They were the tracks that stopped me in mine – those tell-tale Vs, left by long, thin, and (crucially) light, Nordic skis, stretching up the snowy path. They epitomised what Norwegian skiing is all about, and, as I gasped for breath, cursing my cumbersome planks, what it isn't: downhill.
The clues were everywhere, from Geilo's vital statistics – 39 downhill slopes versus 350 miles of cross-country trails – to the resort's empty runs and queueless lifts. And this was February half-term, a holiday shared by Norw- egian and British schools. Not that I was complaining, or at least not once I was back in our snug wooden hytte – one of 26 cabins hidden in the woods at the edge of Hotel Bardola – and had collapsed in front of the fire.
That Norwegians prefer their slopes flat (this is the home of Nordic skiing, after all, where access to cross-country ski trails is free of charge) makes Norway ideal skiing territory if school-age children restrict you to peak-time travel. Where else could you guide a two-year-old down an entire mountain and barely see another skier? Or take advantage of the odd childless window by bombing up and down a black without queuing for the chair lift? Not the Alps, certainly.
Yet skiing in Geilo, which has a sleepy feel despite being Norway's biggest winter-sports centre, is about so much more than the freedom to bounce down your own private moguls. Take the journey there, by train from Bergen or Oslo on northern Europe's highest – and probably most stunning – railway. (Added bonus: it beats feeling sick as an overheated coach twists up French hairpins.)
In pictures: Geilo skiing
In pictures: Geilo skiing
1/4 Geilo skiing
A spin around the frozen lake in a dog sledge (visitnorway.com)
2/4 Geilo skiing
Geilo is dotted with traditional lodgings (visitnorway.com)
3/4 Geilo skiing
Hotel Bardola (visitnorway.com)
4/4 Geilo skiing
Geilo has many child-friendly runs and activities (visitnorway.com)
We had taken the first train out of Bergen on the Sunday morning. By 8am, salopetted locals clutching skis and boots were as eager as us, surging down the platform like starters at a Nordic ski race.
We were glued to the views as the route wound gently up and around fjords, although the boys (ages five and two) preferred the cartoons in the padded soft-play area at the end of the family carriage. Yes, family carriage.
Clouds tumbled down, wrapping the mountains in an oversized coat as we reached the snowline, passing towns with names like Voss. The white outside was hypnotic, disturbed only by dots of people embarking across the frozen tundra on a cross-country expedition.
The three-and-a-half hour trip got us to Geilo at 11.40am, and after a quick hytte pit-stop we were at Slatta ski centre getting kitted out by lunchtime. I'd worried about bitter temperatures, but luck prevailed and it was barely below freezing – good news when you're introducing a two-year-old to the white stuff. Better still is a national mentality that applauds starting them early, even if I was to learn that guiding a toddler down a slope gives new meaning to post-ski exhaustion. We found the children's slope, but a week of watching Olympic snowboarders "huck it" in the Sochi Winter Games meant they had eyes only for the jumps, even the first-timer.
Although the Slatta slopes were a walk from our hytte, the resort's runs are dotted either side of a valley that is dominated by a large lake – or would be if it all wasn't so white. Shuttle buses connect the various locations, although they're not nearly frequent enough, and taxis are pricey. The logistical challenge of ski equipment plus kids permeated the week, a consequence of not booking into any of the children's clubs. On the plus side, we would have otherwise exhausted all 39 runs in a day or two.
Geiloheisen, the other side of the lake, is the bigger domain, and was ideal for our purposes: the five-year-old could take turns skiing blues, greens, and even a red funpark with one of us, while the little one was guided down a children's slope, complete with stuffed giant animals to keep him motivated. The café at the bottom served heavenly cinnamon buns, which locals enjoyed with the contents of thermoses plucked from their rucksacks. Similarly, we were able to rustle up sandwiches in our self-catering hytte. Norway was unexpectedly kind on the wallet compared with an Alpine alternative, thanks to some eagle-eyed shopping in the local discount supermarket.
Somewhat pricier was a spin around the frozen lake in a dog sledge. I found myself in sole charge of six feisty huskies and our two year old. "Whatever happens, don't let go of the sledge," warned Mari Bjornstad, who helps her brother, Andre, run mushing trips. In my own poor defence, the first corner caught me by surprise; and I don't think my son even realised that I'd fallen off. The sight of him disappearing across the snow is certainly one I'll never forget, even if the dogs did eventually come to a halt.
With an abundance of snow – child-deep outside our cabin – and an organised afternoon of kids' ski racing, Geilo was a revelation to our family of four skiers; the boys are begging to go back. I'm also keen to return, only next time I'll go native and swap my downhill skis for some Nordic ones.
Susie Mesure travelled as a guest of Visit Norway (visitnorway.com). Bergen is served by Wideroe from Aberdeen, by British Airways from Heathrow, by SAS from Manchester and by Norwegian from Gatwick.
Norwegian State Railway (nsb.no) operates the Bergen-Oslo Railway; trains to Geilo take three-and-a-half hours and run five or six times daily.
Hotel Bardola (00 47 32 09 41 00; bardola.no) offers self-catering cabins in Geilo.
Geilo Dogsledding (00 47 97 63 09 52; geilodogsledding.com). Trips start at NKr500 (£46) for adults and NKr350 (£32) for children aged two to 12.
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