For my last big adventure of 2016, I travelled to the small ski resort town of Hemsedal in Norway. Hemsedal is about a 3-hour bus ride north of Oslo and is a popular place to ski for the Norwegian locals. There are also a few foreigners. I travelled to Norway with a group of friends and we stayed in an AirBnB chalet a short 5-minute bus ride away from the base of the slopes. My top 5 of my Norwegian experience is listed below.
TOP 5 of Hemsedal, Norway
1. The Northern Lights
I think it would be safe to say that seeing the Northern Lights is on most people’s bucket lists and definitely on mine. One of the reasons to travel to Norway was the chance to see them. An endeavour which required us to watch the skies at night from 10pm onwards with different shifts to wake up like 12am, 1am, 2am and 3am. After the first few nights, two of my friends (Ann and Len) went for a stroll in the dark (where the lights would be easier to spot outside the city lights) to a remote snow-covered field. They lay on their backs and the sparkling, dancing Northern Lights appeared behind some clouds. They were white because apparently the well-known green colour of the lights is only visible on an over-exposed camera. It was too far to call the rest of us to walk back but the next night, all of us walked dutifully back to the field in our ski clothes, lay down on the snow and experienced the phenomenon. While I was embracing the other-worldliness of the moment, another friend blurted out that they actually looked like disco lights because there were swirled patterns and the lights moved across in regular intervals. After counting the time period of the lights moving back and forth, we decided that they were conclusively laser lights from the big disco on the slopes. We all laughed so hard that my stomach ached and it took forever to get up. We continued to look for the Northern Lights throughout our trip but they remained elusive and so they are still on the bucket list for another time.
I have not been skiing since 2004 when I swooshed down the slopes of Park City, Utah, USA with my brother and a friend when I was 20. So, 12 year later, I found myself back on the bunny slopes and fortunately it all came back to me. I signed up to some ski classes so that I could move from dodgy parallel skiing (where I lifted my inner ski as I turned) to what I told my ski instructor would be “parallel perfection”. I loved the thrill of heading down the slopes while making perfect round turns with my skis parallel. Unfortunately, although we picked Norway for the snow security, it did not snow much when we were there, and we were left with hard ice patches to navigate on many of the slopes. This slowed down the skiing dramatically for me as I had visions of recuperating for weeks with a broken knee in some hospital bed in Norway. My friends apparently did not have similar reservations and raced down the slopes so that I was always far at the back. They also were very adventurous making us do slaloms, off-piste, ice-tunnels and black slopes which I just survived.
3. Ice dip
My swimmer friend (Ann) and I had a lot of big talk from the moment that I arrived that we would go for a swim which was promptly downgraded to a “dip”. But the snow and ice was terrifying and we delayed on our resolve while being ragged each day about when our “big swim” was happening. Eventually we delayed so long that it was my last day and we had to go in. After a full day of skiing, we rushed back to change into our swimming costumes and wrapped ourselves up warmly with towels in hand. The air temperate had dropped to – 8 degrees celsius and so with bare feet on snow we waded into a pool from a river flowing above our chalet. We were quickly in and out, the water was freezing, and with much laughing was safely back in the chalet with its sauna.
The Norwegians are super friendly with excellent English. Also, the Norwegian men are ridiculously handsome. Enough said!
5. Wild wolves
We took a day-off from skiing in the middle of our trip and spent the time exploring the surrounds including beautiful fjords and a visit to the Langedrag Wildlife Park. The highlight of the park were the wild wolves which were kept in their own reserve area with minimal human interaction so that they could be left in their natural wolf pack states as far as possible. Wolves are an endangered species in Norway with dwindling numbers and are kept in this area mainly for the protection of the wolves themselves. We were able to go into the reserve and sat in a designated spot where the ranger threw raw meat about 5m away to attract the wolves. The wolves were timid and shy and took circled us forever before being confident to approach. But seeing wolves as close as possible to their natural state was a magical experience.