5th March 2023
PlaneSKI has been on a rail ski safari round a few ski areas in Norway – Voss, Myrkdalen and Norefjell. Adventures aplenty. NEW
Now we should state immediately that we are not doing this for purely for environmental reasons.
Pretty much every ski travel article at the moment, seems to have the obligatory ‘environmental angle’ – but lets be honest skiing is not a terribly environmentally friendly activity.
There is plenty of ‘green-washing’ going on and environmental claims being bandied about, but of course every little helps.
We are doing this ski rail trip because we thoroughly enjoy taking the train.
Last week PlanetSKI editor, James Cove, flew into Bergen on the west coast of Norway and then headed inland to Voss and Myrkdalen.
We then decided to jump on the train and chase the snow over to Norefjell and we ended up flying out of Oslo.
“Taking the train is a fabulous way to arrive in resort, see a bit of the country and enjoy the journey rather than endure it,” said James.
“It becomes an integral part of the ski trip.”
We took a the bus to get to the resorts themselves, except in Voss where the main lift to the ski area is actually on Platform 1, and once to save a bit of time at the end of the trip.
Here is our tale of rail and ski adventures in Norway:
“I’ve had a fabulous 5-weeks touring randomly round the Alps, but now it is most definitely time to move on,” said James as he set off.
The snow wasn’t falling in the Alps, but it was in Norway.
He is heading first to the ski resorts of Voss and Myrkdalen, then he’s planning to move on to Vatnahalsen for a spot of ski touring.
On Monday morning James set off by train from Bergen to ski in Voss, that is just over an hour away by rail.
He wasn’t the only one.
Not bad views from his railway carriage as he headed towards the, hopefully, snow-filled mountains of this part of Norway:
Norway has seen some huge snowfalls this winter.
Not many have been reporting on the snow in Scandinavia, but we have here at PlanetSKI:
Myrkdalen is one of the snowiest resorts in Europe with an annual average of well over 5m of snow.
Voss receives slightly less, but still has good amounts.
As importantly it remains cold in this part of the world for months on end as it us 1,200 miles further north than the Alps.
In Myrkdalen the season starts in November and continues into May.
The current forecast is for several days of heavy snow.
To say we are excited is a bit of an understatement, though there are also reports of high winds so it remains to be seen how how much terrain is open.
Still at least the red carpet has been rolled out for PlanetSKI’s visit.
UPDATE, Monday Aftenoon:
Well, the good news is that there is plenty of snow on the ground in the town of Voss and its surrounding area.
There was even a spot of snow actually falling:
Up in the ski area James was told around 25cm of fresh snow has come down.
And the bad news?
Well, you know he mentioned the possibility of high wind?
It is not a possibility, it is a reality.
Both Voss and Myrkdalen are ‘stengt’ – that means ‘shut’ in Norwegian.
No lifts are running in either resort.
So, what do you do in this part of Norway when the ski lifts aren’t running?
Easy – go on a boat trip on the local fjords of Aurlandsfjord and Naeroyfjord, that are surrounded by snow covered peaks and frozen waterfalls.
The latter fjord is one of only two in Norway that is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it’s easy to see why.
There are two fully electric vessels and one hybrid being run.
The electric ones are the first all-electric carbon fibre vessels in the world.
They have two engines (600 horse power each), they can run for 2-hours and take just 14-minutes to charge up.
There is room for 400 passengers and it has 400m of railing so in theory each person can have an outside view.
Not so important in winter when there is just a handful of people on board, but vital in the summer months when the boats are packed.
The vessel travels at around 14 knots and has a maximum speed of 19 knots.
The fjord itself is 400m deep and the cliffs rise to around 1,200m.
Right, that’s enough of the stats.
What about the experience and the views?
Ting villages and hamlets hugged parts of the shoreline.
One was smaller than the others.
Undredal has a population of 50 permanent residents, and 357 goats.
It had no road until 1988 with the only way in and out by boat.
As the boat trip ended we looked at the weather forecast for the next few days.
