Freeride the Fjords
As you may know I love an adventure and I especially love a ski adventure, so when I was invited to 'Freeride the Fjords' and explore the fjords of Norway, I nearly popped my cork; I am also in love with the Scandinavian countries so this was a triple whammy for me! We flew to Bergen and from here we made our way to the Bergen station where our train awaited us. Once aboard and not long out of Bergen the scenery did not disappoint. We were in the heart of Fjord land and already glorious views were surrounding us; I tried to photograph, but it seemed every time I raised my camera we passed through another tunnel, this is how mountainous the terrain is. Eventually we pulled into Voss, the Norwegian capital of adventure sports and the Winter Olympics. From Voss it was a quick 30 minute drive up to the relatively new ski resort of Myrkdalen, these were not towering mountains but rather wild, rolling fells of the county of Hordaland, situated in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Norwegian tourism. From low down in the valley it was difficult to get an idea of what lay up above the ski resort.
To be honest I had not heard of Myrkdalen before, and for good reason. A local philosopher Hans Schelheim claimed back in the 60s that one day tourism would come to the quiet little farming valley of Myrkdalen, of course like all great stories the locals all laughed at him thinking he was some kind of lunatic; but ohhh who was to have the last laugh. The long sighted visionary was indeed correct and in 2003 the first ski run was opened and the main hotel opened in 2012. It has been a gradual and comfortable growth, under one company who owns every part of the ski resort; some developers might argue ‘why not build it all now?’ however I like the Norwegian way of creating the ski resort step by step with consideration and respect for the environment. The Myrkdalen Hotel is the only hotel here, with 112 rooms and 10 junior suites, and the added benefit of ski in - ski out facilities. The resort also has 700 private log cabins many which can be hired out too and there are plans to build many more over the years as the resort expands. Because the hotel was built so recently, the environmental impact was heavily considered and the hotel has its own Bio-Energy facility supplying all of the heating from burning local fuels. They have kept the buildings compact where possible leaving the land alone and the level of recycling is astronomical with 92% of all waste being recycled! They are also looking at kite-wind technology to run the ski lifts.
Why here of all places? Well Myrkdalen is easy to get to from Voss and Bergen, but Myrkdalen is one of the most snow sure in Europe, something becoming more and more integral with climate change. The area has its own microclimate keeping the surrounding mountains much colder than Voss, in fact the area receives 18-24 metres of snow per season and it is possible to ski from mid November through to the beginning of May with the potential for some ski touring in Summer. The resort seems to have something for everyone, from freeriding fanatics to families, which is great for freeriders with families who want a holiday that can satisfy both demands. They have build much to entice, from terrain parks and amazingly fun ski cross slopes, a great variety of pistes and some fantastic off-piste too; the resort even has FIS slopes that may just entice the 2030 Winter Olympics… watch this space. Outside the winter sports, the resort regularly runs festivals to keep it lively from music festivals, kids festivals and as I experienced, even a retro 80’s freestyle weekend with Norwegian Ski-ballet heros and live 80’s music. This has been one very well kept secret until now, seeing as I have let the cat out of the bag; and all within 30 minutes of UNESCO fjords what is there not to love. The resort is continually growing with more shops planned and an onsite bakery too.
The choice of dining in Mrykdalen is fantastic considering there is only one hotel. There are three different concepts with Restaurant Tunet serving deliciously handmade pizzas and pastas, perfect for a more laid back dining experience. Restaurant Nuten is the main restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with A la Carte and buffet style, make sure you eat in there at least once the food is delightful. The third choice is Restaurant Nuten Fondue where you guessed it, traditional fondue is served, once again a great experience to be had with family of friends.
As for the Skiing, the first morning we jumped on the Myrkdalensekspressen chair without being able to see where it was leading us to because the shape of the mountains in Myrkdalen mean that one can not really see the majority of the ski area from down below. What a surprise we were in for, as we climbed up and up, the mountains opened out to large sweeping vistas which included wide open flowing pistes and gargantuan fields of freeride potential, one could also see the potential of how the ski resort might grow and expand further into the mountains in the future. This may not be the biggest of ski resorts, but this is quality over quantity for each piste delivers a thrill on every descent. That morning we flew around the resort taking in the variety of pistes, of which I particularly loved the ski cross course No. 12 Myrkdalenscrossen, I wore a stupid grin for the entire piste again and again. In the afternoon we released out heals from our skis and headed up beyond the lifts, ski touring into the unknown. Here we experienced a totally different side to Myrkdalen, a more serene experience with some simply stunning terrain. The views from the top are definitely worth the slog and the choice of descents aplenty.
