People who have visited Riksgränsen during these last 20 years or so are familiar with “Strumpan” and “Jossi”. One of them used to run the piste machine and is now a mountain guide. The other one used to run moguls and has become Sweden’s most famous sommelier. These days they run a hotel together.

West of the classic mountain hotel and near the Norwegian border, at the old locomotive depot in Riksgränsen, something new has been built during the winter of 2018: Niehku Mountain Villa. The resulting hotel has actually incorporated parts of the depot ruin into its exterior and interior design. The wall of the ruin runs straight through the new hotel and the effect is amazing. It’s an important part of the local history that’s become an exciting architectural feature in the new building.

Niehku Mountain Villa was designed by Krook & Tjäder and an internationally renowned design firm, Stylt Trampoli, created the exciting, welcoming interior architecture. It’s impossible to miss the careful feeling for design in the result provided by Stylt. It feels extra cosy this evening as one of the first, and very welcome, blizzards gathers around Riksgränsen.

Niehku means ‘dream’ in Northern Sámi. One can’t help wondering if it isn’t a dream come true for the two skiing friends “Strumpan” and “Jossi” – their real names are Patrik Strömsten and Johan Lindblom – to be able to be part of this project, constructing a Mountain Villa, an exciting boutique hotel, in a place that’s been part of their lives since they were still at school.

“Of course it’s special”, says Strumpan and continues:

“I’m actually finding it difficult to understand that it’s really happening, even though I’m standing in the middle of it.”

“Yes, it’s a bit like that. Discombobulating”, Jossi says.

“Sometimes I feel it’s nice to be able to give something back to a place that’s been such a large part of my life. But then I feel that perhaps it’s more about the mountains giving something back to me. Why, I have no idea. But it has to be something”, he says and smiles.

“It’s actually like a dream”.

Johan “Jossi” Lindblom is probably one of very few elk hunters on the hunting team in the village Vittangi who’s sported huge dreadlocks. They are gone now, though. He’s also gone from being an elk hunter in Vittangi, piste machine driver at Gränsen and ski-bum in Chamonix to being a mountain guide all over the world. As we sit down for a chat only a couple of days before the official opening of Niehku he’s just come back from Kamchatka where he’s been heli-skiing with a couple of groups. Now he’s in Riksgränsen to get the business going during spring. It’s only natural that he has a lot of feelings for this place. He started working on the mountain when he was 19 and has brought guests here since he started as a mountain guide at 20… Jossi loves the helicopter tours on offer among these peaks. There are more than 60 of them between Riksgränsen, Abisko and Kebnekaise, a roadless mountain region more than 500 square kilometres in size, available for skiers and adventurers to discover.

“I can’t say I’m completely niched towards helicopter guiding, it’s just happened that way. I like the freedom. Skiing to me has never been about chasing times, it’s always been about the mountain. With a helicopter you get to the mountains and the big runs quickly.”

Jossi and Strumpan. Photo: Lars Thulin

Patrik “Strumpan” Strömsten on the other hand has been skiing chasing times. He was one of Kiruna’s skilled mogul skiers and used to love competitions. He started winning as soon as he started entering them and ended up on the Swedish team. Strumpan feels that chasing results might be the reason why he has a unique feeling for details. His social competence is difficult to match and he is very knowledgeable about his products. One evening nearly 30 years ago a young Strumpan worked at a restaurant in Riksgränsen and met a customer who knew about wine. Patrik felt almost annoyed that he hadn’t really taken his job seriously. He bought wine books and started studying. When the staff gathered for a party he brought various wines, learning about the world of wine and the different varieties.

“When others were in it for the buzz I wanted to learn more”, he says and laughs.

And he did learn. He’s the only Swedish sommelier to have been awarded Sommelier of the Year twice. This he managed to basically teach himself.

“Among these mountains what you probably want is a nose for the best snow, like Jossi has. But I got a nose for wine instead. That’s how we complement each other.”

Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

But as soon as Strumpan gets a chance to head out to the mountains, he does. Believe me. Don’t think he’s completely stuck in the hotel’s wine cellar. He’s got a passion for skiing and for the mountains too. That’s what drew him here once upon a time. It’s also what’s made him stay among the mountains. Jossi’s world is very different. One week he’s heli-skiing in Russia, the next in Himalaya or Chile. Sometimes he goes skiing in Antarctica, sometimes in Greenland, then it’s the season in Riksgränsen from March to the Midnight Sun.

Learn more
Niehku Mountain Villa is a newly built hotel in Riksgränsen, around 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. Niehku means ‘dream’ in Northern Sámi – a suitable name for a place where the dream of a great adventure can come true. Read more about Niehku Mountain Villa in Riksgränsen at niehku.com.

“All I want, really, is to give my guests a great experience. I want the to get the best skiing possible, among the most beautiful mountains there are. First and foremost good skiing should be safe, then it should be challenging – for you”, Strumpan says.

“We go skiing on around 60 peaks in an area that’s basically roadless land.” Even though it’s been inhabited by the Sami and their reindeer for many, many generations long before the railway came there’s a distinct feeling of wilderness. Of everything being unspoilt.

“The nature here is magnificent and it makes everyone feel small somehow. I like being able to transmit that.”

“Then, once we’ve done our descents, we get to fly back to the hotel and just feel so damn good. I really think we have an amazing product to offer.”

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