Want to explore the Norwegian Fjords, snowboard and get some serious backcountry in? Then check out this review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway and a Vatnahalsen snowboard holiday.
You probably know the Fjords in Norway are spectacularly beautiful. But do you know there are ski resorts within the Fjords? And that there is a thriving backcountry scene?
Fjord Norway, the regional tourist board, launched Freeride the Fjords to get the word out. It is a unique freeride package that combines the best the area has to offer both on and off the mountain.
You spend a few days skiing or snowboarding in Myrkdalen, an excellent small resort with one of the best snow records in Europe. You then take a cruise on the UNESCO World Heritage Nærøyfjord – it’s as beautiful as it is unpronounceable.
This links up with the spectacular Flåm Railway on which you travel to Vatnahalsen Mountain lodge. Surrounded by mountains at 820 metres above sea level there’s incredible backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
As a snowboard writer it is not often that I find myself writing with relish about the travel aspect of trips I go on. But getting around and seeing the region is a key part of the Freeride the Fjords package.
For us it began with a beautiful train journey from Bergen to Voss – part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour. The views were incredible and the camera didn’t do it justice. From there we transferred to Myrkdalen which took about thirty minutes.
We spent two nights in Myrkdalen which is an awesome little ski resort. The slopes were very quiet during our visit, despite it being the Easter school holidays in the UK. We stayed at the Myrkdalen Hotel which is lovely.
Although there are just 30km of slopes there is great variety with something for everyone from beginner to pros. The learners area is excellent and there are plenty of blues to progress onto. There are also some challenging red slopes.
More experienced skiers and snowboarders will love the four snowparks. Klaus Finne, the Norwegian X-Games skier, gave us a guided tour. This included going very large off features in a snowpark named after him! You can see him in action in the video below by Jamie Barrow.
Unfortunately during this review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway the off-piste conditions in Myrkdalen were not good. It hadn’t snowed for a while so the snow was cut up and icy. Certainly not suited to time away from the groomers.
But Klaus pointed out various places you could head off-piste. Between the pistes looked amazing as there is a lot of space between runs. There are very few trees so in fresh snow there is nothing to stop you exploing much of the mountain.
Klaus said a short traverse will find you fresh tracks a few days after snow. And if you are willing to hike, snowshoe, tour or splitboard you can lay fresh lines a week or more after it has snowed. Find out more in this review of Myrkdalen snowboarding.
Usually I am not too happy losing a day of slope time to travelling. But when the journey is as beautiful as the route to our Vatnahalsen snowboard holiday I will make an exception.
We caught the ferry from Gudvangen, where there is a traditional viking village you can visit. Here the undisturbed waters at the end of the Nærøyfjord create jaw-dropping reflective views.
The boat journey up the fjord to Flam takes a couple of hours. It is one beautiful vista after another with picturesque Norwegian villages, towering cliffs, reflective waters and mountainous backgrounds. A quick warning it gets pretty cold.
I had wrapped up fairly warm for the journey but wished I was wearing more layers. The boat has an inside area selling hot drinks and food, but when views are this good you’ll want to stay outside. So wear thermals and ski jacket – if I was doing it again I might wear my ski trousers too.
At the other end of the fjord you arrive in Flam which is a very pretty village. From here you catch the train to your Vatnahalsen snowboard holiday. We had a quick look in the museum before our train left. Then it was ‘all aboard’ one of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys.
The train trip is very pretty. Although being mid April the snow was melting with patches of grass and mud showing through. I am sure it would be even better in the height of winter. After tunnels, stunning views and incessant climbing the winding journey arrived in Vatnahalsen.
The train station is in the middle of nowhere with the only building of any note being Vatnahalsen Hotel. Out here, almost on it’s own, it is an impressive property that can only be reached by train or foot.
The hotel has an interesting history, including being used by the Nazis during WWII. These days it is a very comfortable mountain lodge for active travellers looking for a base from which to explore.
On arrival we had lovely waffles – the waffle machine comes out daily and a drink with the owner Petr. We discussed our goals for the visit. Petr would be our guide the next day.
Plans set we headed to our rooms. The bedrooms are fairly basic but have everything you need. The bed was comfortable, shower hot and the view from my room was incredible.
Dinner was a hearty and tasty selection of Norwegian and international dishes. Most vegetables are organic and locally produced. The majority of the meat is reared in the mountains, feeding on the summer meadows.
Breakfast was also hearty. It included porridge, boiled eggs, cereals, fruit, traditional cold cuts and fresh bread. You can make your own lunch from the ingredients for your day of adventures ahead. They even provide foil and sandwich bags.
