There are not many places in the world where you can experience both city life and fantastic ski conditions on the same day, but Norway is one of them. Here are tips for ski trips near the big cities.
Several of the major Norwegian cities are only a short bus or metro ride away from miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. This makes it possible for both locals and visitors to combine 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. Since their implementation, both skiing and outdoor life have flourished.”
Outdoor enthusiasts love Oslo's forests
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. You can go as far as you want, and cover dozens of kilometres on your skis!”
In Oslo's forests, there are 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 over 40 cabins, offering everything from a quick snack break to a three-course dinner and red wine", says Eide.
He has lived in Oslo for almost 30 years but has never seen so many people in the forest as he has in recent years.
"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", says Eide, who thinks excellent ski conditions make Norwegians happier.
According to Eide, it isn't just the locals who enjoy the centrally-located ski trails. Visitors from around the world have also discovered that Norway's capital is a ski paradise.
Eide has met both Germans and Italians during the Holmenkollmarsjen ski competitions, and he has randomly bumped into an acquaintance from Southern Norway far inside the forest outside Oslo on a Saturday morning.
"Many 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 ski in the forest nearby."
If you're in Oslo without your ski equipment, you can borrow some for free 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."
People basically live in Trondheim's ski tracks
The Bymarka outdoor recreation area comprises 250 km of ski trails, and it is by far the largest and most popular cross-country skiing area. Go skiing in the floodlit cross-country trails or in the varied terrain that ranges from dense spruce forests to marsh areas and bare mountains.
"The unique thing about Trondheim is that we have so many trails that connect to residential areas. Bymarka has gateways from various places in Byåsen, Heimdal, Byneset and the Leinstrand area. Also, 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.
It is also easy to get to Bymarka from the city centre, for instance, if you stay at a hotel. 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 mountain plateau", 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 Norway with details such as parking lots, lookout points, restaurants and cabins.
See the northern lights from the ski trails
"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 the peaks on Kvaløya. It is the nature in Northern Norway 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 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 to the island Kvaløya.
"The trails on the mainland 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 route takes you up on the mountain plateau, far above the tree line. Therefore, you should have proper equipment and some experience before you embark on the trail.
"The ski season doesn't really start before March, when the days are getting longer and brighter. From then onward, there are excellent conditions, and there can be enough snow for skiing until 17 May, 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.
“Chances are you will see the northern lights here during the winter. And from the ski tracks, you have an excellent view of the sky when Aurora chooses to make an appearance.”
Find more information about skiing in the region on the Tromsø municipality's website.
From Bergen's streets to ski tracks in 6 minutes
A town that is in a league of its own when it comes to how quickly you can zip from the city centre to the ski track, is Bergen. The cable cars of the Fløibanen Funicular transports you from the city centre and up to the floodlit ski trails on Mount Fløyen 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 the 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 put on mountaineering skis and move away from the trails, for example to Rundemanen and further over the mountain plateau.
“It's incredibly nice to ski from Mount Fløyen and over the plateau to Mount Ulriken, but 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 to the Åsebu hut and back, while the more driven skiers can make the round-trip as many times as they can bear. The lights are not turned off until 11:00 pm.
The only catch with Bergen is the weather. It is, as Guro Øvsthus says, “like playing bingo”. One year, Fjord Norway might have a wonderful winter with great skiing conditions for two consecutive months, while another year can bring as little as two skiing days. 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, you're more likely to find snow at Kvamskogen and Totland, 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. Note that there is no ski rental at Mount Fløyen.
“Tourists sometimes come here and think it looks super exotic to go cross-country skiing, but they don't have their own equipment with them. I usually advise them to buy a sledge. They don't have to be expensive, and it's great fun to sledge down from Fløyen and use the Fløibanen Funicular as a lift.”
On the Loyper.net website, you can check the skiing conditions forecast and read more about the various ski trails. You'll notice a small square next to the trail name, which corresponds to how long ago it was prepared. Green means it's only hours since prep, blue means yesterday, pink is two days, orange is three to fifteen days, red is fifteen to thirty days and black is more than thirty days.
And on Fløyen.no, you can see what is happening on Mount Fløyen this winter.
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