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Phil Griffin and friends talk about their experiences on the slopes.
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Thu, Mar 19 2009 3:38 PM
Why everyone has to go south and east I do not know. I have been going north for the last 44 years. Phil was, therefore, only six years old when I started, and others may not even have been born! This shows that I am quite a bit older than him and not part of the “bombing down the mountain“ brigade any more! However, the thrill of skis on the bottom of ones legs is still present, and I am not over the hill yet! All systems are GO! When taking a breather the other day a Norwegian man and his wife stopped to talk to me. He was 91 and she was 86 and both were on skis. However, he did say “I think I am getting a bit too old for this”! Anyway, that leaves a bit of time for me.
My white powder experiences have always revolved around the country of Norway in the area around the 1994 Winter Olympic town of Lillehammer. This area boasts fantastic skiing facilities for families of all levels of competence. Above Lillehammer is the cross country ski resort of Sjusjøen where there are over 5000 individual privately owned cabins set amongst the trees, one hardly visible from another. This is where I started in 1963 and where there are now over 350km prepared, well signed ski tracks each winter. Norway is of course the home of langrenn or cross country skiing. You always have stable snow conditions here from November to the end of April at a height above sea level rising to 965m.
A further 15km up the E6 main road, which goes from top to bottom of Norway, you have Hafjell, where the 1994 Olympics staged the slalom and giant slalom competitions. This may be better for other blog writers who are in the “bombing down the mountain” brigade, although the real “b-d-t-m” area comes later. Hafjell is steep and only for confident skiers, with only a short run out at the bottom of the main slope. Here a new gondola lift installed in 2007 takes you to 781m over sea level to begin your downhill descent. There are plenty of shorter lifts and pulls for the beginners and a vast entertainment program laid on for children. Après ski is plentiful including Woody’s English bar. Before OL94, as it is known locally, Hafjell was just a small village on a main road. Now it is one of Norway’s up and coming ski resorts thanks largely to 1994, and a lot of money is being spent there on accommodation and snow facilities. On the other side of the narrow valley you can see the “Fakkelmann” in the hillside. This was the emblem of OL94 and depicts a man carrying the Olympic flame. His shape was cut out from the trees on the hillside and it must cover an area of about 30 acres. In the winter it fills with snow and really stands out.
Opposite Hafjell is the bob sleigh track at Hunderfossen. This is well worth a visit and you can have a go if you want to be subjected to 6G’s on the bends at 60mph! It is advertised as not good for those with bad backs or hearts. Don’t watch it first, as the screams of those going down will surely put you off!
Another 20km up the road is Kvitfjell, the Olympic downhill run. This is for you if you are really up to it, and certainly not for the faint hearted. I have not spent much time there as it is a bit out of my league. Like all Norwegian resorts they are merged well into the hillside, and you can pass them on the main road un-noticed if you are not careful.
Our favorite spot is Skeikampen which is near our cabin. It is a genuinely family orientated resort with something for everyone, from nursery to black slopes. It is 38km north west of Lillehammer, and if you want you can stay in the town and bus up. However, there are plenty of rental cabins and flats available, plus a couple of top grade hotels. The new lift rises from 700m to 1115 m above sea level to give a fantastic view over what seems to be half of Norway on a good day. Altogether there are 10 lifts and 21km of slopes. For cross country it boasts 200km of prepared tracks which join up with Kvitfjell and Gålå to give a total of up to 600km. Lift passes can be used in all four of the major resorts which is quite useful. Après ski is again good, but anywhere in Norway alcohol is expensive so you are advised to stock up to the max with duty frees. You can’t buy spirits in shops in Norway like you can here, you have to go to a special government warehouse somewhere on the fringes. If you are driving, however, the drink drive limit is only about a quarter of ours so you have to be careful as there is a waiting list to go into prison for driving offences!
There are higher and steeper ski areas to the west and further north, but Skei is the place for me. It is particularly easy to get to from the UK, and we can go door to door in 11 hours from home. That’s 3 hours driving each side, a 2 hour flight and a bit of hanging around at the airport. Driving is no problem whatsoever in Norway, even when there is 1.5m of snow cover over the land. Traffic is light, and on several occasions we have returned to the airport (120 miles), and never come up behind another vehicle the whole way. However, they do have an 80km/50mph speed limit over most of the country which is a little difficult to get used to, and hordes of speed cameras that are camouflaged by the trees!
On arrival at our cabin the 4 feet of snow had previously slipped off the roof so we had to dig our way in. Up the side it was 8 feet deep and re frozen. We had to chip a path through and over this to get to the wood shed for the logs. Eventually we managed it, got the stove going and warmed the place up. Down below on the frozen lake the local police were conducting their usual winter ice driving lessons for local teenagers. This continued even after dark. There were well over a dozen cars, one agricultural tractor and two caravans on the ice at any one time. The ice may not have been more than 4 inches thick, but my neighbor assured me that the water actually takes the weight and the ice is purely the surface. Providing nobody opens the sluice at the end of the lake and drops the water level you are OK!
Our recent trip was organized to take in a leg of the World Cup Ski Jumping competition held in Lillehammer on March 7. We went last year but it was cancelled at the last minute due to high winds across the jump area. This time we were lucky and all went well. If you have ever watched a jump competition on TV you will have noted that a lot of patriotic flag waving goes on. This seems an essential part of the whole exercise, partly to keep warm I think!
Useful ski/accommodation info can be obtained from the following websites:
www.wclillehammer.no for ski jumping information.
www.gd.no is the local daily paper which may be of interest.
If you want to log on to a real ongoing ski trip by a local man try this www.skinorway.org.uk
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Ottery St Mary