With the early season Alps more green than white last winter, our editor-at-large, Jonny Richards, rolled the dice and headed north, hitting sixes all the way from Bergen to Oslo on a four-resort Norway road trip
10:56 Much of Europe is in a pickle. With ski forums like Snowheads full of doom. ‘Early season snow panic (Italy)’ says one post. ‘Austria carnage (very little snow)’ states another. While ‘Where to ski after the rainstorm?’ is just one of many querying what is going on with the weather. But hope arrives via the final email to drop into my inbox of 2022. “Just a quick input from my mountain cabin in Norefjell,” says Geir, from Norway Home of Skiing. “The snow is falling heavily, and I should have something like 30cm tomorrow.” For this reason, I am one of the few skiers moving through Manchester airport with a smile on my face, and a new year’s spring in my step.
11:25 Why am I not skiing in Norway more? Because it’s just so easy, and er – not something you always equate with Scandinavia – cheap to get to. My flight to Bergen could have been under £50 if booked early/smart. And even leaving it last minute, travelling with skis, it comes to a not-half-bad £117.
14:45 Hello BGO (oh come on, get with the airport codes!) and what appears to be a nicer, cleaner, more efficient – and crucially snowier – version of the UK. Quick passport stamp, ski bag grabbed and we’re off! With no time to dawdle as my WhatsApp orders from leader Geir say airport tram to Bergen stasjon (see, fluent already!) before hopping on the 16.29 to Voss (our first ski resort of the trip).
16:09 For all you ‘Isn’t it expensive in Norway?’ naysayers, the 80-minute train is £23. And my almost foot-long sandwich at the station (sorry, stasjon!) with drink, is £9.30. It’s huge, delicious, and comes with lashings of Premier League chat in perfect English. Now, where were we? Extra cheese, or Martin Odegaard for player of the year? Tricky.
17:53 I am a travelling dunce (who just this morning mixed up my Manchester terminals). But even I can’t mess this journey up. Tram you can just about see from baggage claim, hop off at Bergen Nonneseter, then train straight into Voss town/resort/everything. It’s easy, cheap, scenic and beats the hell out of most ski transfers. “All ok?” says Geir as we meet. I’d say so, with views of Voss fjord out front, gondola behind, and our hotel, The Scandic, just a 50m walk.
19:22 Ace Tesla-in-the-snow driver (more of that later) Geir is used to dealing with journalists thanks to representing the eight resorts that make up the Norway Home of Skiing group. As a result, our first stop is the booze-laden Park Hotel, which boasts – oh Mama this is dangerous – over 40,000 bottles of fine wine. We begin in the champagne room (only 1,500 bottles!) to make sure we can be trusted not to head-plant after a glass or two into Grand Crus costing many thousands of pounds, before moving to the rammed main cellar, where the most desirable bottles are more like tens of thousands. Gulp.
09:23 The January lifts in this part of the world start spinning later than most, simply as it’s a bit dark before 9.30am. But it makes for a relaxing start to the day (albeit with less herring than expected). “Pininfarina” proudly exclaims Voss native Brede, as we amble towards the first gondola up the hill. Bright red, huge, yet somehow sleek, it was new in 2019, and thanks to the design house’s fast car heritage, does, look a bit, well… Ferrari. Half-a-dozen of us hop in and watch the frozen waters rapidly recede as we shoot up almost 800m to the heart of the mountain, and its 45km of groomed pistes.
12:11 Geir skis like a prince, and at a healthy lick. So after a heady dive down FIS GS course Storslalamloypa (possibly easier to ski then spell) we’re firing over towards Slettafjellet and Horgaletten. Neither peak touches 1,000m, but in good snow, boy there’s potential. With delicious cuts, sneaks, trees, and far better fall lines than you might expect given the relative lack of vertical. Powder looks on the menu too, despite the last fall being a couple of days before (it’s just that kind of sleeper resort). But on closer inspection, a change in temperature has curdled (or should that be concreted?) the mix. So after a dozen or so runs, we’re off. Down-loading to the Tesla, seeking better conditions 25 minutes away in Myrkdalen.
12:50 Quick beacon check from guide Kim (you don’t get to 500 base jumps without being careful, but that’s a whole different story) and we’re onto Myrkdalsekspressen, a six-person chair. Despite us being close enough for connection to Voss by just a handful of lifts (would be wonderful, but will never happen seems to be the local verdict) the snow is infinitely better, and softer. “We’ve got our own micro-climate,” says Mr Freefall, cheerfully referencing an annual snowfall over 5m (the most in the area).
Today we’re not quite seeing the full primo-conditions that have helped establish the resort as one of Norway’s go-to powder spots (despite only being founded in 2003) but off 1,500m-long Bygardsloypo there’s plenty of boot-high action. Looker’s left to Storhaugekspressen, another high-speed sixer offers us the longest run and most vertical (440m) in resort. It sounds not quite enough for a really great few days, but in actual fact it’s plenty, thanks to how playful the terrain is. Natural half-pipes, rollers, banks, berms, gullies – it really is glorious. And we’ve not even said ‘hallo’ to the juiciest stuff under 1,358m Finnbunuten yet.
