Norway: A sight for skiers' eyes
The fjords and glaciers of Norway provide a visual treat in winter, says Matt Carroll
Saturday 19 November 2011
I spy with my little eye, something beginning with "L". All morning I'd been catching glimpses of the lake spread out on the valley floor below while doing my best to concentrate on steering my snowboard between the trees. Every twist and turn sent a cascade of powder flying through the air.
Finally, having reached a clearing, I saw the thing in all its glory, laid out before me like a petrol-blue puddle waiting to be disturbed by some giant's boot. Surrounded by miles of pristine wilderness, the lake epitomised everything I love about North America.
Only this wasn't North America, it was Norway. And that "lake" was actually a fjord.
The fjord in question is Vangsvatnet, focus of the ski town of Voss. I'd come here from the city of Bergen, on the country's wild west coast, from which a scenic 90-minute train ride had brought me to the foot of the slopes. Here I dropped my bags and jumped on the lift, a fresh dump of snow clearly having been arranged just for my arrival.
While the backcountry surrounding Voss is reminiscent of America's immense lakes and mountains, the resort itself is diminutive. There's 40km of skiable terrain, spread over 15 runs, compared with the 94 you'll get at Heavenly, in Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border, plus another nine miles to explore in nearby Voss Myrkdalen, 15 minutes' drive away. However, it wasn't the quantity of good skiing that I loved about this place; it was the quietness. For most of the morning it was just me and my guide, Per, carving our names across the pistes. It felt as though we had our own private ski hill to play with.
After taking the six-seater Myrkdalsekspressen lift up to 860m, we joined a short red run that led into the trees. The snow was bucketing down by now, an intimate silence descending on everything as we picked our way through the foliage, finally emerging onto a blue run that led us back to the base station.
Generally speaking, you don't expect to find such good-quality snow at this low altitude. In France, Switzerland or Austria, anything below 1,500m is a no-no. But this far north, it's less of an issue. Indeed, last season, while the rest of Europe was struggling with a shortage of snow, Voss had plenty to spare.
With our legs now nicely warmed up in the below-zero conditions, we headed back into some trees close to the terrain park. This was where I got my first real taste of Norwegian snow as I came a cropper in the deep powder, much to Per's amusement. Forget Bigfoot or the Yeti; I had turned into the abominable snowboarder, cheeks flushed and beard clogged with slush from a series of tumbles.
When it comes to après ski action, Voss is rather relaxed. Back at the Fleischer's Hotel, there was no dancing on tables to pumping techno, much to the relief of my aching thighs. Instead I was able to sit back with a quiet beer in the lounge, watching the sun set over the lake.
After three days of fresh powder, empty pistes and secret tree runs, I headed on to the Torvis Hotel in nearby Marifjora. By car it's around three hours' drive from Voss, but I'd booked a helicopter transfer, cutting the commute down to an hour or so and giving me an opportunity to see more of the sights.
En route we passed over the spectacular Sognefjord, Norway's longest, which stretches on for 200km, bordered by solid rock walls, before touching down outside the Torvis.
Perched beside another glassy fjord, the hotel's white clapboard walls looked like the stage set of an Ibsen play. Inside, too, it felt as though I'd stepped back in time, the owner, Bard, leading me to a lounge populated with stuffed animals and agricultural knick-knacks. In this little bubble of Scandinavian calm, the only sounds to be heard were the occasional crackle of wood from the fire, and the clinking of ice as I sipped my whisky.
Another attraction here is the food. On the menu that evening was roast lamb, just what you need after a full day's ski touring, which is what most guests come here for. That, and the Nordic skiing, as the area around Marifjora is littered with cross-country trails. So the next morning I headed to nearby Jostedalen and swapped my snowboard for skinny skis.
Accompanied by a guide, I shuffled my way across a snow-covered lake, ending up at the Nigard Glacier. After three hours on the trail, I finally spied it: a huge, sculptural mass of blue ice emerging out of the horizon. From a distance it looked like Superman's lair with its aquamarine walls, smooth as glass.
Glacier aside, the landscape here is more North American than anything you would expect to find just a few hours' flight from the UK; as is the wildlife, a bear having been spotted here just the day before I arrived. Now that's one game of I-spy I'm sorry to have missed.
* Norwegian (00 47 2149 0015; norwegian.no) flies from Gatwick to Bergen; SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com) flies from Aberdeen and Gatwick; BMI (0844 848 4888; flybmi.co.uk) flies from Heathrow. Rail transfers from Bergen to Voss with Norwegian State Railway (00 47 8150 0888; nsb.no) cost from NOK352 (£39) return. Helicopter transfers with Fonnafly (00 47 8800 1313; fonnafly.no) from Voss to Torvis cost NOK4,700 (£417) for four people.
* Fleischer's Hotel
(00 47 5652 0500; fleischers.no) in Voss
offers double rooms
from NOK1,690 (£186), including breakfast.
A four-day, adult lift
pass costs NOK1,065
(£117) per person.
Torvis Hotel (00 47 5768 3500; torvis.no) has
double rooms from NOK1,750 (£192), including breakfast.
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