It is due to clear in both Voss and Myrkdalen with the winds dropping.
Conditions may be rather good, but the temperatures could be worryingly high and might affect things.
Updated: Part Two
Finally, some fresh powder snow to ski on.
Not the best PlanetSKI has ever skied, but no matter after a long, long drought.
We headed up from the new giant S3 lift that is on the railway station – very handy on our rail safari as we are also staying at the Scandic Voss hotel which is rather conveniently on Platform 1.
Heading up on the first lift things looked good.
Then they got a whole load better as the journey progressed.
And off the back?
The grooming machines had levelled the snow – leaving evidence of how much had fallen.
Regular PlanetSKI readers will know that James is rather fond of Norway.
He has skied in more than a dozen resorts across the length and breadth of the country over the past decade.
He finished his winter season last year in the north of Norway in Narvik, deep within the Arctic Circle.
But James has never skied in Voss.
“It surpassed my expectations with a far bigger area than expected and a huge variety of runs, plus of course some powder to play around in,” said James.
“There is no terribly difficult skiing but try the Black 19 or the ex-World Cup Race run in one go.”
There are plenty of T-bars with a character all of their own.
And how about a few more images from the morning on the slopes of Voss in some long-awaited fresh snow:
The town of Voss has all the facilities you could wish for – bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, public swimming pool, sports centre and even an indoor sky-diving centre.
James tried it on his last visit.
The town itself was bombed heavily in World War Two.
Much of the centre was destroyed, and the re-built buildings and main street remain a fairly drab affair.
In the centre its church was unscathed, and the odd house or two.
Across the outskirts there are dozens of pretty, multi-coloured wooden houses.
Think Nelson or Roslyn in British Columbia, Canada, if you are familiar with those fabulous ski towns.
All too soon the previously empty slopes with fresh snow had gone.
The crowds had arrived.
Before one of us could say “Why don’t we go to nearby Myrkdalen this afternoon,” we had.
Now, James has been to Myrkdalen before.
“It remains one of my favourite memories from about six years ago when I stayed for three days in epic conditions. The resort gets over 5m of snow each winter and claims to be the snowiest resort in Norway,” said James.
“I was therefore a bit apprehensive it wouldn’t quite live up to my high expectations.
“Not a bit of it, it was even better. There is no way I ‘m waiting another six years before visiting.”
There has been so much snow that this 2m marker post was barely visible.
Now it would be wrong to portray the snow in Voss and Myrkdalen as the stuff of legendary powder days.
But coming after a bit of a snow drought it was wonderful, and has set things up nicely for the rest of the season.
“It was a shame that the high levels of snow was followed by torrential rain so the snow was heavy in places, but it will actually have secured the snowpack and there should be fabulous snow for the second half of the season and beyond,” said Geir Bottolfs from Norway – Home of Skiing.
The ski season in Myrkdalen usually goes into May.
And in case you are wondering here’s the main hotel and the resort base in Myrkdalen.
Now James mentioned in the second video that he and the crew might be binning the planned day skinning uphill in the rain in Vatnahalsen.
It would only lead to skiing down wet and heavy snow, while soaking wet..
A slightly longer train journey was required to get further east to Norefjell.
It’s around 180kms away.
As he said, the forecast for Norefjell promised some fresh snow and sunshine.
The whole point of a multi-resort rail safari is to be able to alter plans made according to a change in circumstances.
The journey is part of the adventure.
Rail travel helps this enormously.
The decision to board the train was soon evidently a no-brainer:
And the view from the other side of the carriage:
We’ll see shortly if it proved to be the correct call for James and the crew to head to Norefjell.
Now it would be remiss of us not to point out that the views from the train simply got better and better.
Crossing icy rivers and passing frozen waterfalls.
There were fabulous vistas as the train went over the mountain range, stopping at remote hill-top stations with wildlife spotted as the sun went down over the high-altitude Norwegian winter landscape.
