Fjord focus this winter

Matt Carroll heads to a little-known Norwegian wonderland for perfect powder on the pistes

When it comes to skiing, the British tend to be creatures of habit. Every year the majority of us pack our woollies and make a beeline for the same mainstream European resorts, in France, Austria and Switzerland. I know this, because I'm one of that majority. Or at least I was.

Last season I decided to shake things up – to try something a little "off-piste" – by booking a trip to Stranda in Norway. Tucked away in the Sunnmore Alps in the west of the country, about two hours' drive inland from the town of Alesund, it has just 14 miles of skiable terrain – not much to shout about in relation to vast numbers of pistes and dozens of lifts on tap at the likes of Val d'Isère, Verbier and the usual European favourites. And yet, this is where many pro snowboarders, freeskiers and cool kids come each season, to get their kicks and build their kickers.

As for why, the answer is simple: powder. Bucketloads of it. Come the winter a conveyor belt of weather fronts scoop up water from the nearby Norwegian Sea, before dumping it all over Stranda's modest peaks. The high salt content makes it light and fluffy, and the fact that no one really knows about the place means you can have it all to yourself.

The other reason to come here is the scenery. Vast fjords surround the ski fields. Standing at the top of the Meraftaloypa run, I had an eyeful of the Unesco-listed Geirangerfjord – a vast body of petrol-blue water so calm that it looked as though you could just stroll right across.

Forget twee Alpine villages; this is an ancient land of myth and legend, where tempestuous gods rule the roost. As I strapped in for the opening run of the day, the blue sky overhead was blotched with clouds tinged grey, as though some giant had dipped his brush in the ink. On either side of the Geirangerfjord cliffs spilled straight into the water, and away in the distance I spied a house perched safely out of reach.

"A hundred years ago the only way to access it was by boat," said Knut, my guide. "You had to climb a ladder up the cliff-side to get to the door, so when the taxman came they'd simply pull the ladder up. A lot easier than sending your money to the Cayman Islands, no?"

The modest number of groomers here means you can whip through the piste map with relative ease. The resort is spread across a wide-open valley, both sides of which are laced with cruisy blues, a handful of reds and a couple of blacks. Knut and I began our day with a few relaxed runs. However, the real beauty of the place, and the reason why so many pros love to come here, lies beyond the piste markers – and you don't need to be a pro to get involved.

Sniffing out good powder usually requires early mornings and a hefty hike, but in Stranda it's accessible from the lifts. With our legs warmed up and eyes wide, Knut led me under the rope off the Alperittloypa run, into an expanse of untracked powder overlooking the Geirangerfjord.

The pristine white coating reminded me of the Christmas cakes my mother used to make and I was tempted as always to run my hand through the immaculate icing. This time there was no danger of getting into trouble with mum, so as we floated our way down towards the fjord on a carpet of white fluff, I leant in and scooped up handfuls of snow.

As you'd expect from a country with just five million inhabitants and 148,000 square miles, there's plenty of empty backcountry around Stranda if you're looking for serious adventure. But with so much snow and so few people, there's no need to wander far. Most of the runs Knut and I tackled were safely tucked away within the resort boundary; whenever we reached the bottom, we'd simply grab a lift and go back up for more. It was rather like cat skiing, but without the dent in your wallet, and by the end of the day we'd packed in 10 or so chunky runs.

The other great thing was that we were never far from a restaurant. The on-mountain eateries here serve spectacular fjord views with their burgers. (They weren't particularly expensive either, considering Norway's reputation: just over £3 for a hotdog, although the goulash was more expensive at around £10 a bowl).

There are no hotels at the ski hill itself. Instead Knut drove me half an hour down the road, to a futuristic "hotel" among the trees. In fact it was less a hotel and more a cluster of seven luxury cabins – all glass walls and heated floors, with a sauna and hot-tub just a short stroll along the path – built by Knut's own fair hands, of course.

Immersed up to my chin, with the bubbles easing away the day's aches, I spent a productive hour catching snowflakes on my tongue. Dinner was served in a restored farmhouse that now doubles as the main lodge. With the fire crackling away in the background and a silky glass of red to warm the cockles, I tucked into a plate of locally sourced lamb while Knut made plans to chase more powder. This set the tone for the rest of the week; fresh tracks by day, delicious dinners at night. It's a habit I could easily get used to.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled with Norwegian, (020-8099 7254;norwegian.com), flies from Gatwick to Alesund.

Staying there

The Juvet hotel, (00 1 47 950 32010; juvet.com), offers half-board accommodation for 1,750Nkr (£190).

More information

strandafjellet.no

visitalesundgeiranger.com

visitnorway.co.uk

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'