14:21 They do like a T-bar in Norway. Me, less so. But here it is very much worth it, as scoot up the catchily named top-of-the-mountain Kari Traa-trekket lift, traverse over the hump towards another peak, Kaldavassnuten (1,482m), and acres of powder await. Wide open, perfect pitch, and crucially, on our weekday early January visit, only two other skiers having a nibble. Way below, woods force you to slow, and carefully pick your line, but rather than break the rhythm, it makes the run. Elevating it from standard face-shots fare, to a challenge you want to try again and again, seeking the ideal route before the 10-minute walk back to resort along the road. For us, up-top is stellar, while down-low is boiler-plate purgatory. But to be here in a heavy storm cycle, wow… Speaking of which…
17:32 The sky is filled with flakes. And so far I’ve counted three abandoned cars, one snowbanked lorry, and countless ploughs doing their best to keep the roads just about passable. “Want to drive?” says Geir mischievously. Do I heck! And even from the passenger seat, taking a Tesla 160km, through the ever-so-rugged, world-heritage-protected Naeroyfjorden, and up various vertiginous passes, is making me a little nervous. In daylight, it would be majestic, a journey to savour thanks to the incredible glacial scenery. But tonight, under the malevolent moonlight? It’s definitely a case of: “Are we there yet?”
10:37 Life. You just never know. And the resort I’ve been looking forward to skiing least, Geilo – bit flat, been before – is turning out to be the most fun. As there is a lot of snow. Head of ski school Hans (a former national coach for the speed disciplines) is leading the charge, dancing through his favourite trees, stashes and trails under the Gullsteinhovda and Geiloheisen Express, while I just about hang on. And the beauty of having no runs with more than 275m of vertical is that it’s never long before you’re loading again and catching up in the lift queue!
15:20 However mighty the storm (it’s still raging) a day’s enough for me in Geilo. Plenty of pistes (45) and lifts (20), just not quite enough, ummphh. But if you were learning? I can’t think of anywhere better. Dedicated beginner zone right next to the Vestlia (one of those just-right, ever-so-relaxing hotels) quiet slopes, plenty of greens and blues to progress through, instructors with better English than the English. Compared to the usually hectic, often unhelpful Alps, it really is start-to-ski heaven.
18:48 Geir appears to have two obsessions: driving in the snow (preferably with drift-mode engaged), and skiing. He really can’t get enough of either. So after yet another Tesla Model S versus winter two-hour bout via Bromma and Eggedal, we’re getting our boots back on and heading out under the lights. I’m not sure I want to, as the wind sounds ferocious even from inside our Norefjell hotel. But it’s just impossible to counter his enthusiasm. He really does love skiing any time, any place, any weather. And it may just be re-kindling the fire inside me that possibly died a little during all those can’t ski Covid months. Now, where’s that extra layer?
20:43 I am finding the Norefjell Ski & Spa (Norway’s biggest hotel when built, with its interior designed along the lines of a cruise ship) baffling. Reception on the fourth floor? Two main stairways, in very different places; one to access only the lower, er decks, another to just go up from the lobby? When did life get so complicated? “Shall I just knock on your door at 8.30am,” says dear leader, soothingly. “Yes please” I say, feeling a good deal older than my 47 years.
12:22 The best day in a very long time. It’s still snowing, with wind and visibility awful up top, but Geir’s decades of Norefjell know-how take us down to just 178m above sea-level and the Norefjellheisen chair. Not only is it the longest lift in resort, but the lack of height means we miss most of the storm that’s raging above us on the 1,188m Ravnas. “Don’t tell anyone exactly where this is,” shouts the Kingpin, leading me down his ‘secret tree run’. “Don’t worry, I barely know which way is up,” I reply, trying to roll out of waist-high powder having somehow spread-eagled a sapling.
12:47 Next up, we’re under the aforementioned four-man chair. It’s still technical, with a series of rollers backed by blind drops – think large 4×4 for scale – so not ideal given the potential overhead audience. But the snow is piling up, so what the hell! And by the second and third laps here, I’m starting to feel the ‘flow’ as Anders might say. Oh yes, did I not say, we’ve run into old pal of Geir’s Mr Backe, who just happens to be a former X-Games, still professional skier, who you may just have seen in a movie or two. Supervention anyone?
13:31 Now, to find yourself under the lift line with one skiing prince may be regarded as unfortunate; two is most definitely careless. But absurdly, it frees me up. Because who’s going to be checking out my turns when Geir’s hammering the line like a race-bred shred-Terminator, while in contrast Anders is all grabs and air, a Nordic Candide. Instead, I slowly start to build pace, confidence and dare I say it, contentment (I’m never really happy with my skiing).
And as things get better and better (still snowing), lunch, and everything else is turned down in favour of more and more turns down our slot. We try other options (again low down, but this time beyond the Norefjellhytta) but nothing comes close. And I don’t think I’ve ever skied less of a good-sized resort (30-odd trails) yet had more fun. A true five-star day. With one brilliant run all it took. Not a bad way to finish what’s turned into a rather special trip.
HOW TO DO IT
Travel We flew Manchester to Bergen, with return via Oslo. See norwegian.com and expect to pay from £150 return if taking your ski bag. Ski Safari offer a similar itinerary, Fjords and Mountains (travelling between resort by train rather than Tesla) from £1425 for eight nights.
Stay Scandic Voss right by the gondola/train station; doubles from £110 per night. B&B. Vestlia Resort Geilo full-marks marvelous with perfect layout, relaxed lodge-style and even its own bowling alley; doubles from £180 per night, B&B. Norefjell Ski & Spa is slopeside, massive and comes with the full works, including indoor climbing wall; doubles from £150 per night, B&B.
Ski See Norway Home of Skiing for details on all the resorts – Voss, Myrkdalen, Geilo, Norefjell – featured here. One day ski pass in each costs between £45-50.