There aren't many places in the world where you can experience both the bustling city life and fantastic ski conditions on the same day, but Norway is one of them.
Published: 23 February 2018
Several of the major Norwegian cities are only a short bus or metro ride away from miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, which makes it possible for both locals and visitors alike to combine enjoying the historical sights and cultural experiences with some refreshing hours spent in the ski tracks.
"This is truly unique," believes General Secretary of the Norwegian Ski Association, Erik Eide.
"Ever since Norwegians began cross-country skiing for pleasure in the mid- 1800s, we have been focusing on getting the city folks out on the snow and into the woods. Norway's main urban tramways, which consist of Frognerseterbanen in Oslo, Gråkallbanen in Trondheim, Fjellheisen in Tromsø, and the Fløibanen Funicular in Bergen, were all created to help get people outdoors on a hike or ski-trip, and since their implementation, both skiing and outdoor life have flourished."
According to Eide, Oslo is in a class of its own when it comes to opportunities for cross-country skiing near the city centre.
"Even if cities such as Vancouver and Seattle can to a certain extent be compared with what we have here, there are no cities that have quite the same possibilities as Oslo," asserts Eide.
"Oslomarka has ski tracks that extend all the way down to the fjord shoreline and the city parks. And you can ski as far as you hold out. You can cover dozens of miles on your skis!"
In Oslo's forests, there is more than 2600 km of groomed cross-country ski trails, 90 of which are floodlit. From the city centre, the fastest way out to the tracks entails jumping on the subway to Sognsvann or Frognerseteren where the ski trails jet out from the stations.
"We have excellent public transportation, good parking facilities and a range of great starting points. Along the trails, there are also 44 cabins, offering everything from a quick Kvikk Lunsj (chocolate snack) break to a three-course dinner and red wine," says Eide.
He has lived in Oslo for 26 years but has never experienced there being so many people in the forest.
"I read that Aftenposten estimated that there are about 200,000 people skiing here during a good weekend, and I don't think that number is too far off. The place is crawling with people - and everyone is smiling! Regardless of whether they're wearing tights and using top equipment or have on jeans and are using skis from the 70s. I think this year's excellent ski conditions make us a much happier people," says Eide.
However, it isn't just the locals who enjoy the centrally-located possibilities for skiing: Visitors from far and wide have also discovered that Norway's capital is a ski paradise, according to Eide.
"When we recently arranged the Holmenkollenmarsjen ski competition, we had both Germans and Italians at the starting line, and I just bumped into an acquaintance from Southern Norway far inside the forest at Sørkedalen at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning. Many of the people who travel to Oslo are able to combine big city experiences with a cross-country ski race or an excursion on their skis. They enjoy cultural experiences, visit local restaurants and stay at hotels -but instead of spending a couple of hours at a mall, they prefer to take a walk in the forest nearby."
If you're in Oslo without your own ski equipment, you can borrow some free of charge at the Ski Association (Skiforeningen) in Holmenkollen.
"Most of the people who do think the coolest option is to ski the 2.75-km round-trip through the inner trail network in Holmenkollen - before finishing off by taking a selfie with the world's most famous ski arena in the background."
On Skiforeningen.no, you will find a trip planner for cross-country excursions in the Oslomarka outdoor recreation area and the iMarka app gives you such useful things as a trail map, ski conditions updates, and grooming status.
Trondheim also has wonderful opportunities for skiing just a short trip away from the cobbled shopping streets and such famous sights as the Nidaros Cathedral.
The Bymarka outdoor recreation area comprises 250 km of ski trails and is by far the largest and most popular cross-country skiing area. There, you have the choice of skiing around six floodlit cross-country trails, or skiing in varied terrain that ranges from dense spruce forests to marsh areas and bare mountains.
"The special thing about Trondheim is that we have so many trails that extend out from the residential areas. Bymarka has gateways from various places in Byåsen, Heimdal, Byneset and the Leinstrand area, and in addition to this, there are superb skiing opportunities for those who live near Strindamarka, Reppe, Vassfjellet and Malvikmarka," says Jonny Remmereit, who is the Information and Marketing Manager for Trondhjem's Trekking Association.
If you are not a resident of Trondheim, it is also easy to get to Bymarka from the city centre. There are bus and tram services to three of the main entrance gates: Skistua, Lian and Granåsen Ski Centre - and this gets you from cobblestone to snow in just 20 minutes.
