It has certainly been the longest winter of my life. The snowy season in Montana is usually from late November to late March/early April. The snowy season in Norway is usually from late January to late May/early April. We have managed to move at just the right time to have a never ending winter. Those of you who know Joel would guess that he is quite happy about this. He is happy that he is not burning up in 90degree weather, but the snow here is kind of teasing him. It has snowed SO much in the past month that the avalanche danger is incredibly high. Several people have died in Tromsø backcountry skiing this winter. So we patiently wait for the snow to settle as we see huge mountains covered with snow surrounding us in every direction. Joel is even fortunate enough to have a perfect view of one of these mountains directly out his window at work. Torture.
So what do we do if we can’t ski the BIG mountains? We join in the Norwegian lifestyle of cross country skiing, sledding, snow playing, and of course downhill skiing at our local little hill, Krøken. We can’t really get through a whole week with this much snow around without downhill skiing. We are definitely finding fun and learning a bit about the Norwegian way of winter life. Since that is one of the reasons we are here, to learn about a new culture as a family, we are winning:) So here is what we have learned.
They take their winter activities seriously around here. Let’s start with cross-country skiing, the national past-time. There is an amazing network of lit and groom cross country trails running continuously from one end of the island to the next. I am not sure how many total kilometers of trail there are, but I do know that I have not yet skied them all. The trails are groomed every morning with track on both sides. The go through public land along the top of the island, crossing only a couple of roads on Skibruas (ski bridges). They have built their main driving thoroughfares as tunnels under the trail network on top of the island to allow for these uninterrupted ski trails. There are people ranging in age from 2 to 92 cross country skiing at varying paces and skill levels along the trails. Every weekday, you will find classes of school age kids out on the trails as part of their school day. This includes the barnehages, or kindergartens, which house kids age 2-5, out skiing on the trails. A group of ten or so 2-5 year olds cross country skiing is quite the sight. Odin has become pretty darn good on the cross country skis and can get up and down hills with ease now. I try to get out and ski each day that the kids are in barnehage (3 days/week) and am definitely picking my pace up a bit too. Adelheyd only lasts a short time before wanting to walk or run. Joel gets out sometimes but shares the sentiment that Odin and Adelheyd tell us all the time “downhill skiing is way more fun than uphill skiing” (that is what they fondly call cross-country skiing:). You will also see in the pictures some views of their monster gelande jump and biathalon training area – crazy Nordic sports!
Our next winter activity takes place alongside the cross country trail system at any one of the several lit sledding hills. These are not little hills, they are fairly big in sledding terms. Of course, kids being kids, there are usually several jumps that get built on the hill, big and small. Again, you will find 2 year olds and 52 year olds cruising down the hills on all sorts of sleds. The two year olds are usually, but not always, accompanied by an adult. There are no helmets and you just have to hold on tight and try not to hit anyone. Amazingly, I really haven’t seen any real damage done. A lot of the kids take advantage of the hills being alongside the cross country trails and ski up the hill then cruise down, again hitting the jumps,…on cross country skis. It is said that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. It is true. As the kids ski and sled, the adults take turns dragging kids up the hill, going for a little ski themselves, and taking care of their ‘basecamp’ on the hill. The ‘base camp’ involves digging some seats and a pit into the snow. The pit is for the fire that is promptly builtt, pretty much wherever you want. They all have come prepared with foam pads to sit on, hot dog roasting skewers, hot cocoa, and other snacks. It is called ‘Grill Pølse’ to go out and meet some friends to build a fire and eat hotdogs while the kids play in the snow. Not a bad way to spend a winter day.
Number 3 on the list is downhill skiing. We have two options within a 15 minute drive from our house. A kids T-bar lift called Bak Olson that is run by parents and again is linked up to the cross country ski trail system on the Island. You buy a season pass for your family and with it are obligated to run the lift one day per person in your family. If we were to buy a pass, we would work the lift 4 days of the winter. It is only run after school hours 3pm to 8pm and also is lit. There is a great little teepee on the side of the hill where a fire is always going so you can Grill Pølse! Odin is totally independent on this lift and will make laps while we ski with Adelheyd or hang out in the teepee. The other area is called Krøken and is just over the bridge off the island about 15 minutes from our apartment. It consists of a couple of Poma lifts. One shorter lift which is perfect for Adelheyd and one long lift that Odin has recently mastered. There is a great little cabin there where you can sit to eat the food you bring, or you can dig a pit and Grill Pølse anywhere around the cabin. Are you getting the picture that the Grill Pølse is kind of popular? Most of the pictures I have are from Krøken. I will try to learn how to upload our videos of Odin and Adelheyd skiing soon too.
Last on the list of winter activities is hill climbing. This is one of Odin’s favorites as he climbs no less than 5 hills of snow every day. These mounds of snow are everywhere as they plow continually everyday and have their favorite spots to pile the snow waiting for the dump truck to pick it up and dump it in the ocean. Adelheyd has recently joined in the fun too. It is amazing how high up a pile of snow a 3 year old can climb. Thank goodness for good snow gear. Odin has also taken his climbing to the next level and now jumps off the top, landing sometimes in nice soft snow, other times on hard packed ice, and every once in awhile rolling a log roll to the bottom. One sunny afternoon in the city center, he climbed a huge mound of snow and was cheered on by some guys drinking beer on a balcony to “hop” or jump. He enjoyed the attention and gave them a good show.