Off Piste In Norway: Careful You Can’t Affjord Avalanches
Love this guest post from Martin Nolan – ski bum and travel blogger at thetravelramble.co.uk – all about his experiences skiing in Norway! Skiing is something we don’t have much experience of at LGA Towers so it’s always good to get a little insider info from those in the know…thanks Martin!
“SO WHAT IS the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Norway? For me it is Vikings. I’m not sure why? Maybe it is a lack of knowledge about Scandinavian history, who knows? What I don’t think of is skiing, but apparently it should be the first thing. They say they invented it.
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On the transfer up to resort the likelihood is that the driver will say ‘Did you know Ski and Slalom are words that originally derive from Norse?’ No, I didn’t but I’ve spent 20 odd years grappling with English so I haven’t had much time for Norse.
It seems skiing is pretty important to their national identity. Actually for them it is a legitimate means of transport. They learn to ski as soon as they are old enough for short trousers. They don’t need resorts; they have mountains that they net to get down to get a pint of milk. It is one of the reasons I chose Norway for my next backcountry adventure. So armed with little information I booked a trip to Geilo with Crystal Ski.
For those not in the know, Backcountry skiing (off piste if you are a sophisticated European) is where there are no runs. The snow is ungroomed and it is go anywhere terrain. Pick the line you want and go.
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What I didn’t know about Norway is that it is prone to the odd avalanche. It is something you find out pretty quick on arrival. The resorts are fine as they have ski patrol sculpting the runs but backcountry is a different matter.
After signing up to go on an off piste tour they quickly give you a little avalanche safety course. What avalanche? Why wasn’t it mentioned as you were signing up? Well apparently there is a warning that you go at your own risk at the top of the page. Probably shouldn’t have been so obsessed with the small print. As the group sits down they run through a few avalanche facts. The main take away is:
90% of avalanches are triggered by the victim or those around them.
Immediately your eyes catch another person’s and instantly the thought ‘So you’re the guy that is going to get me killed, then’ pops into your head. The course continues and it is in depth. The bearded local guides do their best to make you feel as safe as possible but the word avalanche isn’t an easy one to shake. Especially when they advise what to do if you’re caught in an avalanche. The advice goes like this:
• Ski down the hill trying to build up enough speed to avoid the 80 kmph mass of snow coming towards you then wheel away to the left or right out of harms way.
• If you’re inside the snow, swim really hard to try and stay at the top of it. If you’re not a particularly strong swimmer in the sea don’t worry because snow is a completely different kettle of fish.
• Grab a tree.
Yes apparently there is no set way to survive one. It seems the best way is to avoid it. I felt pangs for the pacified mountains of the Alps.
To cut a story short, it all went really well. In fact it was some of the freshest powder of my life. It was just a bit of paranoia on my part. Although it is better to be safe than sorry, right? In fact the guides are so well trained and take these trips about once a week. They really know how to minimise the risk. Norway is also a truly beautiful ski destination with rustic villages that give you the feeling of getting back to nature. In fact their slopes are very safe like any other. It is just going off piste that there is a risk.
But not too much as only 150 people die from avalanches a year.
Have you ever been skiing in Norway? Let us know! Even better if you’ve been upclose to an avalanche and lived to tell the tale….leave a comment below or contact us to share your travel stories.