Once Upon a Time in the Fjords…
I consider myself a fairly well-travelled person. I enjoy exploring new countries and experiencing new cultures. However, recently I have become settled in a routine when on winter trips. The familiar cycle of arriving, unpack, sleep, ski, sleep, ski etc until you go home is one I know all too well. My destinations change but my routine does not.
Usually, on the journey home I find time to reflect on the trip; the amazing terrain I (hopefully) skied, the bonds I have strengthened with my friends through shared experiences, the hilarious nights out. You can’t put a price on those memories, yet I often feel myself wanting more from my winter trips.
The convenience of large purpose-built resorts allows you to focus on your riding, which is amazing for progression… however, it does not provide a holistic cultural experience.
So when I was invited to Norway I jumped at the chance. I had never skied in Scandinavia and wanted to find out more about the terrain and what the skiing was like. I discovered a lot more than good skiing.
Gatwick to Bergen on Norwegian Air took about 90 minutes with the strong tailwind. Norwegian Air has got many things right, however in flight entertainment was questionable at times. The views out of the window provided ample entertainment for me.
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, however, in the UK it would barely be classed as a town with only 250k inhabitants. Centred on Bryggen, a colourful trading wharf and Unesco World Heritage Site, Bergen is wedged between half a dozen mountains and the North Sea, making for some dramatic views right from the city centre.
The drive to Voss was incredible and towered over by huge mountains. As the sun was setting we arrived in the resort area in Voss. Opening the door of my wood clad, grass roofed cabin, the smell of pine hit me, and that’s when I really felt I was in Scandinavia.
Our first day on snow; after packing our bags and throwing them in the van we walked five minutes to the small, friendly ski hire shop. From there it was straight onto the lifts.
As I’m sure my hosts would forgive me for saying, Scandinavia has not been blessed with huge snowfall so far this year, the same can be said for almost every other mountain range in Europe. However, Voss’s hard working piste bashers allowed us to ski a variety of terrain on well-groomed runs. The area is not as vast as the mega-resorts in the Alps, but the amount of backcountry access you have in Voss is incredible. Even the inbounds off-piste terrain looked phenomenal.
We met up with the beginners in our group for a long lunch. They had nothing but good things to say about both the teaching and the facilities. Voss seems like an ideal place for families on a break, with a great mix of easy and advanced slopes, although be prepared for a couple of T-bars to reach the higher slopes.
After skiing, we headed to the impressive VossVind, a wind tunnel (or indoor skydiving) facility. Extreme outdoor pursuits like this are where Voss makes it’s name, with visitor numbers to this outdoor hub higher in the summer than in the winter. Events like Extreme Sport Week are highlights in the calendar.
From Voss we took the train to the Myrdal, where we stopped for lunch and some snowshoeing a little up the train tracks at Vatnahalsen. During the 1930s the area was often referred to as the “St Moritz of the Nordic”. While it might be missing the glitz and glamour, the surroundings more than deliver on jaw-dropping beauty and remoteness.
When snowshoeing through the valley I found myself again gawking at the mountains and their ski potential. It came as no great surprise to me to learn that the area is increasingly popular with freeriders who can skin up the hill straight from the door of the Vatnahalsen Hoyfjellshotel.
After sampling the local speciality, brown goat’s cheese and waffles, we boarded the Flam Line, the second Unesco attraction of our visit. The descent was incredible as the line runs in and out of tunnels and on the edge of waterfalls and cliffs. I was glued to the window, perhaps because my usual train ride is a 20-minute struggle through South London on Southern Rail. Zig-zagging through the mountains, we eventually arrived in Flam, a stunning town on the edge of the fjord.
We took a rib safari through the fjords, rubbernecking at the towering mountains and wildlife. Learning more from our guide about the farming culture and ways of life of previous generations in the home of the Vikings was a highlight for me – that and seeing a Golden Eagle up close.
Back on dry land, we headed to Myrkdalen. It snowed all the way to resort, and I couldn’t help but get excited about that familiar feeling of skiing powder again.
Waking up in Myrkdalen early to around 15cm of fresh snow, we scoffed breakfast and rushed through ski hire. On the lifts and seeing the small resort in the sunlight for the first time, I was struck by how new everything was. The chairlift I was sitting on, the hotel, the ski shop. Absolutely everything was pristine.
In comparison to cross country skiing, alpine skiing is still in its infancy in Norway and it really showed in this resort. Again the resort would suit families very well, with the beginners in my group actually enjoying it more here than in Voss. The terrain is a good mix of easy to advanced, the quality of the runs was definitely on par with anything I have skied in the Alps. The only thing was that the quantity was a little less than I was used to. Experts can still have their fill though, the backcountry is plentiful in Myrkdalen, with much of it ending on the road that heads down to the resort.
Myrkdalen does not have the elevation of its bigger alpine brothers, this means you can ride multiple off-piste runs from peak to valley floor in a day, whereas in more mountainous areas you will struggle to ride more than one.
The snow was amazing. After the runs had been groomed, another 10cm of snow had fallen, allowing us to go full throttle in total confidence. We even sampled some of the off-piste, for which Myrkdalen is renowned – in their 14/15 season they received over 15m of snow!
I was sad to leave the resort late afternoon when we had to head back to the airport. As I gazed out of the window on the calm drive through mountains and lakes I found my quiet time to ponder. I asked myself the usual questions…
Had I progressed my skiing? Not really.
Any crazy nights out? Nope.
Learn any new tricks? Again, no.
I did, however, feel satisfied. I had learnt and experienced so much more than I would on a run of the mill mega resort winter trip. I had broken the cycle and routine I had become so familiar with. This whistle-stop tour of an amazing country has given me the drive and hunger to ask for more than great skiing from my winter adventures.
I was covered for my whole trip by Ski Club Insurance. All activities were covered as standard, with the exception of wind tunnel flying which was covered as an upgrade.