Full-on family fun, sandwiched between moments of escape, riding alone at night with a celestial glitter explosion above… Where do we sign up?
Words: Gemma Bowes
The night was witching-hour black, a whipping wind threatening to lacerate my face scattered tiny snow pebbles across the icy piste, and it was very, very cold. Hardcore the conditions may have been, yet up ahead my sweet little blonde-haired daughter was whooping and hooning down the mountain like a mad thing. Only six years old and this, her first experience of night-skiing, was making her deliriously happy.
Dark Nordic nights set in early here in the Norwegian resort of Trysil in midwinter, not long after lunchtime in fact, and so accordingly the country’s largest resort offers a vast floodlit area of night-skiing several times a week, when the very lucky might even get to ski beneath the Northern Lights.
The Arctic Circle may still have been a long way north — Trysil, in the county of Innlandet, is 100 miles north-east of Oslo, near the Swedish border — but the landscape resembles Lapland with its rolling icing sugar hills and endless pine forests, doused in an ethereal half-light that negates the need for goggles and colours the sky unbelievable shades of hot pink, cherry, and neon lilac.
One of Scandinavia’s most popular resorts, it is favoured by families for its excellent ski schools, ski-in, ski-out accommodation, reliable snow and a long season running from November until May.
Last winter brought another reason to head to the region, with the launch of the Scandinavian Mountain Resorts Airport, a game-changing new international hub over the border in Sweden.
Lying 10 minutes from Salen, one of Sweden’s most popular ski areas, and 40 from Trysil, it created a direct link from the UK and other European airports to make ski holidays here more viable, swapping a three-hour transfer from Oslo for a two-hour direct flight from Heathrow.
At least that was the plan. Things didn’t get off to the best start when, a few days before the inaugural Heathrow departure with SAS at the end of 2019, we were told UK flights were blocked due to administration and licensing problems. We would have to go via Oslo after all. The transfer buses were all full so we were forced to take a taxi, a journey filled with wonderment at the beautiful Christmas-card snowscapes we crossed, and at the £300 price-tag.
Eventually flights did commence in early 2020, but now, of course, the current season has its own problems (check the latest government travel advice if you’re considering a trip imminently).
Once things are back to normal though, the airport has the potential to revolutionise skiing in Scandinavia for Brits, making it a match for the Alps and reshaping our mental ski map of Europe.
That those visiting Salen can book an airport transfer by dog-sled was a strong temptation, but we plumped for Trysil, with a higher ski area, 31 lifts, and 68 slopes — a fun mix of pristine groomers, tree runs and steeps.
Both resorts are smoothly operated by SkiStar, along with five other resorts in Sweden and Norway, including Åre and Hemsedal, which was one of 33 private investors in the airport. In Trysil, SkiStar franchises two huge Radissons, which sit on either side of the 1132m Trysilsfjellet mountain, at the foot of the pistes.
Ours, the Radisson Blu Mountain Resort & Residences, was the more chilled out-of-towner on the north side, predominantly self-catering apartments but also offering indulgent buffet dinners where the kids were enamoured by a help-yourself ice-cream station. Though it lacks the indoor surf wave and bowling alley of its sister hotel in Trysil’s main town, its children’s play room with built-in slide, and a sleek spa with hot outdoor pools for poaching beneath the stars were enough for us.
THE REAL SCANDINAVIA
I rose before dawn on the first morning to take my youngest, Hamish, to his ski lesson, a short bus ride away, while it was still dark. Smiling instructors fluent in English, and a fenced learner’s slope dotted with toys, gates and obstacles, were unfortunately insufficient compensation in my tearful three-year-old’s eyes for having to venture out in what was technically still night-time, to cross an icy piste and be left with strangers. It was clearly not going to work for him so I cancelled the sessions and took him on sledging adventures instead.
My daughter’s classes were a different story, and she happily jettisoned off to perfect her turns each day, at the more reasonable time of 10:30am, and was soon riding the button with the irreverent slouch of a park rat.
For tag-teaming parents like us, the well-organised, from-the-door lift network and night-skiing made it easy to slip in a few cheeky solo runs. We could quickly head round to the main part of the resort to charge some powder in the trees and hit a cache of black runs at Hogegga. From February onwards, lifts start at 7am twice a week, expanding the day further.
Our side of the resort was rather purpose-built and Americanised, though enclaves of sexy black timber cabins with cartwheel-sized firepits were tucked away in the forest (next time I’d love to rent one of those). For nibbles of Scandinavian culture we headed to downtown Trysil, a short shuttle bus ride away (or a longish one if you accidentally stay on for two loops as we did).
If there is a Scandi equivalent to Orientalism, the fetishisation and romanticisation of all that hygge, friluftsliv-y Nordic culture, this was the place to invoke it. Pastel-coloured clapperboard buildings housed stylish bakeries and homeware stores, and we lost some hours comparing delicious local beers at Kveik, a hip brewpub. One particularly cool white building caught my eye and, taking it for a boutique hotel, I photographed it, only discovering when googling later it was actually a funeral parlour. It’s that kind of town.
The excellent Trysil Skimuseum tells how the town was home to the world’s first ski competition in 1857, its first ski club, started in 1861, and first female ski competitor, in 1863. It also details the origins of cross-country skiing, developed by a local priest in the 1700s, who skied with one long ski, for gliding, one short for pushing. Beautiful wooden skis adorn the walls, including a pole dating to 1780.
An après-ski disco in the hotel bar one night bar was led by Valle, the resort’s snowman mascot who seemed to be afforded Mr Tumble-level status, and who kept popping up, to lead kids on night-skiing processions, or to high-five ski class graduates receiving their certificates. We sneered but our kids were into it.
My own celebrations were rare moments of escape, riding alone at night, when icy speed and a celestial glitter explosion above made up for the fact I’d ended up doing more childcare than planned. My constellation prize.
One afternoon, riding back alone near the summit I was hammered by the most powerful winds I’ve ever experienced — the result of expansive landscapes uninterrupted by any seriously huge mountains. My beanie was swept off, I was blown sideways and back uphill exiting the Poma and my final run was more Blizzard of Arse than Blizzard of Aahhhs, yet somehow the ferocity of the weather felt invigorating. A sense of being somewhere wild, at the farthest-flung edge of the winter realm, with endless views across magical wooded backcountry, veined by hundreds of kilometres of cross-country trails we wished we’d have time to explore, felt like the real Scandinavia. This is why you come.
The era of the new airport may have got off to a start more wobbly than a three-year-old on a windy Poma, but it’s sure to get into its swing before too long.
SAS (flysas.com) has flights from Heathrow to the Scandinavian Mountain Resorts Airport from £99 each way.
Shared bus transfers (salenbuss.savea.se/trysil) cost from 350 SEK (£31)pp, or half price for children aged 11 and under. Private transfers from 1780 SEK (£158) per group.
Radisson Blu Mountain Resort & Residences in Trysil (radissonhotels.com) has doubles from 1040 NOK (£90) per night, room only. Two interconnecting rooms for a family of four cost from 2050 NOK (£174).
A week’s ski pass for Trysil at Easter 2021 costs from €247 per adult, €197 per youth (7-17 yrs), children aged six and under free. A ‘parent pass’, which can be shared between two adults, costs €333 per week. Book via skistar.com