Sweden’s highest café
Ludvig Tjärnström and Leslie Monroy operate Sweden’s highest café. It’s by no means easy, but they serve home-made cookies, waffles, and claim that they have the dream job despite (or is it thanks to?) the totally crazy weather conditions at the summit of Åreskutan.
In 1892, it was time to begin building what was to become Sweden’s highest mountain hut, the mountaintop hut on Åreskutan. It isn’t difficult to imagine the challenge then to build a hut at 1,420 meters altitude in one of the world’s nastiest climates. Åreskutan is located like a magnet for the low pressure patterns of the Atlantic Ocean, which gladly and often make their way over the mountain range at Åre’s altitude. Building material was carried up by horse and sled. It cannot be said that the hut has had an easy existence. Wind gusts of almost 60 meters per second and world-class ice coverage are not uncommon. As well, horrid thunderstorms make their way over the peak of Åreskutan relatively often, resulting in the hut burning down on several occasions.
From the beginning, you had to walk all the way from the village, a rather strenuous hike of 1,000-plus meters of altitude. But from 1910, when the mountain railway was inaugurated, you began walking up at 556 meters above sea level. The big change happened in 1976, when the cable car was inaugurated, taking you up to the plateau just 800 meters from the mountaintop hut. Today, winter visitors can go skijoring behind a snowmobile or tour ski the last section up, while in the summer, there is only one up and that’s to walk.
Today, a third generation Tjärnström operates the café in the hut. Ludvig Tjärnström and his wife Leslie Monroy have served fika (the Swedish coffee break) here since 2015 and open as often as possible, though the weather frequently stops them from opening. Last winter, they were open only four days in January and just as many in February.
– You become almost obsessed with the weather, says Ludivg with a laugh. We constantly watch the weather reports. Every hour. Day in, day out. It’s become like a sickness. The most trying time is when the reports say that the winds will die down, since it’s most often the wind that stops us. Once the winds abate, we have to be ready to start, so we sit and wait.
The weather shifts undeniably fast on Åreskutan. One minute the sun is shining, the next minute a storm is coming in. Snow and hail storms in the summer and enormous temperature changes in the winter. One day last summer, we experienced 37 degrees Celsius, incredibly warm. The coldest has been minus 35-40 degrees. Up at the summit, the air humidity is 100%, so pieces of ice fly in the air when the winds are harshest.
– But the weather changes are also pretty interesting. One day, the hut looks like an igloo, the next day there’s no snow on the ground. And then the day after, ground frost returns. You never know how it’ll be. And if thunderstorms come in, we have to quickly get everyone off the mountain, says Ludvig.
Whatever weather prevails, people will always find their way up here, it’s almost unique, but also a little dangerous.
Therefore, the café is not open every day. When the weather prevents the café from operating, there is still the possibility to get protection in the hut’s so-called shelter inside the entrance. The summer before last, a woman was rescued when she overnight there after a storm took her by surprise.
– When the weather is really bad, it’s difficult to orientate oneself up here. It can be summer down in the village, while the summit experiences a snowstorm and you can’t find your way down again. And the terrain is very particular. Large boulders and rock fields make it difficult to get through in certain places. Last summer, we helped, among others, someone who had fallen and injured themselves. We’re actually always helping people, says Ludvig.
Operating Sweden’s highest café is not simply any other workday. There is electricity up here, but no water, so everything we need, we have carry up ourselves – the home-made cookies, coffee, milk, etc. Everything that comes up has to also be carried down. So, trash is put on our backs and taken down by snowmobile.
The kitchen is very simple, but instead of plastic, the couple is focusing on recycling paper plates and mugs.
- We always have to be ready, says Leslie.
When the weather suddenly allows us to open, there has to be newly baked fika and all fresh food like cream and milk has to be bought the same day.
From Mexico to Åre
Ludvig is born and raised in Åre and has spent a lot of time in the mountaintop hut during his childhood, when his parents and his grandmother and grandfather ran the café for many years.
- My mother worked at the summit and father down in the restaurant Stormköket, which they ran at the same time. I went between both and ate ice cream, nobody had any idea how much I ate. I know every stone up here, says Ludvig, who began visiting the summit as soon as he could walk himself.
Leslie and Ludvig met in Mexico, where she is born and raised. Love brought her to Sweden and they now live in the Åre area, together with their 4-year old son.
- Before I moved here to Sweden, I had never eaten a waffle or even seen snow. I had never thought that I would move here or let alone that I would speak Swedish. I’m really happy that it turned out the way it did. Her family has never visited, but she usually tries to explain to them how it looks. But they still have difficulty understanding, they’re scared of snow and cold, laughs Leslie.
It´s a dream job
Even if it is a huge challenge to run the business with such hazardous factors that come into play, Ludvig and Leslie show constantly how much they love their work by serving fine fika and other goodies high up on a mountain, where you have a 360-degree panoramic view over the mountains.
- This is really the dream job. The morning walk in all types of weather. Of course, it can sometimes be very difficult. But when you haven’t been open for a few days, you long for it. To sit in the sun and drink a cup of coffee, while it’s cloudy down in the village – that’s pretty nice, says Leslie.
Ludvig’s and Leslie’s gear tips
Polar Quest, boots
– Lundhags warmest winter boot is the best alternative when the worst winter weather moves in over Åreskutan. Whether the almanac says it’s summer or winter.
Lundhags absolute warmest winter boot, with a removable felt wool inner boot. A boot with a high shaft, rugged cellular rubber bottom and Vibram® IceTrek Traction outsole. The shaft in Perwanger® split leather is a hybrid construction between our 1-layer and 3-layer boots. A rugged 3-layer construction solidly surrounds the foot and distributes the pressure when lacing the boot, the upper shaft is flexible and has good ventilation. A new tongue construction facilitates eventual repairs. The lasts are revised to fit into the new system with Regular last and provided better support even if the volume is increased to give space for extra socks. A rugged cellular rubber bottom with Certech® 5.0 construction provides stability and insulation against the cold and a softer Vibram® IceTrek Traction sole is excellently suited to icy surfaces.
– Reinforcements on the knees and knee protection protects well when working indoors and outdoors in all weather.
Rocketeer Pant is Lundhags workhorse in the pant collection. A functional, technical and versatile shell pant in 3-layer Zethar stretch. Schoeller® Keprotec reinforcements at the knees and lower legs for optimal durability and with taped seams. Optimized material for high comfort and durability. A faithful companion with numerous features, which will be your friend for a long time.
– A perfect light all-round jacket that can handle everything except a steady rain. Versatile and flexible.
Viik Jacket is a versatile jacket that gives you warmth and wind protection on colder days, regardless if you wear it as an insulating midlayer or a protective outer jacket. The jacket’s Primaloft insulation in body mapping construction where the body needs warmth best, and provides comfort without sacrificing freedom of movement. Thanks to its DWR treatment, Viik Jacket protects even against light rain, making it a versatile jacket that lets you be active on colder days.
– We use this waterproof backpack daily. It is simply fantastic and is absolute best when the weather is the absolute worst.
The wet weather companion. Gero 35 WP is a waterproof backpack with a roll-top opening, excellent for skating, paddling or cycle commuting. The completely welded design combined with the waterproof roll-top opening minimizes the risk for water entry and keeps your gear dry. A backpack to trust regardless of the activity and weather. Gero is manufactured in waterproof polyamide, with a ventilating mesh liner closest to the back. The backpack has a large, expandable front pocket. Removable hipbelt, elastic mesh side pockets and compression straps at the side make Gero a practical everyday pack. Safety pocket and reflective features add further functionality when cycle commuting. Compatible with Lundhags Secura Safety System.