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Slip Sliding Away – Norway Ski Tour 2023…

I love the mountains (if you’ve not worked that out, go home now), and the thought of remote peaks, ski touring and mountain huts was too much for me to resist.  I had barely recovered from climbing Toubkal in Morocco, before I boarded another flight – this time to Norway.

I joined Mark and Sara, fellow members of the Buxton Mountain Rescue Team for a few days ski touring on the legendary Hardangervidda plateau.

I’ve been told on several occasions that skiing without toes is impossible.  Good job I don’t listen to others’ opinions about my abilities.  I’ve ski toured many times in Scotland, but this would be a new experience as the Norwegians tour in soft boots and use narrow touring skis.  Balance is a difficult enough task in equipment that I know, and I was very happy that the snowdrifts were beautifully soft as I fell into them again and again.

The train from Bergen to Geilo had been cancelled due to an avalanche, so we boarded a bus and arrived late, but safe.  The next morning, we hired our skis and set off for the hut at Tuva, with great expectations of a short day’s skiing.  How wrong we were.  It was comical and frustrating all at the same time, with big rucksacks, deep snow and new equipment bringing progress almost to a standstill.  We fought and fell for what seemed an age, before finding the track we needed and progressing into the hills.  Suddenly the world was a much better place, but the locals seemed to glide by as we huffed and puffed along.  Thankfully the weather was stunning, and we made the hut well before nightfall.

The first day was a hard lesson and a shake down in reality, but we were happy and safely in a wonderful place to stay.  The hut was old, creaky and riddled with dark corners.  Just how I like them.  The stars lit the night sky like beacons, and I hoped to see the Northern Lights, but sadly nothing appeared.

Trips such as this can be very flexible, and we certainly needed that after the day’s performance.  Rather than move on to another hut, we decided to stay at Tuva for another night and ski locally the next day, to help improve our skills.

We took a day on the plateau, working on our technique and enjoying the stunning scenery.  The early risers were soon off at a swift pace, and we followed on behind them, learning with every step and slide.  As we sat enjoying a brew, Kite boarders sailed by at great speed and made the covering of long distances look incredibly easy.  I was and wasn’t jealous.  Speed would be wonderful, but I didn’t want to break any bones!  Ski touring would be just fine.

Over the next few days, we toured eastwards, via the beautiful hut at Krækkja and onto Finse, utilising the train to aid our journey.  We met very few people, and I was surprised at the emptiness of the plateau.  Had this been in the UK, there would have been folk everywhere, but here in Norway, it’s a different matter.  The weather was kind to start with, but cloud and fresh snow made the going tougher by the hour.  The routes are marked every few yards with tree branches and we were very thankful for every one of them, particularly when visibility was down to only a few feet.  The effort to mark the trails must be huge, but it’s hard to get lost once you’re on the right track.

The hut at Finse looks across to the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, sight of the rebel base on Hoth in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.  I remembered watching the film as a child and was glad there were no AT-AT’s in sight today!

We undertook a huge day skiing to the hut at Hallingskeid, and struggled through knee deep drifts, breaking trail for most of the route.  This really was remote touring at its best and hardest, but earning your route is everything to me.  You put nothing in, you get nothing out.  By the time we arrived at the hut, we were exhausted, but the beautiful afternoon and evening light rallied our spirits.  Good food, a crackling fire and an evening’s rest were certainly needed.

We headed back to Geilo on the train and enjoyed a sunny ski tour around the Usteldalsfjord.  At last, my technique was coming together, but this was our final day on skis.  Not to worry.  It had been a wonderful week and I’m already looking forward to returning.  I wrote earlier about the emptiness of the plateau.  At the ski hire shop, I spoke with the staff and heard that during Easter week, the local population can climb from 5000 to over 30,000.  Perhaps we’d picked a quiet week, and I was very thankful for that.

The Norwegian Hut Association (DNT) has over 500 huts, accessible with a key and easy to book.  All the huts we used were heated, provisioned and some have a warden.  If you’re considering a trip like this, I highly recommend joining them.

My thanks to Terra Nova Equipment for their continued support and for protecting my Extremities on this trip…

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