Everyone needs to take the odd holiday – even PhD students! However, my family are not ones for spending lazy days on beaches or by the pool. Instead we go in for a more active kind of break, in this case throwing ourselves down mountains with planks strapped to our feet. What could be more relaxing?
My Dad, my brother Alex and I hopped on a plane at stupid o’clock one morning and headed out to Hemsedal ski resort, around a 4hr drive from Oslo in Norway. The snow in Norway this year has been great and a cohesive snowpack means there hasn’t been the nasty avalanches that we’ve seen in the Alps. So lovely soft and safe snow for playing off-piste! It is noticeably colder and much windier than the sunny slopes of France or Italy, but then you can’t have everything.
Hemsedal is a fun little resort; home to the craziest skiers in Norway I’m told. The snow parks certainly lived up to the rep with some of the biggest jumps I’ve ever seen. No way was I going over those – I’m sure they were not a lot smaller than the ones used for the slopestyle events in the Sochi Olympics. Happily there were several snow parks with less intimidating jumps, which were a lot more to my liking!
The resort is also known for its nice wide pistes which are totally deserted during the week. This is because Norwegians mostly ski at the weekends, leaving the resort practically empty Monday to Thursday. Which is just what we like as wide empty pistes = you can go crazily fast without fear of hurtling into anyone. Our motto is that high speeds are fine if you’re only endangering yourselves. Although that mind-set did cost me my appendix, which I ruptured during a high-speed ski crash whilst racing my brother back in 2011. But luckily no internal organ-damaging wipeouts this year.
Whilst the downhill skiing was great, the highlight of the week was definitely trying ski-sailing. We took the train along a short section of the famously scenic Oslo-Bergen route to Finse, which is a small village at the foot of the Hardanger Ice Cap. This is the base of Ronne, a friend of my Dad who happens to be top kite and sail skier. I think he holds a world record for the fastest kite-skiing trip back from the South Pole to the coast of the Weddell Sea. Although I may be totally confusing who holds what record, my Dad knows a lot of these kinds of people!
After taking some small sails for ‘walks’ near the village to get the feel of them, we got some skis on, strapped on bigger sails and were off across the frozen lake towards the Ice Cap. You can get up some serious speed, even on a relatively calm day we were absolutely whizzing along. And the potential for strong gusts certainly kept us on our toes, or off-them as happened to Alex when a strong gust caught him off-guard and dragged him in a belly slide across the snow.
I was surprised to find that handling the sail was pretty straight-forward to pick up – although I have done a fair bit of dinghy sailing and a spot of windsurfing before, which probably helped. The sail is strapped to a bar which is itself attached to your harness by a pivoting clip, so it does handle a lot like a windsurfing rig. Also like windsurfing, when you get good you can try doing jump turns and hopping off the top of things, like ridges and hills. Would love to try a steep off-piste descent rigged up to a ski sail, no need to worry about going off short drops as you could just float down! And the speed you get skiing downhill plus the wind in your sail is pretty sweet. It had me applying the brakes fairly heavily to get myself back in the driver’s seat when the speed got a little too much for comfort. On more than one occasion the sail was in control of me, rather than the other way around.
So I guess the take-home messages of this post are: go skiing in Norway, it’s really cool; don’t ski too fast unless you really dislike an expendable internal organ; and if you get the chance to try kite-skiing or ski-sailing then absolutely do it!