For downhillers who fancy a change from the conspicuous consumption that characterises Alpine ski resorts, Norway could be just the place. Families with young children, in particular, will have no trouble finding junk food to please the kids – the mountain restaurants serve little else.
There is a traditional friendship between Norway and Britain, and English is widely spoken.
For the Norwegians, skiing is a weekend rather than a special holiday activity, and not an occasion for extravagance. So at lunchtime they haul sandwiches out of their backpacks, as we might while walking the Pennine Way, and in the evening they cook in their apartments. Don’t expect tempting restaurants.
The Norwegians have a problem with alcohol. Walk into an après-ski bar at 5pm on a Saturday and you may find young men already inebriated. And this is despite incredibly high taxes on booze. In restaurants wine prices are ludicrous and the wine quality is poor – though our resident consultant on matters Norwegian says that the state liquor stores offer very good value at the top end. Other prices are generally not high by Alpine standards.
Cross-country skiing comes as naturally to Norwegians as walking; even if you’re not very keen, the fact that cross-country is normal, and not a wimp’s alternative to ‘real’ skiing, gives Norway a special appeal. Here, cross-country is both a way of getting about the valleys and a way of exploring the hills. What distinguishes Norway for the keen cross-country skier is the network of long trails across the gentle uplands, with refuges along the way where backpackers can pause for refreshment or stay overnight.
More and more Norwegians are taking to telemarking, and snowboarding is very popular – local youths fill the impressive terrain parks at weekends. For regular downhill skiing, the country isn’t nearly so attractive. Despite the fact that it is able to hold downhill races, Norway’s Alpine areas are of limited appeal. The most rewarding resort is Hemsedal.
The other downhill resorts most widely known are Geilo and Voss, on the railway line from Bergen to Oslo. Tryvann is just 20 minutes from the centre of Oslo, on a spur of the underground system, and popular with the locals. Lillehammer is well known too, of course – it hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics; but it’s a lakeside town not a downhill ski resort (the Alpine races were held some distance away). Other main resorts are Trysil, on the border with Sweden, Beitostølen in the Jotunheimen National Park, and Oppdal.