Low-cost skiing in Norway

by Beate.Oera-Roderick

Norway’s national parks form arguably the world’s best and most reliable skiing area, where cross-country skiers can go cabin-hopping in comfort and style

A lone ski track split the tree-less plateau in front of me in two; no sound but the rhythmic swoosh-swoosh of my skis. The world was entirely white, bar a deep blue sky and a few grey patches on the surrounding mountains, but a spectacular feat of alchemy was in play; from the snow, a million diamonds and crystals reflected back at me, transformed by the brilliant Easter sun. In the distance, a thin line of smoke rose from a cabin nestled at the foot of the peak of Svartnuten.

I had come to Rondvassbu in Rondane, one of 450 cabins in Norway’s national parks where skiers can find a warm bed at the end of the day. More than 7,000 kilometres of skiing tracks bind the cabins together in what is arguably the world’s best cross-country skiing area, with reliable snow from early December to late April. Easter is a traditional skiing holiday for Norwegians, and the best time to go, as the days are longer, the atmosphere great and the snow perfect. Sun cream is essential.

The cabins range from small, self-service cabins in remote areas, to large, sprawling complexes, and which you favour will largely depend on how much gear you are willing to carry. Unserviced cabins provide a bed for the night and a stove to cook your dinner, whilst the serviced cabins come complete with alcohol licence, equipment shop and a well-run kitchen to make your meals, packed lunch included. With prices starting from as little as 150 Norwegian Kroner a night, they are also a bargain in a normally expensive land.

Rondvassbu, which formed the starting point for my trip, is one of the larger, serviced cabins and was brimming with people when I arrived. Dinner was served at long tables, where friendships were made and skiing stories exchanged, much in the manner of fishermen recounting their greatest catch, while shoes and clothes were steaming up in front of the fireplaces. Some people were there for the week, skiing on the many prepared tracks in the area or taking part in the free activities arranged by the staff, while others arrived on their way to or from other cabins. All were made welcome by the host, however, as the cabins guarantee all visitors a bed for the night, whether they have reservations or not.

In the tracks, the rules are simple; keep to the right, let faster skiers past, and, if you find yourself faced with a skier hurtling towards you at breakneck speed, get out of the way. Outside of the tracks, the world is wide and vast, and open for exploration, with peaks to scale, views to behold and natural wonders to stop and stare at. Generally speaking, the mountains are a friendly place where perfect strangers greet each other and where you can always borrow some ski wax if the need arises.

The more remote the place, the more ready people are to have fun together. On my third night, I arrived at self-serviced Eldåbu, where I found a group of Norwegians and a single Dane. We soon got a roaring fire going and when someone produced a deck of cards we were set for the night. Outside, the temperatures were dropping as the snow came down in large, fluffy chunks, our cabin the lone light in the wilderness.

For all its glorious sunshine and the community-spirited jolliness of the Norwegians, the national parks are nevertheless true wilderness. It’s rare at this time of year, but the weather can turn to snow storms and blizzards and some areas really are far from civilisation, leaving both locals and government agencies keen to promote the Norwegian Mountain Code. Taking precautions and knowing your own limitations should form part of your plans, and it is a good idea to build some flexibility into your programme.

If this sounds daunting, fear not. The cabins are owned by the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT), whose brilliant website contains a wealth of information on cabins and routes, and their experienced employees are happy to help you plan an itinerary to suit your experience and comfort level. If you are a beginner, they will no doubt recommend you stick with well-marked, prepared tracks and serviced cabins, which are buzzing during the season. If, however, you know your blue wax from your lilac, and can handle a map and compass in emergencies, then the remote self-serviced cabins might be your thing.

The DNT also runs group tours for those who would like to explore the mountains away from the tracks in the safety of numbers, and I met one such group on my last day. Norwegian Easter is not about bunnies, eggs and mint sauce, they told me, but about ski wax, Kit Kats and oranges. ‘Building ski jumps and eating chocolate,’ a young boy added, whilst his mother thought it was more about ‘sunbathing on the cabin veranda with a good crimi’. Sitting on a sunny porch with my lunch, the tracks spreading out invitingly before me, I was beginning to agree.

Need to know

Cabin hire: The Norwegian Trekking Association
www.turistforeningen.no/
Tel: 0047 4000 1868

Equipment hire:
I rented skis from Høvringen Skiskole, though rental companies can be found in most areas. Wax-free skis are also available.
www.hoevringen-skiskole.com/
Tel: 0047 918 08 671

What to bring:
This is a recommended list from the DNT
www.turistforeningen.no/english/article.php?ar_id=17652&fo_id=3622

The Norwegian Mountain Code:
www.turistforeningen.no/english/article.php?ar_id=7090

Where to go

There are many areas to choose from, and you should start by contacting the DNT for advice. I went to Rondane national park, which has fairly gentle skiing areas suitable for all levels. Jotunheimen national park contains Norway’s three highest peaks and numerous glaciers, and would provide plenty of challenges for more experienced skiers. Oslomarka, on Oslo’s doorstep, is a forest area and excellent for those who prefer less travelling.

Rondane: www.visitrondane.com
Jotunheimen: www.visitjotunheimen.com/
Oslomarka: www.turistforeningen.no/english/location.php?lo_id=NO_oslo&fo_id=3980 

Fitness requirements?

Everyone in Norway skis, which should answer the question - skiing is for everyone. Obviously, the further and faster you wish to go, the fitter you will need to be, but there is no entry requirement as such. If anything, this is something of a red herring, as lack of technique is much more likely to hinder you than lack of fitness. Join a group or a course if you are a complete beginner, where you can learn the basics before striking out on your own.

Alternative places to stay

Rondane Spa or Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica.

Beate.Oera-Roderick

I first caught the travel bug sitting in the harbour in Cannes, basking in the sun whilst eating blueberries from the local market. I was 17, travelling on my own for the first time and revelled in the intense feeling of freedom. Two years later, I made a journey though Nepal and Tibet, sleeping in flooded tents, digging trucks out of muddy avalanches and seeing precious few showers, and yet loving every second. My fate was sealed.

I am Norwegian, and so naturally crave a degree of mountains, fjords and solitude, though I also love city living with its people, pace and martini cocktails. Now married to a lovely Englishman, I live in London, the perfect gateway to the world - so diverse and multicultural, it is the closest I've come to travelling whilst staying still in one place. You can visit my blog at www.thesocialcyclist.com, where I chart my adventures with a bike and a picnic basket, quite frequently abroad.

Favourite places: London, Vienna, Lisbon & Seville. Cusco, St. Paul de Vence, Extremadura & Tisvildeleje. The Trondheimsfjord. Mountains everywhere; Alps, Pyrenees, Himalayas, Andes and Skallen, the little mountain top near my home town.