We’ll have to take the word of other passengers – it seems the day in the fresh snow had rather tired James out and he missed it all.
At least he’ll be well-rested if there is any powder snow in Norefjell.
If you want to find out more about Voss and Myrkdalen then see these links.
You can also book holidays with Norway – Home of Skiing.
The two resorts come highly recommended by us.
Updated: Part Three
We are pleased to say the change of plan to leave Voss and head several hours east to Norefjell proved to be the right call by James and the crew.
And here’s one reason why:
The snow round the hotel that PlanetSKI was staying in Norefjell was testament to the winter so far in this part of Norway.
This view was from inside the hotel, looking out.
Up on the slopes there was evidence of the fresh snow, though the visibility was poor at altitude on our first day.
From one chairlift with a protective hood it was difficult to make out anything.
But hey, it’s snowing.
Norefjell has around a dozen lifts and is divided between a high plateau with gentle blues and greens with some steeper stuff lower down.
The most challenging terrain is off the main ‘M’ chairlift, with multiple ways down.
There are some chairlifts, but most of the lifts are T-bars.
We are told there is an investment programme underway to change this and put in more chairlifts.
It will be welcome.
Norway has a very good snow record and this year has been one of the best in recent years.
We have mentioned it already on PlanetSKI, as records have been broken.
In general it doesn’t have the amount of snow falling that the alpine nations receive, but it doesn’t need to – winter is the real deal in this part of the world.
It lasts for months on end, with the cold temperatures preserving the snow.
Currently this is the place to be and our call to shun the Alps and head to Norway was entirely the right one.
Our first evening in Norefjell saw more snow falling:
By the morning staff were out clearing up.
Not much, but 5cm – 10cm of fresh snow is always welcome.
We weren’t the only ones heading out as the first lift started turning at 09.30.
The trees were wrapped in a freezing blanket.
At the top the views were stunning with the poor visibility of yesterday a thing of the past.
Higher up the views became even better.
The snow was perhaps not as good as we hoped first thing in the morning, due to some high winds, but it was great simply to be skiing on fresh snow.
James filed the PlanetSKI video snow report, which included details of the Alps, (he tried not to look too smug by the way).
Hard not to be smug as it was no accident he was in Norway, and no accident he was in the resort of Norefjell.
As he has said that is the beauty of a rail safari – plans can be changed, even turned on their head, if they need to be.
This is the busy half-term week and holiday period in Norway, so queues formed now the snow had fallen and the sun has made an appearance.
Restaurants were similarly busy.
We had taken the precaution of booking a table at one of the best slope-side restaurants in the resort – The Olympic.
This Weiner Schnitzel compared very favourably to the same dish that is eaten in Austria.
For us at PlanetSKI one of the great aspects of a ski holiday in Norway is that it is about far more than the skiing.
You ski mainly on hills rather than mountains, but no matter.
The views are simply stunning.
In cloud or sun.
Then there is the hospitality of the Norwegians and the fact that skiing is simply in their DNA.
It is part of their national life and I doubt there are many Norwegians that haven’t put on a pair of skis.
It is the polar opposite of some of the huge ski areas in the Alps, and all the better for it.
This is a genuine winter experience.
The Norwegians are the most friendly and helpful of people.
Doing the whole trip in Norway by rail made the experience even better.
Night or day.
Now did we say “the whole trip in Norway by rail”?
We had a few road journeys to get from the railway stations in and out of resorts.
For the final section from Norefjell we needed to head Oslo as we had changed out flight out of Bergen on the other side of the country.
It is entirely possible to get to Oslo by train – it just takes several hours longer as the route is not as direct as it could be.
We opted for a 2-hour bus ride, that departs from Norefjell after skiing at 4.30pm.
It wasn’t perhaps as comfortable as the train, but the views were just as good.
Once again I fell asleep.
This time with an image from the final run in Norefjell imprinted on my mind.
And then the final rail journey of the trip, from the city of Oslo to its airport.
This article was originally published by Planetski.eu. Read the original article here.