Hemsedal is a small mountain town in the middle of Norway. It nestles in a deep valley on the edge of the Hardanger Plataeu. The surrounding area is very pretty and there is lots to do in the summer including walking, mountain biking etc. But, it is in the winter that the place really comes to life. It has arguably Norway's best ski resort and some pretty good ice climbing.
The thing that makes Hemsdal great though is not just the good skiing but the "after ski". There is a smallish bar in the centre of town called the Cafe Hemsedal, which I swear is the wildest place I have ever been. I don't say this lightly. I have been in some pretty insane places, from the rave heyday of Liverpool to Cape Town after 3 months in the field, to partying with off duty hookers in JoBerg. From Bangkok to Vegas and beyond but I have yet to come across anywhere as insane as the Cafe Hemsedal. Sometimes I say this to folk and I have to check myself. Can this little bar really be that crazy? Then I go back there and I realise, yes it can.
It's hard to put a finger on why. The place is absolulty packed with people at the end of a full on day of skiing or boarding. They are all dressed in ski gear and hav ecome straight from the slopes; stoked on adrenaline, dehydrated and ready to party. You look around and soak up the insanity, almost everyone is dancing or jumping around, people are crammed on to the dance floor, dancing on the tables, drinking like there is no tomorrow. It feels like 1am and you look at your watch and it is 6.45. Can this many totally trashed people exist so early? Is this sustainable? Can the music get any louder? Can the tempo increase any further?
Last year a guy from Statoil dislocated his knee whilst dancing in his snowboard boots and they pulled him to the edge of the dance floor and just carried on around him. He lay in agony for an hour waiting for the medic while the party continued almost oblivious to him. The place is insane
At least that was how I saw the world until this weekend. We headed to Hemsedal for the anuual pilgramage. This December trip was started by Henrike and I back in 2002 to kick off the winter ski season after the autumn party season and has carried on every year since. Now there are about 60+ people who go and I don't even know 2/3rds of them. A new generation of expats and associates has almost completly replaced us as our group has moved on or had kids or both. Such is the way it goes.
I signed up and was happy to be put in the "ole gits" cabin with people I knew and liked. Drove up on Friday night with JohnT, Jord and Ulrike in my car. The weather has been super cold there (-20 for three or four weeks) but all the snow has been on the west coast so the boarding was always going to be lame but, we went out anyway. It was hard and icy as predicted and there was almost nothing on the off piste. It was good to get out and make some turns anyway.
In the evening we headed to the Cafe and when we got there it was clear something had changed. The place was half empty and there was even tables in the dance floor when we arrived. What was going on? It turns out that in the last year or so the focus has switched elsewhere. The young and trendy people now go to "the church" which by all accounts was absolutly pumping. It made me reflect that nothing in CH has changed, the layout, the bar, the music everything is same but for some inexplicable reason the buzz has moved on. It did fill up later in the evening and we had a top night but it a bit sad to reflect that times change, nothing is fixed.
Next day, bored of boarding on hard ice, I opted to go and hammer crap out of it instead so we went to Rukanfoss and put a top rope on a couple of the falls for folks who wanted to get a taste of ice climbing. A good day was had by all, although it was pretty chilly.
The drive back was interupted by an unexplained hour in a queue in a tunnel near Godvangen but I was still back by 9.30.