Beyond the slopes: five winter adventures in Norway

With its snow-capped mountains and plentiful powder-bound slopes, Norway is the ultimate skiing destination. And in the silent blues and whites of winter, you can also find spectacular off-piste adventures. Here, five locals share their top experiences.

Voss, in south western Norway, is home to some of the country's finest slopes and wintry fun — from snowshoeing to dog-sledding and ice fishing.

Photograph by Norway Home of Skiing
By Norway Home of Skiing
Published 27 Oct 2021, 14:05 BST

Norway in the winter makes for a magical escape, with glaciated mountains rising abruptly from the sea, the whisper of the North Pole as you cross the Arctic Circle and a great white plateau where wild reindeer roam. Whether off-piste, downhill or cross-country, the skiing is sensational, with guaranteed powder, few crowds and one of Europe’s longest ski seasons, running from October to May.

But you’ll need to slip away from the slopes for the full Narnia effect. Whether that’s padding through forests in snowshoes while marvelling at the profound silence; sailing across a fjord on a boat safari; or gliding through the pearl-white snow on a sleigh pulled by yelping, run-hungry huskies — the winter adventures in Norway are aplenty.

1. Chase the Northern Lights in Narvik

“It’s the greatest show on the planet,” says Narvik-based photographer, Michael Ulriksen, on the Northern Lights in Arctic Norway. “I often head up to a mountaintop for broad views of the horizon — a well thought-out foreground shows off the Northern Lights at their best.” 

Seeing them for the first time can be unnerving: suddenly the sky shifts in mind-bending ways, with wizard-wand flashes of green and, if you’re lucky, pink, red and violet. They’re best seen from September to April in areas of minimal light pollution, and often peak around midnight. Narvik, in northern Norway, is one of the best locations to watch their otherworldly dance and local apps, forecasts and hotel ‘aurora alarms’ will help keep you in the loop.

The northern lights in Narvik, Norway. 

The Northern Lights in Narvik, Norway. 

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Enjoy a husky safari in Geilo

“When you drive a husky team, all you see is wagging tales on the white horizon and all you hear is paws on crystal snow. Who knew that the biting winter cold and total absence of sound could give such a warm sense of happiness?” says Sissel Wolf Mølmen from Geilo Husky AS. 

Steering a pack through the frozen wilderness, led only by the bright stars above your head, is almost like flying — it’s intuitive, weightless, free. The Arctic is dog-sledding central, but Geilo, in Norway’s south, is every bit as magical: from the mountain-rimmed Ustedals fjord to the glistening white expanse of the remote Hardangervidda Plateau.

A husky safari in Geilo, Norway. 

A husky safari in Geilo, Norway. 

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Take the scenic Bergen railway to Voss

Few railway journeys in Europe thrill like the line from Oslo to Bergen. “Catch the train on a bright day and the reflection of sunlight in the snow lights up the landscape,” says Rebecca Horten, train conductor on the Bergen Line. “I love it when you emerge from a tunnel to be presented with gorgeous views of mountains rising above the waters. My favourite view is the midway point around Stanghelle Station, where the majestic mountains are so close you feel you could almost touch them.” 

This staggering turn-of-the-century engineering marvel winds through 200 tunnels, 300 bridges and takes a deep dive into some of the wildest, most starkly isolated alpine terrain, which wows passengers with its wild reindeer sightings and thread-vein tracks left by ski tourers. But don’t stop there. Clasped between mountains and fjords, Bergen is the starting point for the equally scenic railway line northeast to Voss, a great place to enjoy a spot of skiing on some of Norway’s finest slopes.

The scenic Bergen railway, running from Oslo to Bergen in Norway. 

The scenic Bergen railway running from Oslo to Bergen in Norway. 

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Explore the fjords in their winter coat in Myrkdalen 

“I love to go deep into the mountains to find untracked paths and enjoy the silence among breathtaking nature,” says Norwegian freestyle skier Klaus Finne. “Snowshoeing through the fjords is a terrific way to escape the crowds and if you venture out at night, you might even see the Northern Lights.” 

Summer cruises seem to get all the attention, but to really experience the Vestland region’s fjords at their silent, snow-dusted best — visit in winter. For drama, cruise Nærøyfjord, Norway’s narrowest fjord only 35 minutes from the resort of Myrkdalen, where mountains rise sheer and rugged above inky waters. Or ramp up the adventure on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) safari across Aurlandsfjord, relishing the chance to enjoy its monochrome majesty. 

Nærøyfjord, Norway’s narrowest fjord, in the Vestland region.

Nærøyfjord, Norway’s narrowest fjord, in the Vestland region.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Stay in an ice hotel near Hafjell

“Hunderfossen Snowhotel, near Hafjell resort, is the world’s most accessible ice hotel, with a train station just 650ft from the park entrance,” says Espen Rønning, marketing manager at Hunderfossen. “When the flakes fall thick and fast, the hotel becomes an idyllic winter wonderland — as if plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale.”

Taking the concept and spirit of the igloo into the 21st century, Norway’s ice hotels are lovingly crafted by sculptors at the start of the winter season. Staying in one is pure snowy romance — and warmer than you might imagine. Hunderfossen Snowhotel has a built-in ice bar, ice cathedral, reindeer hides, expedition sleeping bags and gløgg (mulled wine) to help keep things toasty, as well as saunas and hot tubs for gazing up at stunning night skies glittered with stars.  

The snow-capped wooden castle at the Hunderfossen Fairytale Park. The park, which is home to the spectacular ...

The snow-capped wooden castle at the Hunderfossen Fairytale Park. The park, which is home to the spectacular ice hotel and ice cathedral, is one of Norway’s best-loved family attractions, including horse-drawn, torch-lit sleigh rides in the dark, fireworks displays and various snow and ice sculptures created by world-renowned artists.

Photograph by Norway Home of Skiing

For the inside scoop on where to ski in Norway, visit Norway Home of Skiing.

Published in the December 2021 Winter Sports Supplement of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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