Mountain cabins that say wow!

Gone are traditional features like log walls and tiny windows. It is increasingly common to encounter mountain lodges and cabins that have new and exciting designs.

The mountain code

Whether you’re in the forests or the mountains, always follow to the mountain code when you’re hiking in Norwegian nature.

1. Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected.

2. Adapt the planned routes according to ability and conditions.

3. Pay attention to the weather and the avalanche warnings.

4. Be prepared for bad weather and frost, even on short trips.

5. Bring the necessary equipment so you can help yourself and others.

6. Choose safe routes. Recognize avalanche terrain and unsafe ice.

7. Use a map and a compass. Always know where you are.

8. Don’t be ashamed to turn around.

9. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary.

A few years back, the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) opened an architecturally different self-service cabin. The small group of ultra-modern cabins called Skåpet serves as the gateway to the trail network in Frafjordheiene on the south side of the Lysefjord.

“The mountains here are cool. I saw a little frog on the way up here. It made me yell so loud that my mom thought I saw a snake”, says nine-year-old Rikke Benaglia Petersen with a chuckle.

She and her mom Rebecca Benaglia are in the kitchen of the main cabin at Skåpet putting Afghan “Bolani”, or flat-bread, in the frying pan. A mild and appetising odour of fried food fills the cabin, which is the first on the hike called Lysefjord round-trip. This week-long trip includes world-famous attractions such as Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock), Kjerag, and the 4,444 steps at Flørli.

We spent about an hour and a half coming up here. We’ve gone on a lot of hikes in the mountains and we think it’s fun”, says Rebecca.

Modern times

Across the country, DNT own, operate and uphold more than 550 lodges and cabins. The overnight guests are from all over the world. The cabins have long been associated with traditional, solid timber construction with small-paned windows and grass on the roof, but Skåpet represents a new generation of cabins with modern architectural designs featuring large windows and zinc-clad walls.

In addition to the main cabin that has a common room, a kitchen, and sleeping quarters for twelve people, you’ll find a sauna with an outdoor shower, outhouses with toilets, and six smaller cabins for sleeping. Each of them has enough space for you (and four other guests) to have some peace and privacy and to comfortably enjoy the mountains through the large floor-to-ceiling windows.

Accommodation by the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT)

Staffed lodges
Staffed lodges serve breakfast and dinner. Many have showers and electricity. Only open in certain seasons.

Self-service cabins
The self-service cabins are equipped with all you need for cooking and sleeping, but a sleeping bag liner or hut sleeper is required. Stocked with provisions including tinned goods, coffee, tea, crispbread, and instant soup. The selection can vary from cabin to cabin.

No-service cabins
No-service cabins usually have all you need for cooking and sleeping, but no provisions. In a few simpler no-service cabins you’ll need a sleeping bag and some other equipment.

Architectural explosion

It started with the reconstruction of Turtagrø Hotel in Luster in 2002, and with the building of the new lodge Preikestolen fjellstue in 2008 came a new way of thinking about the construction of lodges and cabins, according to outdoor life adviser at the DNT, Endre Kleiveland.

“Nationwide, we have observed that the architecture has had significance for both the attention garnered and the number of visits the cabins receive”, he says.

DNT is behind many of the cabin projects, but it is multiple forces pulling together that has caused the general upswing of new, modern architect-designed cabins. The innovative thinking comes from those who own and operate the cabins, and all this increased attention has clearly helped inspire others. At the same time, “Norway has many good architects who know the time is right”, Kleiveland says.

The Tungestølen lodge was rebuilt after being ravaged by a hurricane in 2011. The new cabin, which opened in the autumn of 2019, was created by the architectural firm Snøhetta.

“Our foremost desire is that our architecture will help people get out and enjoy the outdoors. The new cabins can also play a part in creating an extra dimension – something you have never seen before”, says senior architect Anne Cecilie Haug at Snøhetta. “Nature is the most important. The architecture should form the basis and be an exciting element in nature.”

Environment and sustainability

The DNT aims to get more people out on hikes whilst also taking care of nature. Therefore, when new building projects occur in Norwegian nature today, careful consideration of the environment, energy solutions and choice of materials, along with functionality, all play a key role.

“These are structures that are closely linked to nature, and which take into account the environment in which they are placed”, Endre Kleiveland says.

It doesn’t go unnoticed when cabins with a new twist pop up, and this has sparked debate about tampering with the romantic image many people have of traditional Norwegian mountains. And that’s good, in Kleiveland’s opinion. He stresses, however, that consideration of the local population and sustainable tourism weighs heavily, and that the Tourist Board would never initiate construction projects that are unwanted locally.

Many of the new cabins have already become icons, and the Rabothytta cabin on the north side of the Okstindbreen glacier in Hemnes in Helgeland is a good example. DNT’s cabin number 500 has become a place many now make the journey to see.

“The cabins are an added highlight of the trip, and yet another reason to go to the mountains. At the same time, it is not a goal in itself for the cabins to be innovative, and the DNT will not only be building this type of cabins in the future”, Kleiveland emphasises.

It is essential to convey that the cabins are there to provide shelter and that guests can feel safe, warm and protected from the often harsh Norwegian climate. At the same time, the surroundings must not be shut out, and many of the new cabins have large panoramic windows.

But, as Anne Cecilie Haug at Snøhetta says: “The nicest pictures of nature will always be the ones you enjoy from outside.”

Philosophy of openness

Anne Cecilie Haug also tells us that technological developments make it even easier to build using low-impact methods in Norway’s outlying areas. In other words, it is easier to protect the environment these days, even when building far off the beaten track.

The senior architect finds it fun to create an alternative to the traditional cabins and likes the idea that you can experience something that was made specifically for the space where they are located.

Everyone being welcome at the Trekking Association's lodges and cabins in Norway is also an important point:

“We at Snøhetta love working with the philosophy that what we create will be open to everyone and that no one is excluded, no matter who they are”, Haug says.

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