28 March 2008

Easter - big spikey mountains and lots of snow in Sunmøre

For Easter we headed up to Sunmøre Alps, which is an area that lies 300 km north of Bergen, just south of the town of Ålesund. Never been there before but had heard great things from several friends, especially the ones that come from there.

Easter in Norway is amazing. Everywhere else in the World people have a holiday on Good Friday and maybe the Monday after Easter Sunday, they half heartedly exchange some sickly chocolate eggs and generally do their best to ignore the whole thing. In Norway Easter is bigger than Christmas, no seriously it is. The official holiday starts on Wednesday lunch time and because of this most people take the preceding 2.5 days off and thus get a 10 day holiday. Everything in shut - you can spot the ex-pats they are the ones caught off-guard buying frozen pizza in the garage on Saturday, because all the shops have been closed for 3 days and aren’t opening for another 2! The cities are abandoned, it looks like something out of "28 days later" (the zoombies are the hungry expats!)

So this year rather than fight it, we opted to go with the flow, take all of the official holiday and went to see a bit more of the country. The Sunmøre Alps had rave reviews so we headed up there.

Its only a couple of hundred km north of the big B but since that involves three ferries and some pretty crap roads it normally takes 6 hours. Because one of the ferries on the Sognafjord was out of action it took us 11! It was pretty late by the time we arrived. We had a cool but tiny cabin for 4 of us - me and three girls, so was trying very hard not to snore or fart through the night!

First day - tonnes of fresh snow, infact it was falling all day and there was so much that avalanche was a big and serious risk. Because of a late start, resulting from the late arrival and subsequent bottles of wine, we went to a local resort. Meet up with Arne, who is not only local to the area but also just a little bit scary! Thats only on skis, in normal life he is a very nice chap, but put a pair of skis on his feet and he makes people afraid. Ian's parting comment to me was "don't let Arne take you on any of his 'project' gullies..." Hmm I guess you get the idea.

Anyway day one was pretty mellow, lots of nice off piste and tonnes on snow. The three phat-luv ladies spent as much time digging themselves out of deep holes as skiing and the weather was pretty crappy - but at least it was still snowing. That evening Arne stayed in the hut, increasing the number of people but decreasing both the available space and my chances of being blamed for snoring!

Next day we headed to Stranda - big local resort. almost didn’t make it because an avalanche closed the access road, but they got it open. The resort was smaller than the local propaganda suggested and I was less than impressed at being snatched on to my face by a button tow. Any resort that has a 1.9 km long button lift as the only way up the mountain - does not get my initial vote.

Second attempt at the tow and I got going, Katharine had waited at the top so we followed Arne's instructions to head right and keep going. Traversed off losing as little height as possible into a hardly skied valley (blomsterdale). Bit nervous as there was no tracks, no people and we had no idea where we were going, but we had clearly gone further than recommend. A quick look at the snow and I figured the risk was pretty low and just went for it....

Had an amazing run, one of the best I have ever had, fresh snow, totally untracked, no-one around, just flying down this slope, into the bottom of the valley, turn left and keep going. The valley led us down, through some trees where we picked up so tracks that guided us back to the base of the lift. All of a sudden I went from hating the place to absolutely loving it...

A couple more runs on that side of the mountain, then meet up with Arne for lunch. He proposed the other side and a "little run" he knew. Took the lifts to the top and then traversed. All of sudden we were at the top of a very very steep slope. Katharine bailed immediately (wise girl) leaving us to it. Arne hurled himself straight down while I pondered my options. It was steep, but not too long (maybe 200m) and there was not much to hit in the inevitable event of losing control, so without thinking too hard I tried to traverse.

I immediately lost the edge and started sliding on my arse, trying to stay upright and get a purchase with the board as I accelerated. Finally got back in control and realised the only way was straight down, pointed the board and went for it... I have never been so fast on a board, as I reached the bottom of the slope I felt like a bullet from a gun – absolutely flying.

After that we did more runs around the mountain and through the trees. Finished the day walking up to the peak behind the resort, stunning views and then an amazing run down.

Next day we opted for a top-tur, so the split board got some action. Can't remember the peak but it started from a place called stranda-hytter. Pretty popular choice as the carpark was full and the line up the hillside looked like a parade - even saw another split boarder!

Long trudge up, with one nasty traverse. I ended up having take off the board and started to consider learning to ski - sad but true. Eventually we made it to just below the summit and had lunch. Hiked the last 50 m - all was in cloud, hadn't seen anything for the last 3 hours - then just as we came to leave the cloud opened and we got a stunning view of the valley and fjord 1500 m below.

Then reassembled the board and took off. Amazing run from the peak, cross the glacier and down to the valley bottom - at that point I knew why I had my board. This was fantastic and what Norwegian mountains are all about!

Slept well that night and drove back to the big B the next day as I was off to the “land of the large” on Monday. Slightly less than the 11 hours on the way up but still snowing like crazy...

Sunmøre - what a place, have to go back

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