A rugged ski touring adventure through western Norway’s Sunnmøre Alps
- December 11, 2022
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The next morning, hotel owner Knut Slinning pokes his head into our rooms at Writer’s Lodge, a lavish chalet with the sparse, finely curated ambience of a contemporary Scandinavian home. He has wrinkled, smiling eyes and wears a Norrøna jacket. Like us, he goes on a ski tour with friends and a packed lunch. “Nice day for that,” he says, stating the obvious.
Ski touring on Mefjellet, a mountain nearby
the village of Fjørå
the rustic facade of Storfjord Hotel
Our happy routine at Juvet is to go into the snow, stick on skins, and walk upstairs without a word – tuning in to subtle types of stillness punctuated by the swish of skis, the swish of pines, snowmelt, or the chatter of grouse. At Blæja (‘the altar’) we climb alongside a large, looming mountain slab before suddenly a strip of Hjørundfjord reveals itself from the summit, one of Slingsby’s most popular views. At Stranda we shuffle up from the top of the cable car and pass the slopes where video production companies have built huge jumps so that the skier or snowboarder seems to be jumping straight into the Storfjord. Every day, sun-drenched car rides between mountains are punctuated by tunnels and hopping on little green ferries surrounded by soaring natural amphitheaters – our base layers are soaked with sweat as we sip Oskar Sylte pineapple soda from decent supermarkets, a quick pit stop to refuel beforehand the next climb.
Everywhere there is a constant, nagging temptation to quit. One afternoon we park on the side of the road above a mirror-smooth end of the Storfjord, looking out over the corner that meets the Geirangerfjord – the expanse of water that inspired a thousand cruises and the Kingdom of Arendelle in Disney’s Frozen. Today, the larger cruise ships are not allowed to go that far in, and the serpentine Trollstigen road down to the Geirangerfjord is closed due to snow. Below the overlook, the only break in the silence is an older man in a T-shirt, slowly pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with branches from his farmhouse of chipped sky-blue clapboards. He probably remembers the days when farm kids rowed to school across the 250-meter-deep fjord before the first tunnels were built in the 1970s, and helped out on friends’ farms when they were stranded in bad weather. Before oil and aquaculture transformed an area once dependent on fishing and furniture making. He would have seen his country morph into a quietly prosperous nation of rule-abiding taxpayers reaping the rewards and disappearing into the mountains or onto the beach every July without even bothering with notices of absence.
The culture of ski touring is as deep as the fjords are here
There are good hotels in the area but not much excitement in the affluent villages to distract from the scenery. One evening we jump into the fjord in our underwear from the small communal floating sauna at Sæbø before sleeping at Sagafjord Hotel. Wooden-hulled boats, some used to ferry groups of skiers, bob gently in the marina outside. Another night, a warm welcome by the wood fire leads us into the turf-roofed cottages at Storfjord Hotel. We eat reindeer with local blueberry sauce under antlers and gold-framed old paintings of farm girls overlooking the Geirangerfjord, surrounded by knitwear and laughter. With weary legs and a face flushed from the fresh air and wine, I retreat to my cabin-like room and draw the curtains against a darkening pine forest.
On our final ski of the afternoon, we attempt to chase the sunset on Hundatinden, a mountain closer to the coast Oscar has never guided guests to before. From the rocky path we walk up, the route looks intimidating. On the other side of the mountain are rocks and narrow couloirs below a powder bowl just visible, the rim of which catches the last rays of the day’s sun. As on almost all of our ski routes, not a soul is in sight.