Skiing in Europe can be a pretty commercial affair. A lot of the resorts look identical and have become watered down. The slopes are crowded and the powder is not as fresh as it once was. Going back country is the only way to get any kind of anything fresh at all. For some reason my last trip to Western Europe left me with the feeling that off piste had become pacified. The only answer was to broaden my search.
Norway seemed to be the logical answer. When most people talk about skiing in Norway they tell you about the rustic chalets, the limited downhill areas and shorter daylight hours in mid winter. It is supposed to be a resort suited to families. Not a place for more experienced skiers. What rarely gets mentioned is that it is one of the last truly thrilling off piste experiences. After a long debate it was settled that my next skiing holiday would be to Norway with Crystal Ski.
There is one reason above all else that Norway offers a dangerous thrill when skiing. The risk! Off piste skiing has always been more risky than simply carving down black runs. The land of the midnight sun brings the added risk of avalanches. It is not uncommon for them to take place on the ungroomed snow. A pretty hazardous environment for anyone who wants to tackle them.
That should be enough to entice any adrenaline junky on two pieces of wood. It was enough for me. Skiing isn’t just about enjoying a drink in a chalet, although there is a lot of that. It is also about tackling nature head on and mastering it. Something our Nordic brother has been doing for some time (they claim to have invented skiing).
With most places if you do not know the area it is always best to get a guide from a reputable operator. In Hemsedal I used one of the major operators called Skistar. I’m all for the sense of danger and risk but it doesn’t pay to be stupid. They give enough information before hand for you to be prepared. All this information can be overwhelming but it adds to the excitement. Making your way out of resort, each step of the process before taking that first run is thought through. As you reach the summit and the guide picks a suitable spot, that sense of adrenaline starts to build. No thought other than picking that first line exists. The senses are alert and ready. Anything could happen along the alpine laced snow. As soon as that first drop is taken all that soft powder is kicked up. Much lighter than other destinations it gets everywhere. Cold and windy you should be freezing but adrenaline soon sees to any sense of cold.
The first run is a blur. After hearing so much about the dangers the mind becomes so focused that it doesn’t let anything else in. Not until the 3rd or 4th run is there any sense of relaxation felt. The genuine risk definitely adds something to the experience. The euphoria is greater and the story of your runs seems worth telling in the bar after.
Norway is often misunderstood. Its daylight hours are shorter in winter and it slopes aren’t as big as it Western European brothers. The resorts are nowhere near as developed. But in terms of the thrill it delivers back country, it ranks as my number one. Until the day that I can afford heli- skiing I don’t think I will find something to top it.