"From Granåsen, the trails extend throughout the entire outdoor area, and you can easily adjust the length of your trip as you like. If you want to take a short, family-friendly ski trip, you're free to do so - and you might want to include a stop at one of the restaurants. If you want to spend a whole day skiing, you can head for the higher sections where you get a sense of being on a plateau and the high mountains," says Remmereit.
He describes Trondheim's close link to nature as "absolutely phenomenal".
"It is only after having lived in other cities that I really understood how wonderful this combination is."
On Skisporet.no, you will find an overview map of the ski trails in Bymarka with such details as parking lots, lookout points, restaurants and cabins. And at trondelag.com you can read more about the opportunities for skiing in Bymarka.
In the Arctic city of Tromsø, skis are not just something you strap on for going on ski trips and training but are also a common mode of transportation.
"On Tromsøya, we have a three-kilometre long floodlit trail from the southern tip to the northern tip of the island. It goes through residential areas and past the biggest workplaces, such as the university and the hospital, and there are therefore many people who use the trail as their daily route," explains Knut Hansvold with NordNorsk Reiseliv.
For anyone visiting the city, the floodlit ski trails offer a unique opportunity to get close to the residents of Tromsø:
"In addition, you can enjoy fantastic views of the fjord and mountains, as well as towards the mainland and peaks on Kvaløya. From here, you virtually get to enjoy all facets of Northern Norwegian nature in a nutshell," says Hansvold.
You can get from the city centre to the floodlit ski trails on Tromsøya Island either by walking 15 minutes on foot or by taking the bus to Prestvannet. The trail itself is very simple, and if you have children with you, you can take a side trip to the ski playground and sledging hill.
However, if you want to set out on a real ski excursion, you should go to the mainland or Kvaløya Island.
"The trails on the mainland side of the fjord are really something to write home about. For example, if you ski from Snarbyeidet to Tromsdalen, we're talking about authentic wilderness."
Hansvold says that this takes you up on the mountain plateau, far above the tree line, and you should have the proper equipment and some experience.
"The ski season up there doesn't start until March when the days are getting longer and brighter, but from then onward, there are excellent conditions. The snow remains until May 17, and often beyond that."
No matter where you choose to go skiing, the icing on the cake is that you have a chance of getting to enjoy a well-known natural phenomenon on the way.
"There is a likelihood you will see the Northern Lights as you ski around. And from the ski tracks, you have an excellent view when Aurora Polaris chooses to make an appearance."
Bergen is in a league of its own when it comes to how quickly you can zip from the city centre to the ski tracks: The Fløibanen Funicular transports you via cable car from the city centre and up to the floodlit ski trails on Mount Fløyen, 320 metres above sea level in just six minutes.
"It's quite spectacular to stand alone in the floodlight cross-country trail and look out over the sea and the evening lights in the city centre," says Guro Øvsthus, who is leader of the activity department on Mount Fløyen.
"You feel like you're up in the mountains, despite the fact that you literally have the city at your feet. It's absolutely beautiful and gives your skiing trip an extra dimension."
Even Norwegian cross-country veterans describe the skiing experiences they have in Bergen as exotic - especially when you strap on mountaineering skis and move away from the trails, e.g., up to Rundemanen and further over the plateau.
"It's incredibly nice to ski from Mount Fløyen and over the plateau to Mount Ulriken, but then you should be experienced and have the proper equipment," emphasises Øvsthus.
Meanwhile, the 5-km long floodlit ski trail on Mount Fløyen is suitable for everyone. Families with children and beginners can enjoy skiing just under 1 kilometre inward to the Åsebu warming hut and back, while the more driven skiers can make the round-trip trail as many times as they can bear - and the lights aren't turned off until 11:00 pm.
The only catch with Bergen is the weather. It is, as Guro Øvsthus says, "like playing bingo".
"So far this year, we have had a wonderful winter in Western Norway with good skiing conditions for nearly two consecutive months. Last year, we only had two days of good skiing conditions the entire winter, so it varies."
It's smart to check for updates on the skiing conditions forecast on Fløyen's Facebook page.
If there isn't enough snow on Mount Fløyen, it's more snow-sure at Kvamskogen and Totland, which are located 40 and 30 minutes from Bergen city centre, respectively. There are numerous excellent trails up there, and at Kvamskogen, you can also rent ski equipment - which, you should note, is not available at Mount Fløyen.
"Tourists sometimes come here who think it looks super exotic to go cross-country skiing, but who do not have their own equipment with them. In such instances, I usually advise them to buy a sledge. It's great fun to sledge down from Fløyen and use the Fløibanen Funicular as a lift!