Nice as the food was this review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway was all about backcountry snowboarding. As we didn’t have split-boards we planned to snowshoe our way up and then snowboard down.
There has been no fresh snow for a while, which coupled with freeze-thaw made conditions difficult. Setting off at 10 am it was very icy. We made our way along a path that soon crossed over the railway tracks into the wild.
The highest peak you can see from the front of the hotel was our goal (peak on the right image below). To get there we would first make our way up a peak between us and our destination (peak on the left below). Then we would board down before make the main climb.
The plan was to be be riding down in the afternoon when the sun had softened the icy snow. What followed was one of the most exhausting days I have ever spent in the mountains.
Climbing the first peak was tough. We were all taking it at our own pace then on a really steep section one of my snow shoes came off. Luckily the snow here wasn’t icy, but it took me ages to get it back on and by then the others seemed miles ahead.
I then made the mistake of trying to catch up. I quickly exhausted myself and was really struggling. When I reached the top the others had not been waiting long. Lesson learnt always travel at your own pace.
From here we boarded down. Conditions were icy, but we hit a patch of soft(ish) snow for a few powder turns. At the bottom we stopped for a snack before setting about the daunting task of the main climb.
For the small peak we had snowshoed from 800m to 1,150m. But we’d snowboarded back down to just over 800m and would be climbing to 1,464m! It looked difficult and it was exceptionally hard work.
We stopped halfway for some lunch and great views before taking on the final push. At one stage I was close to quitting. I was on a steep icy slope that seemed to be going on forever. Every step was hard work and my calves were quivering.
But I couldn’t give up. Not because of my strong will power but simply because it just wasn’t possible. There was no way to stop on this part of the slope and swap my snowshoes for my snowboard to ride down. Even sitting down was impossible as you’d slide down the mountain.
So I carried on, very thankful for the spikey snowshoes. After what seemed forever I came over a rise, the slope became less steep and much easier. We stopped for a short break before pushing on to the summit. At the top the spectacular snowy landscape spread for miles all around us.
Having earned our turns the 650m descent was excellent. The snow wasn’t particularly good, although we had the odd patch of crusty powder. But somehow the descent meant so much more than my usual freeriding.
At points the slope was steep, icy and rocky so it was quite a challenge riding down. But we all made it down in one piece with huge smiles on our faces. What had taken hours to climb took about 10 minutes to board down!
Unfortunately we still had to go over the smaller peak to get back home. We took a slightly different route that involved less climbing. The goal was to traverse around the mountain, mainly on the snowboards.
Somehow we ended up lower then planned and had a 100m climb to get back to the hotel. This last part was tough as we were all exhausted. But the effort made the beer taste all the better once back in the hotel!
Overall we’d covered 11.26 km in seven and a half hours. This doesn’t seem like much until you factor in 1,235m of climbing in snowshoes. Not bad for my first time snowshoeing! Overall it was an amazing experience, but next time I will take a splitboard.
This review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway would not be complete without talking about the homeward journey. We took the train to Bergen on another beautiful route through the mountainous Norwegian landscape.
Once in Bergen we had a couple of hours to kill before our transfer to the airport so we had a look around. It is a very attractive city with colourful buildings and a stunning harbour with many nice looking bars, cafes and restaurants.
We took the Fløibanen funicular up to Fløyen mountain 310m above the city. There are stunning views from the top and a huge recreational area for outdoor activities.
This means that just a few minutes from the city centre you can go hiking, mountain biking, ziplining and canoeing. You can also snowshoe in winter – although we’d had enough of that! Fløyen is well worth a visit if you are in Bergen – even just for the views alone.
This review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway was a very different snowboarding trip. Exploring the fjords is something I would recommend to anyone. The views are endlessly beautiful and the whole region feels wild and rugged.
Combining this with skiing or snowboarding is an experience I will never forget. The ski resort of Myrkdalen is excellent – freestylers and freeriders will love it. And adding the Vatnahalsen snowboard holiday was the icing on the cake!
It was a proper adventure heading off snowshoeing into the backcountry. And while the snow conditions were not great it was still an absolute blast on the way down. Earned turns taste so much sweeter!
This was an amazing trip that I highly recommend. The only downside is beer is very expensive in Norway. However that meant we always had clear heads to enjoy the stunning scenery.
I hope you found this review of Freeride the Fjords in Norway and Vatnahalsen snowboard holiday useful and interesting. You can check out their latest packages here: www.fjordnorway.com/freeride-the-fjords/