Party In Norway
Words: Tam Leach
Photography: Natalie Mayer
TTR points rack up, son. And what do TTR points mean? Prizes, innit. Cash, glory and the opportunity to enter those higher starred events. So if you can combine a trip to someplace that you’ve always wanted to go along with the opportunity to rack up a few extra TTR points, you’re onto a winner. And if that place happens to be in Norway, any time around Easter, you’re on for a party – get me?
Norwegians are well up for Easter. Though reduced to a brief chocolate frenzy at home, in Norway it’s a big deal. With Maundy Thursday through to Easter Monday official days off work, the nation traditionally leaves home and goes skiing. Or at least, they go to the mountains. Hanging out and drinking is the priority; the actual skiing, whether cross-country or downhill, is, as one Scandiwegian put it, “sort of minor".
Our crew joined the throng heading to Hemsedal. A small posse: Jenny Jones, Scott McMorris, Gary Greenshields. For us, Easter was incidental; we were drawn by tales of legendary spring sessions and epic park building, along with the resort’s first TTR sanctioned slopestyle comp. And our first party? Decidedly dry.
The Hemsedal Nordic Open is, like the Brits, a three star TTR event: an Am/Pro comp on the national level. Unlike the Brits, however, you don’t have to be Norwegian to enter. And also unlike the Brits (where even the pretty-much-past-it vie for glory) it appeared that at the Nordic Open only the country’s younger riders were in attendance.
At registration, we quickly discovered why the welcome buffet was pointedly listed as non-alcoholic – everyone filling out registration forms seemed about 14. Jenny, Gary and Scott looked the only three entrants who didn’t need someone to sign the parental consent box. A dad approached Gary and asked him where to register his kid, assuming he was a coach, while I almost got chucked out with a older group of drunken Norwegian punters who mistakenly stumbled into the event.
It wasn’t the best start. I wandered outside to meet Small Paul, an Australian of Norwegian descent who we’d first met in Canada, and who decided to hook up with us again in his motherland. Waiting for his bus, I watched the Norwegians pile in for the holidays. Thanks to extensive oil and gas reserves, Norway is one of the wealthiest nations in the world; perhaps that helps to explain why the taxis in Hemsedal are shiny black Range Rovers driven by skinny blonde women? Back at home, such a thing would only exist in a beer ad. As a joke.
I was still waiting when a large man with stringy hair, massive beard and a fur hat complete with a tail came stomping over to a nearby apartment block. He entered, and moments later appeared on the top floor balcony with a guy wearing tight jeans and a leather jacket. I was curious about their deviation from the Norwegian skiing norm – a look that generally involves this season’s tech gear, possibly topped off with a headband. Then a guitar case flew off the balcony, tumbling five stories onto the snow below. A third guitar dude appeared at ground level and loped over to the case, frizzy black hair trailing behind him, closely followed by the guy in the tail-hat, who started to beat the case with a ski stick. Finally half-dressed girls wandered out onto the second-floor balcony, and began to throw food at the guys below.
In transpired later that the guitar dudes were ‘Dusty Cowshit’, “almost the hottest band in the world", who were scheduled to play the afternoon afterski slot at the mountain restaurant over the weekend. Speaking more correct English than we do, the Norwegians have ditched the faux-French ‘après’: it’s “after-shcki", and they’re mad for it. A typical session involves drinking, mostly (nothing so pitiful as dancing on tables in shcki boots) from about three in the afternoon to the wee hours, perhaps with a break around 9 or 10 for a shower and the chance to top up alcohol levels at home - a temporary respite from crippling prices at the bars.
That night, and for the rest of the weekend, drunken yells punctured the cold night air for hours, and invitations to ‘after-shcki’ would begin sometime following lunch. Inside the wood panelled walls of our apartment, however, all was mellow. Travel weary and stoked to ride the next day, the crew had opted for an early one. Not, however, our Norwegian guests. By the time I returned with Small Paul, Gary had hooked up with fellow Burton rider Kim Hansen and his mates, who brought us a bottle of wine in exchange for a bed for the night and then asked Gary to give them a ride into town. Thirty minutes’ walk from the cabins of the ski area, Hemsedal proper is home to the resort’s shops and the majority of its restaurants, bars and clubs. Wanting to drink, Kim wasn’t planning to drive. Sensible enough. But how will you get back from town at the end of the night? “You walk, fall down, walk again…"
The day of the qualifiers dawns perfect: crisp and sunny, the sky the disarming clear blue of Scandinavian eyes. It’s not great snow: a succession of abnormally warm days combined with chilly nights have rendered Hemsedal’s extensive off-piste unrideable, and turned the groomers into concrete topped with slush. But the park has a carefully sculpted line that includes curious step-ups and a massive wallride, and the final will be held on a giant kicker and hip combo built especially for the occasion.
Jenny is up early and less than stoked when the Turd of Bad Luck appears from nowhere: right at the start of practise, she lands awkwardly and knows something isn’t right - a tweak to the knee aggravated by a previous injury that hasn’t fully healed. It’s enough to take her out of the contest and ground her for the duration of our stay.
Scott’s not having a great time of it either; he makes it through the qualifiers and on to Sunday’s mega-hip final without a problem, but it’s just not his weekend; a cold is lingering and holding him back.
In the end, it’s Inspector Gadge to the rescue. Gary who eschews the aftershki and spends two hours under a bridge in the dark with Small Paul, constructing an elaborate runway through a maze of rocks and frozen water – a run-in that leads to a great fallen slab of rock, a rock that lies like a prehistoric wallride in the centre of the river’s frozen wastes. Gary who helps Small Paul achieve a leap of faith across the waters. And Gary who eventually takes 11th place in a final where local boy Mikkel Bang spins into first, hotly pursued by a home crowd who have been riding since they could walk.
Then it’s back on the bus, back on the plane, back to the Alps, back to photo shoots and board tests and more contests. Though, this being Norway, and Easter, after all, we did stop off in Oslo for some after-shcki of our own. But that’s a different story. Get me?
Avoid the booze and Norway is surprisingly affordable. We stayed in the comfortable Alpin Aparments in Hemsedal Skisenter, just two minutes walk from the slopes. Prices start at £130 for the weekend, for an apartment sleeping up to ten people. One day lift passes are £30, six day passes are £130, and three day lift and lodging packages start at just £90. Lift passes and a range of accommodation in Hemsedel Skisenter, Hemsedal village and the surrounding area can be booked directly through the resort at hemsedal.com.
Flights with Norwegian Airlines start at just £55 for a round trip including all taxes (00 47 67 59 30 00, norwegian.no) and depart from Gatwick, Stansted and Edinburgh to Oslo Gardermoen, the most central airport for Oslo itself. You can also fly Ryanair to Oslo Torp, about an hour south of the city; as I write, budget flights are £20 all in. The Hemsedal direct airport transfer buses from both Oslo Torp and Oslo Gardermoen are £38 round trip; from Oslo bus station the cost is around £30. Hemsedal village and Hemsedal Skisenter are linked by a free bus service, though after 9.30pm you’re on your own.
This year the Nordic Open-Hemsedal Park Attack will be held from the 13th -16th March, with the Norwegian Championships in Geilo from 26th – 30th March. Further information on visiting Norway is available from Innovation Norway (the Norwegian Tourist Board).
Thanks to Sarah Dean, Odd Holde, and all at Innovation Norway and in Hemsedal.