Ski Touring in Norway (by Mark Simpson) Posted on Oct 4th, 2006

2 comments

I knew I was a different place when I left the chrome and glass and urban Euro-bustle of Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and landed in Oslo, Norway. I was greeted at Gardermoen Airport with polished real wood floors, hewn beams and airport staff cruising around on push scooters instead of electric carts. This must be a nation that values natural environments and self-propelled locomotion! I had landed in the cradle of Nordic skiing. It had been a dream of mine since I discovered Telemark skiing to visit its birthplace and drink deeply of the mountain culture...

I knew I was a different place when I left the chrome and glass and urban Euro-bustle of Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and landed in Oslo, Norway. I was greeted at Gardermoen Airport with polished real wood floors, hewn beams and airport staff cruising around on push scooters instead of electric carts. This must be a nation that values natural environments and self-propelled locomotion! I had landed in the cradle of Nordic skiing. It had been a dream of mine since I discovered Telemark skiing to visit its birthplace and drink deeply of the mountain culture.
I was attending Interski, a world conference of ski instructors, and then going ski touring deep in the heart of Norway. I had heard a lot about how expensive Scandinavia was and found out just how much when my first pint of beer came in at NOK52 ($12)! It took several more to get over the shock!
My journey started with a 320 km bus trip from Oslo to Beitostolen, the site of the Congress. I found the terrain very beautiful with many rivers (whitewater kayakers take note, this is an awesome place to paddle!) and rugged, narrow valleys. Quaint homes and buildings showing clear signs of the Viking roots. My next six days were a blur of skiing, schmoozing, technical seminars and of course, the ubiquitous currency of all ski instructors, partying, but that's another story. The mountains around Beitostolen are smooth, rolling and devoid of trees , similar to parts of the Chilcotin. There was a magic time around 10 a.m., when I could take the ski lift up in my skating gear, and skate ski off-piste on a firm, hard crust. This crust enabled me to get up in the high alpine for a good look. What caught my eye was a mountain range called Jotunheimen. I was determined to escape the pandemonium of the Congress to the quiet beauty of this place.
I gathered some friends equally keen on this special tour. We decided to hire a guide to ensure the success of our trip. We wanted to savor the culture of Norway as much as the terrain and felt that skiing with a local was the best way to ensure this outcome. We met our guide, Pal Frenning, over a few beers and I soon knew he was our man. Pal is a reindeer herder in summer and a ski instructor and guide in winter. Both of these vocations gave him an intimate knowledge of the local terrain and most important, the best touring routes. When we discussed gear, I got the shock of my life when he asked us to wax our skis tip to tail with blue hard wax. My skis never see anything but stone grinds and fluorocarbons, so you can imagine what a leap of faith this was! The next shock was when he showed up on trip day in low cut, single leather boots and a vintage pair of skis. We were decked out with fat shaped skis, lift kits and big plastic boots. Since we had to drag our heavy gear a fair distance, I think he had the last laugh!
This was our first real taste of Norwegian mountain culture, since the style of touring in Norway is fast, light and minimalist. Our plan was to take in two huts and traverse part of the range with light daypacks and some food. Norway is crisscrossed by an extensive hut system; many of them run by the DNT or "Den Norske Turistforeningen". You will find a complete range of services in this hut system, from unstaffed huts to full room and board. Some of the unstaffed huts are stocked with provisions, which you can take and pay for by filling out a credit card slip and dropping it in an honor box. Lucky for us, Pal had gotten keys to some private huts. Our van dropped us off a few kilometers out of town at the point where the road is not plowed in winter. Much to my surprise there was an antique snow cat parked there. This machine was purchased in 1937 by the British army for use by General Montgomery in the Egyptian desert in WW2. It was brought to Norway in 1949 and converted into a snow cat. The best part was that it was a Bombardier from Quebec. Canada Eh!
Our first hut, Synsbeck Hytte, was part way down Lake Bygdin. We stowed our fat skins in our packs and had a great ski along a beautiful, rolling valley, onto the lake and down to the hut, using only hard wax for propulsion. This was no ordinary hut. It was very small, but beautifully built with polished tongue-in-groove floors and a grass roof. This was better than any five star hotels. We doffed our packs, baked in the sun for a while, then set a slow, sinewy, gentle up track (yes still hard wax!) up to a nearby peak, just before sunset. This culminated in a ski run down that dreams are made of. The snow wasn't deep or fabulous, but I was filled with an upwelling of emotion, as I laid down some long, graceful Telemark turns, focusing years of training and mountain spirit into one magic, timeless moment of alpenglow-filled bliss. Thoroughly exhausted, happy and hungry we spilled into the hut for a great meal.
After dinner, Pal told us folk tales, played his mouth harp (a widely used instrument in Norwegian folk music) and fed us dried Reindeer heart (if you think liver is bad...) and "96" (the local screech, 96 % alcohol). What a magic day this was! The next few days saw us rumbling around in the high country, enjoying the great vistas down onto the 25 km long Lake Bygdin. On the last day of our trip, I let my friends ski ahead, so I could enjoy a few moments of solitude. We were staying at Torfinssbu Hyyte, about half way down the lake. I had a great ski right down the middle of the frozen lake in bright April sunshine, enjoying an endless rhythm of diagonal stride with perfect hard wax grip to catch my buddies at the trailhead. This was a great trip for me, to enjoy the stripped down simplicity of touring with some great friends in beautiful mountain terrain free of the trappings of high technology, piston bully grooming and high priced ski resorts. Norway is a great place to ski, since the mountain culture is built right into the soul of the people. So go there sometime and enjoy the free heel spirit!


Getting There

Oslo is well serviced from Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Jotunheimen is a national park about 400 km north of Oslo. This park has some of the highest peaks in Norway and is well serviced with huts. You can take a bus from Oslo to Beitostolen for about $120 return. A $30 cab ride will get you to the end of the road, then start skiing! Hut fees range from NOK40 for minimal shelter to NOK280 for a room, two hot meals and bag lunch. There are substantial discounts for DNT members, so it is worth joining (NOK365). 1NOK= 0.21$CDN. Check out their website at www.turistforeningen.no/. The best time to go is from late February to late April, but avoid Easter, as it can get crowded in the huts. You can have a pretty cheap trip as long as you stay out of the pub! Take light touring skis with metal edges, single boots and of course, hard wax!

Mark Simpson
marks@telus.net

 

2 comments

Matt Higginson October 24th, 2006

Sounds like a cool trip...

Matt

Brad Learmond October 29th, 2006

Your ski trips are the stuff of my tele wish and dream list. Nicely written Mark - look forward to your next trip.
Brad