Bill and I were lucky enough to be invited to Sweden to take part in a product training experience. It was a huge privilege to travel to Jamtland to meet the team, which provides the Jamtland Outdoor Experience (JOE). JOE is a product-training and testing opportunity for retail staff from around Europe.
Local Swedish manufacturers host JOE, for the winter trip our hosts compiled of Hilleberg (The Tent Maker), Lunghags, Klattermusen, Woolpower and Trangia.
Jamtland is a historical province located in central Sweden, it borders Lapland to the North and Norway to the West and is the second largest province in Sweden, approximately equal in size to Ireland. The mountains in Jamtland are referred to as Fells, similarly to the Lake District. Large valleys divide the Fells, often stretching to the Norwegian Sea. The lowest temperature recorded in Jamtland is –45.8 degrees centigrade and blizzards are common due to the large plateaus and high wind speeds.
On arrival in Ostersund, Jamtlands only city, it became apparent that Bill’s luggage had not been so lucky in transit from Stockholm. Arriving in another country for a weeks training without kit is disappointing, make slightly worse by the prospect of roughing it at –10 degrees. Once trial kit had been issued, the team from JOE made sure Bill wasn’t going to be uncomfortable or hungry whilst out on the hill.
The training comes in two parts; factory visits with training and product testing on the hill with morning and evening workshops. The manufacturers were kind enough to lend us kit from head to toe so we had lots to discuss with them. For the first evening we were based in a village called Are near Undersaker.
The plan was to hike for three and a half days and spend three nights under canvas. Within the small groups we were in, a few used skis whilst the rest used snowshoes. Within our groups we had a Pulka, a sledge pulled using a waist harness, the Pulka carried the groups tents and group shelter. We carried our personal equipment including the four days’ food, sleeping kit and spare clothing.
The first day was a short walk in order for people to become accustom to using their chosen method of transport. From a local ski resort we walked in to the Fells. During winter in Sweden there are marked routes for snowmobiles on the maps, they’re also marked on the ground, this made navigation significantly easier! The first campsite was only a two-hour walk from the start; conditions were poor by Swedish winter standard, it was only a few degrees below zero during the day and there was only a meter or so of snow cover. The wind was most challenging on the first night, as we were more exposed – it certainly tested our tent pitching ability.
Pitching the tents properly in deep snow required more effort than I considered. Flattening and compacting snow followed by burying snow pegs at all pegging points, digging a cold sump and finally arranging the bedding, all whilst trying to remain comfortable and minimise sweating. Most of the time if we were working hard we wore only the Merino baselayer supplied by Woolpower, the down jackets were on hand when we stopped. The first night sleep was surprisingly pleasant.
Having successfully played the part of an idiot abroad, Bill and myself were asked to lead the group on the second day. A few minutes of route planning, scribbling and awkward conversation finished the route. Despite our best sign language and the impressive English language understanding of our Swedish hosts, we discovered there is no Swedish term for magnetic variation, much less a universally recognised hand signal! For the record, in March 2014 it was approximately 1 degrees.
The day went without any major dramas; a few small route changes were required, as the Pulkas don’t slide quite as well across a gradient. However, arrival at the second camp next to a frozen lake was welcomed. The evening’s entertainment consisted of the group cooking a gourmet meal on Trangias. The food was superb and the company excellent! Within our small group we had representatives from Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. We covered all areas of conversation from politics to food to economics before settling on a subject we have some knowledge of: outdoor equipment.
Day three passed without a glitch. We had excellent training with Klattermusen and Lundhags and discussed the ins and outs of “Swedish design”, a Gore-Tex-less market and the impact of environmental policies on outdoor clothing. Night three was spent in a small clearing, we’d been rotating the tents among the group in order to test a mixture of tunnel and dome tents but most people had decided on their preference and decided to stick with it. Due to the lay out of the clearing, pitching the tents was particularly challenging, but after a few days practise and a can do attitude the group had the camp up and running in record time. The wet and cold had started to have an effect on some of the group. We were all learning a great deal, both about the equipment and our host brands, but also how to operate in cold conditions over several days.
The final part of our journey was a short walk to the road, but before we left the hill our hosts had arranged a surprise. We all converged on a mountain restaurant to be treated to lunch. Lunch was fantastic, local vegetables and reindeer burgers proved to be very popular after a few hard days on the hill. The evening was a relaxed affair, kit was sorted, showers were had and food was consumed. We met together as a group to debrief and browse through photos taken along the journey. It was a great evening enjoyed by all, over the course of four days twenty people from across Europe shared an unforgettable experience, we’d needed each other at times when the going got tough, and there was a great feeling of camaraderie.
The final day was a brief trip to the Hilleberg factory to eat cinnamon buns, drink coffee and meet Bo Hilleberg. Bo was kind enough to talk through the history of the brand and give us an insight into the though processes behind the company which still produces undoubtedly the most superior tents available.