Sadly, we had to leave the fun playground that is Mrykdalen, but luckily to continue the adventure and discover more of Norway. Our 30 minute transfer took us to Gudvangen where we boarded the carbon fibre electric hybrid ferry known as ‘Vision of the Fjords’, a futuristic ship that lacked the usual stench of diesel and grumbling engines. This is eco water transport of the future, and what a perfect way to experience the beauty of the fjords. However, this was not any average fjord this was Nærøyfjorden, the wildest and most beautiful part of the Sognerfjord know as ‘King of the Fjords’ being the largest and deepest of them all. The fjord has many and various arms leading from the main fjord, we were about to cruise through the Nærøyfjord the most beautiful and wildest arm of the Sognefjord which is why it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This was 17 kms of breath taking beauty, with towering cliffs, snow capped peaks, never ending waterfalls and little settlements and farmstead clinging to the mountainsides. On the way we passed Undredal, the quaint village that inspired the design of Arendelle in ‘Frozen’, I did keep my eyes open for Elsa, but sadly no one told her when my boat was passing. Eventually we reached the little town of Flåm where the next stage of our adventure was awaiting us.
We were about to board the famous Flåm Railway from Flåm to Vatnahalsen, a stunning 45 minute rail journey that would see us travelling away from the waters of the fjords and up, up into the mountains of Sogn og Fjordane. This is a spectacular ‘bucket list’ train journey, which shows off the true beauty of Norway, parts of it look specially designed; perhaps Douglas Adam’s character ‘Slartibartfast the planet designer’ really did build the fjords after all! After winding our way around lakes, through tunnels and following train tracks clinging to the sides of mountains we eventually pulled into Vatnahalsen. Less a station and more a stop in the middle of nowhere, we jumped off the train with all of our skiing luggage and made our way along the short track to the Vatnahalsen Lodge to meet our host Petter Andersen and his lovable sheep dog Viggo. The lodge dates back to 1896 and certainly has a Victorian quality, it is a place where one can feel at home instantaneously, the afternoon DIY waffles go a long way to making one feel welcome too. The Waffles are not the only culinary delights in store; the breakfasts are extensive and hugely satisfying, whilst the dinners will not only satiate one’s hunger after a long day on the mountain but will tantalise the taste buds too.
The following day we all made sure to fill ourselves at breakfast, for we were to be ski touring our way into the local mountains. The five of us met with our certified mountain guide (UIAGM) Roald Lande of Fjellsentralen plus Petter and Viggo, it was time to click into to our bindings. We started by meandering our way through the trees and ridges until we reached lake Reinungavatnet, from here we headed north over the ice past dormant cabins dotted around the frozen lake shore. Eventually we reached the frozen inlet of a river, the going was steep in places, so we zig-zagged our way up the the valley. The vegetation became more and more sparse until we were in an open terrain of undulating dips and rollers. Viggo was darting up and down the slope loving every moment and driving us on with his eager sheep dog skills. It was a climb that was to take us to 1700 meters above sea level to the top of Tarven; only two of us made it to the top as fatigue took hold of some of the group, but the views and the shear satisfaction were well worth the hard work. Once we caught our breath and posed for the camera we jumped into our skis in readiness for the descent. When one has earnt ones turns they feel so much better than usual and these turns were no exception. We felt like we were floating on air as we glided our way down the mountain with the sun shining down on us. This certainly was exceptional skiing with an outstanding view to boot; just one of many itinerary routes that one can take in the area.
We were sad to eventually leave Vatnahalsen, but once again we could enjoy a ride on the Flåm Railway as we made our way through the mountains. Instead of heading straight to the airport we took in a little detour of Bergen, gateway to the fjords and UNESCO world heritage city. This was well worth the deviation, taking in the sites on foot we explored the stunning views over the city from Mount Fløyen at the top of the Fløibanen funicular, and wandered through the lanes and explored the many historical sites such as the higgledy-piggledy streets of Bryggen. Eventually we stopped for a spot of lunch at Bryggeloftet & Stuene for some scrumptious Norwegian fare before it was time to leave Bergen. It certainly is worth making the time to take in the sites of Bergen on ones tour of the Fjords. The whole trip covered three of my passions; exploration, skiing and Scandinavia. If you are looking for a little more adventure that the usual hotel or chalet ski trip then the ‘Freeride the Fjords’ trip will certainly satisfy your desire for getting more out of your ski trip; if you are anything like me then this trip will leave you wanting to return to explore even more of what Norway has to offer.
For more information please visit: Freeride The Fjords
Images courtesy of Adam Attew & Sverre Hjornevik