Myrkdalen: Norway’s snow-covered, sidecountry secret

The exchange rate might be daunting, but the five-metre snowfalls and easy access off-piste are worth every Krone

High on the Vikafjellet plateau in south-west Norway the reindeer roam free, under the eye of Sami herders. However, just off the plateau, in the ski resort of Myrkdalen, those reindeer play
an unwitting role in the expansion of Norway’s fastest growing ski area. When spooked, the velvety-antlered beasts have been known to knock themselves out on ski lift pylons. Which is why the Kari Tråå lift top station, at 1060m, is as high as conservationists allow you to be towed in Myrkdalen.

@johannesfinne og @georghernes kosar seg i sola! #idag #fnugg #mittanlegg @visitvoss @fjordnorway @fjordtours_com @friflytmag @norfreeski @nrkhordaland @btno @bergensavisen

Yes, that’s a T-bar, to a dizzying height of 1060m above sea level, and all in all Myrkdalen has nine lifts serving 22 groomed runs.These stats might underwhelm if you’ve never skied in Norway, but for those in the know this modest but ambitious resort offers a most satisfying ski holiday – totally different to the Alps.

Myrkdalen is 630km south of the Arctic Circle and 25km north of the long-established ski and extreme sport resort of Voss. It opened in 2003 after a businessman spotted that this quiet valley lay on a geological and meteorological lay-line, piling up an average of 5.2m of snow every winter.

The Scandi-stylish four-star Myrkdalen hotel (375 beds) opened in 2013, elevating the resort beyond the Bergen weekender crowd whose wood-fired cabins line the mountainside from the village. It’s now a serious contender for a fine week’s skiing.

It’s a similar journey time to the Alps: a two-hour flight to Bergen on Norwegian from Gatwick, and a 90-minute transfer, winding alongside dark-watered fjords and tunnelling through middle-earth mountains.

Myrkdalen’s terrain is more rolling than jagged. Its valleys are shallower and the forests less dense than further south. If you’re new to off-piste, here is an excellent place to start. But that’s not to say it lacks impact, and there’s plenty to keep the more adventurous busy. While 80% of the pistes are aimed at novices and intermediates, beyond them is limitless sidecountry, with cliffs, couloirs, steeps and well-spaced trees.

Det dumpar snø ute. Snøværet minna meg om lange dagar i Myrkdalen. Seine kveldar, måking av hyttetak og høge svev. Sitt ikkje inne no, kom deg ut og måk snjo! For @myrkdalen helsing @sverrehjornevik #hytte #vinterland #fnugg #best #flash #snjomåking

It’s a bracing (but gentle) hike or skin from the top of the Kari Tråå lift to the summit
cairn of Finnbunuten, the highest peak in the area at 1358m. 
Route options run away in almost every direction. If you’re keen to access this and 155 other ski-touring routes across Norway, I recommend the excellent guide, Ski Touring in Norway, published in English by Fri Flyt. The RV13 road runs north-south along the valley floor, so if you do head away from the resort, arrange a lift back to Myrkdalen. And take a guide and safety kit – the rolling terrain looks inviting, but avalanches are still very much a hazard.

Bear in mind too that as this is Norway, locals are hardy. Indeed, you might see them on cross-country skis at the summit of Finnbunuten, as I did. Just as you lock down your heels, happy that you’ve earned your turns, some cheerful elderly people will pole past, heading downhill fast on skinny skis, hurrying to find the next fun flat section.

While the snow is deepest from February, when the prevailing winds change from east to west, Myrkdalen’s ideal location and 460m elevation mean its annual stonking five-metre snowfall begins as early as November; and this is the main reason why it’s become so popular so fast.

Such is its ambition to match Voss as a top winter destination, Myrkdalen is already a venue on the World Cup Freestyle circuit, with a snow park and snow-cross course. This is great for the groms, but the resort’s real sweet spot is for mixed-ability groups of families or friends (and the instructors speak English better than we do). If you’re hiring, further immerse yourself in all things Norwegian and try a pair of Eggi 98s from Åsnes, one of Norway’s oldest ski brands.

Godt år alle saman! Den kommande veka har eg @sverrehjornevik gleda av å styra @myrkdalen sin instagram konto. Ekstra kjekt er det at årets fyrste dag møter oss med sol og fin vintertemperatur. Dagens bilde er frå ein liknande dag forrige sesong, tatt like ved Finnbunuten. Ein lett og flott tur med utgangspunkt i Kari Traa-trekket. Ha ein fin fyrste nyttårsdag!

The region has links with the UK back to the 1980s when Dan-Air flew planeloads of schoolkids from the north-east of England into Bergen. A legacy of those days is embodied in Darren, a ski instructor. By his own admission, Darren was once a bit of a handful, but his talent for skiing on those trips and the welcome from locals allowed him to return in the 1990s to make his life in Voss and, latterly, Myrkdalen.

The exchange rate has taken a dive in the last year, but the current rate of 10.5Kr is still not bad for a country traditionally seen as costly. A pint of artisanal beer is about £5.50 in the Myrkdalen hotel – making it pretty similar to Alpine prices. Ski Safari, specialists in interesting destinations, will set you up in either the hotel or a mountainside cabin. What’s not to love?