Norway: A triumph of creativity
What Trysil lack in altitude, it makes up for in latitude, as Simon Calder finds on a week-long family holiday
Saturday 16 October 2010
The pleasure of any holiday divides neatly into three: anticipation, experience and recollection. On the typical ski trip, your sense of anticipation is deliciously heightened by the approach to the resort. On the day of arrival, the excitement increases proportionally with the gradient of the road or railway and the steepness of the valley through which you are climbing.
It was, therefore, frankly disheartening by 90 minutes into the minibus ride north from Oslo airport that the landscapes were straight out of Doctor Zhivago (snow-draped steppe stretching as far as the eye can see) rather than Touching the Void or even The Sound of Music.
At about the point where we passed north of the latitude of the tip of the Shetland Islands, the horizon acquired a dimple. As we drew closer, it took shape as a partially bald mountain standing modestly proud of the valley through which the Klaralven river was rushing. Is that, I wondered, it?
Having skied elsewhere in Norway before, I wasn't expecting the Eiger, but Trysil – with its 1,132m mountain, barely exceeding the height of Snowdon – defies expectations of what skiing is about. What it lacks in altitude, it makes up for in latitude: the fact Trysil is closer to the North Pole than to southern Spain became evident on day five, when a horizontal snowstorm blew through. But the location turned out to have far more facets than you would expect from a single mountain, and the trip remains one of those rare family holidays that is memorable for all the right reasons.
What you see, when you get closer, is a monolithic mountain carved into spectacular shapes by millennia of extreme weather. What you get is a week's worth of adventure delivered impeccably by the appealing combination of nature and Norway. (But not by many Norwegians; most of the staff around the resort are from Sweden, where wage levels are lower; and some skiers venture across the nearby Swedish frontier for a two-centre experience.)
On the long-standing Norwegian principle of making the most of modest resources, the resort designers have worked miracles, eking 64 separate runs out of a single hill. Anyone of lesser rank than "thrill-seeker, first-class" will find plenty to fill a week, not least because of the way that the character of the slopes changes as the day progresses.
The main part of the resort lies on the east side of the mountain, and the blue and red runs on this flank are most perfectly tuned during the two- or three-hour window between the sun taking the harsh edge off the surface and the snow softening into an unrewarding mush. After a few tours through the lower-altitude Norwegian wood, you will probably move to the higher, balder crown of the mountain. Here, things start getting challenging with a short but gnarly black run of the kind best tackled by fearless youngsters. Or you just follow the sun, and flip across to the western flank where a new portfolio of trails opens up. These tend to be broader and faster, just what you need when you can't wait for lunch. Your appetite, though, may be dulled when you see the prices at the excellent range of mountainside cafés and restaurants.
A plate of pasta or pizza with coffee or hot chocolate will easily consume one of those elegant 100kr (£11) notes. Multiply by four to feed the family, and by six to fill the week, and the holiday lunch bill could top £300. To be fair, this is not exceptional by Swiss or even French standards. And handily, the supermarkets – and reasonable picnic prices – of downtown Trysil are just a stroll from the hotel.
Even if your credit card is platinum-plated, it is worth heading into the town centre. One reward is the agreeable waterside walk; another is the energetic sculpture of the local Nordic skiing hero, Hallgeir Brenden, defying gravity outside Trysil's Culture House; and best of all is the Ski Museum housed in the Trysil-Knut Hotel. Besides the memorabilia from the pioneering days of skiing (the world's first ski club was reputedly established here in 1861), you can tackle a "virtual" ski jump thanks to an entertaining simulator; gravity not included.
Gravity assistance is not needed for several more of the snow activities on offer in Trysil. The town is the home of Anita Moen, an Olympic cross-country skier, and the gentle rises of the southern side of the mountain are carved through with Nordic ski trails. And if your legs need a rest, a bone's throw away the huskies are hungry for hurling themselves through the snow: a case not so much of "walkies" as of being dragged through a snowdrift by a horde of hounds while clinging for dear life to the wood-and-leather superstructure of what looks like a kennel on runners. Hang on, and you'll love the thrill of sweeping through empty, snowy plains that seem to stretch to Siberia.
Norway is bigger than the UK, but has one-12th of the population. A few winters ago, I arrived at a ski resort in Norway in the week before Easter. It turns out that this is when every self-respecting Norwegian heads for the hills. Even then, there were no significant queues for lifts or crowds on the slopes. That allows you the freedom to enjoy the runs, and the views, to the full.
By the end of the week, with your horizons recalibrated by the joy of endless skies and almost endless sunsets across empty plains, you may well conclude that Trysil is the ideal family resort. And in terms of total journey time, Norwegian resorts are no further than many Alpine locations – assuming the planes are flying.
On the last-but-one morning, I slid cheerfully down to the café and saw a newspaper front page showing a plume emerging from a volcano. No great command of Norwegian was needed to realise that Vulkan-aske fra Island stopper fly-Norge could mean problems getting home. Along with all flights from Scandinavia, my final day was cancelled and I sailed home as cargo, a passenger on a container ship. A memorable trip, indeed.
Simon Calder paid £2,500 for a family of four for a week. This included Heathrow-Oslo flights on SAS from ; minibus transfer to Trysil; lift passes; and half-board at the Radisson Blu. He booked through skiNorway (020-7917 6044; ski-norway.co.uk).
Skiing in Norway: too dark and expensive?
Ben Nyberg, the proprietor of SkiNorway, is accustomed to a litany of excuses for avoiding the main Scandinavian ski destination.
"There are a few myths out there concerning Norway that need to be dispelled. Temperature: yes, it is a bit colder than the Alps, but then the snow conditions are great up until May. Daylight? Yes, it can be a bit darker than the UK. Expensive? Not much more so now than the Alps – the pound has fared very well against the Norwegian krone, and many customers are reporting in some cases it's cheaper to ski here than in the UK. Alcohol may be a bit more expensive, but Norway isn't in the EU, so you can benefit from duty-free.
If you're a family with children up to early or mid teens, you're in heaven. Nowhere in Europe caters so well as Norway for that demographic. You don't have the big mountains that can be a little bit scary, especially for families with children. There is some off-piste and a few good black runs, but generally it's not intimidating and will build confidence."
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