A very nordic take on skiing
city, Bergen, by train and shuttle bus, but despite the easy commute, the pistes are supremely quiet.
They spread out below as we slide upwards, a total 30km of beautifully groomed runs and nine lifts belying the extent of the ski area, since there’s so much space between pistes. The low numbers also hide a wealth of ambition in this youthful resort. It was only founded in 2003, when local investors got together with a steadyas-you-go grand plan, inspired by an ample average snowfall of 18 to 24m, and proximity to Bergen and the better-known ski town of Voss. A four-star hotel opened in 2012; more lifts, pistes, shops and accommodation are all in the works.
Our uphill journey to the Finnbunuten peak at 1,358m is an unintimidating tour for learners, a gently sloping climb, no edgy dropoffs. The low altitude makes it easy on the lungs, too, but when we arrive at the top it still feels like an achievement. The views help – the hotel and a terrain park mark the foot of the slopes, and snowy-roofed cabins line the pistes, all dwarfed by the all-encompassing white.
The descent is a surprise after the soft mounds of the ascent. Instructor- guide Simon leads us down unexpected steepness off-piste, before we cruise late-afternoon piste emptiness to the door of the hotel.
Our stay in Myrkdalen marks the start of a two-centre, four-night Freeride the Fjords package organised by the resort, combining two thoroughly exciting words as far as I’m concerned, as well as travelling by boat and train to a ski hotel only accessible by rail.
The journey to our second port of call is along the Unesco-rated Naeroyfjord. The boat is full of tourists of all nationalities but we are the only ones hauling ski bags on board, using the two-hour cruise to the small town of Flam as a transfer to freeride fun.
Norway and fjords. I’d seen the photos (who hasn’t), read about their geography, but until we got on board Vision of the Fjords at the port of Gudvangen, a short drive from Myrkdalen, I couldn’t understand their majesty.
Dark 4,600ft cliffs topped with white drop into even darker waters, still and mesmerising. Everyone on board is clicking cameras, touring the decks to gaze and point, chatter and gasp. But for me, the power of the landscape, the huge, sometimes Myrkdalen has two Freeride the Fjords trips in 2019, March 27-31 and April 3-7, including two catered nights in Myrkdalen with lift pass and two in Vatnahalsen. Prices start at NOK8,705 (around £800). Find out more at myrkdalen.no/ en/freeride-thefjords. Packages without ski guiding from NOK5,560 (around £515). Find out more about the region at visitnorway. com and fjordnorway.com. For more about skiing in Norway, see norwayhome ofskiing.com. frozen, sometimes thundering waterfalls, picturesque villages and smooth empty waters shut out all human noise. It’s cold, the wind is whipping, but I stand, half hypnotised at the prow, watching, all the way to Flam.
Here, along with other passengers from the boat, we board the Flamsbana train, its carriages illustrated with symbols of attractions en route, from fishing and waterfalls to skiing, at our destination, Vatnahalsen. It transports us through rocky emptiness, past lakes and cliffs, clinging to precipitous edges and clickity-clacking under reinforcements that look like something used in a Western movie to shore up a mine.
Vatnahalsen is the last stop before the Flamsbana reaches Myrdal on the main Oslo to Bergen railway line. We’re so near to a major transport route, yet so far. As the train pulls out, the seven of us are the only ones left on the platform, greeted by a wall of snow and behind it just the hotel, with skiers sitting out in the late afternoon sun.
Although it was built as a sanatorium in 1896 and became a ski destination in the early 20th century, the hotel fell out of favour as resorts with lifts took over. But then Petter Andresen, a man with as much vision as those investors in Myrkdalen, realised it was the perfect venue for ski touring. Three years ago, he teamed up with the Aksnes family, who own the hotel, and made it his mission to put Vatnahalsen back on the ski map.
Inside, I fall in love with its quirkily decorated living rooms and relaxed atmosphere, where ski practicality blends easily with comfort. The spacious bedrooms have big en-suite bathrooms, plentiful hot water and luxurious L:A Bruket toiletries. There’s a sauna, and views over a frozen lake, surrounded by mountains just crying out to be skied on.
The hotel does have one ski lift, servicing a short run for training, or children, and there’s also crosscountry skiing on the lake. But the main event is ski touring over the mountains surrounding it.
Myrkdalen’s Freeride the Fjords package includes the services of a mountain guide and we set out early in the morning with ours, Roald Lande, aiming for the 1,700m peak of Tryvann, which involves a skitouring climb of around 900m. The route up is not too steep, but that doesn’t make the two-hour ascent easy, with Roald setting a cracking pace to make sure conditions will still be good on the descent.
The effort is so worth it, both for the joy of reaching the top, for the beautiful fresh-track descent on snow that’s softened just enough to make turns swishily cruisy and easy. And then there are the views over that rolling landscape, and the distinctive landmark of the red Vatnahalsen hotel, where I know there are freshly made waffles, coming ever closer.
Myrkdalen, main; the train journey, below; Vatnahalsen, below right