to do a “moose” dinner with an arctic char mousse, roasted moose filet, potatismos (mashed potatoes) and chocolate mousse for dessert).

"Suovas" salted and smoked reindeer

“Suovas” salted and smoked reindeer served up at our house. (Amanda)

“Vad tycker du?” (what do you think?) asked Johan.

“Where do I sign?” I responded.

Johan smiled and shook my hand.  Hopefully the other staff will be fun. Apparently a few of them are from Norbotten (the northern “province” of Sweden, of which Jokkmokk is a part), but most are from the south of Sweden and they are even looking at hiring a French woman.  My friend Sofia, who is the cousin of OT and Nila at Utsi Ren, will also be working at Saltoluokta.  She is an avid skier as well and plans to bring her snowmobile with her, so we should have access to a lot of backcountry skiing.

Ski art

Ski art (Aaron)

The head chef has worked there for six years and he will be in charge of ordering ingredients and making menus, though I imagine I will have some input as well.  Cooks must be creative and resourceful: the nearest grocery store is farther away than outer space (62 miles above sea level is the conventional measure for where space begins according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)), and deliveries do not always go to plan.  Johan said the lodge is a warm and welcoming place, with almost no traces of pretentiousness:

“We might not pour wine from the correct side but we are genuine, welcoming, and make sure everyone is well taken care of.”

I could not believe my luck, a wonderful place to work and cook with a backcountry skiing paradise right outside my frozen doorstep.  Johan and his wife Rebecca asked about Amanda and made it clear that she would be welcome to stay with me for as long as she wanted.  I will work for five days and then I will have two days off, so I will also go back to Jokkmokk sometimes.  The idea of some overnight ski trips is pretty appealing though.

Finally my dream is realized, skiing and eating ice cream!

no risk of melting ice cream on pants at -5F

No risk of melting ice cream on pants at -5F (Aaron)

Here is some more information and pictures about Saltoluokta.

3 replies
  1. Chris schneller
    Chris schneller says:

    What a great experience. I want to be there. Even if it is a little cold. Good writing.
    Chris and John

    Reply

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