Finding Refuge

A ski resort in Sweden helps house hundreds of refugees seeking asylum—and teaches them how to ski.

Imagine having to flee your home country amidst civil war and political conflict, then magically finding yourself in a plush hotel at the base of a ski resort. That’s become a reality for hundreds of refugees in Sweden.

Welcome to the Hotel Riksgransen. PHOTO: Courtesy of Riksgränsen
Welcome to the Hotel Riksgransen. PHOTO: Courtesy of Riksgränsen

In the midst of a growing refugee crisis across Europe, the Riksgränsen ski resort in far northern Sweden has opened its doors to some 600 refugees from over 10 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea. The migrants arrived in mid-October and are being allowed to stay until mid-February, when the ski resort officially opens for the winter.

“We open our ski resort as late as February 19 every year because of our unique geographic position,” Riksgränsen’s CEO Sven Kuldkepp told POWDER. “We are so far north that we enjoy polar nights during December and January and by mid-February, we have enough light and snow to provide perhaps one of the best ski experiences in the world. We’re trying to give our refugee guests as good of treatment and service as any of our ski guests.”

The move is part of a push from Sweden’s government to encourage more Swedish municipalities to take in refugees, but Kuldkepp says it was an easy and logical decision.

Riksgränsen ski resort  is housing immigrants in the recent wave of migration to Sweden. PHOTO: Courtesy of Riksgränsen
Riksgränsen ski resort is housing immigrants in the recent wave of migration to Sweden. PHOTO: Courtesy of Riksgränsen

“Since the Riksgränsen ski resort is usually empty, closed, and cold until February, we had the opportunity to help in this difficult situation for both the Swedish society and the refugees,” says Kuldkepp. “Why should we keep Riksgränsen closed instead of filling the gap?”

After February, the Swedish Migration Agency will be in charge of relocating the refugees. But at least by then, some of them may have picked up a new skill, like language training, boxing coaching from the Afghanistan national team coach, and, yes, some skiing.

“We are providing the possibility to try skiing to give them the experience of something different,” says Kuldkepp. “We try to offer as many activities as possible.”