you’ll be spoiled
SJUSJOEN, Norway Skiing all day in the snow covered Norwegian countryside was exhilarating, but exhausting, too.
It was our third day in a row tackling the vast network of groomed tracks around Sjusjoen, going wherever our whims took us and rarely ending up on the same trail twice.
Our aching muscles beckoned us back to our warm and cosy hotel as Day 3 neared an end, but our laissez faire approach to directions left my wife, Lea, and I six kilometres from home at a time we were hoping to be done.
We gritted our teeth (I likely swore, too) and we headed down the trail. Our grim determination turned to elation as we picked up speed and whooshed down a long, steady descent. When we got to the bottom and looked at the next trail marker, we had just three kilometres to go.
Such is the beauty of Sjusjoen, where hundreds of kilometres of impeccably groomed guess factory trails over varied terrain can keep even the most indefatigable cross country skier fulfilled for years to come. national women’s team in the 1970s coming back to Sjusjoen for years.
“One can ski 50k a day and hardly ever repeat a trail,” s guess factory aid David, a university professor who lives in Stowe, Vermont, with Trina, who’s retired from academics.
“What we like about Sjusjoen is the rolling terrain. change direction often and the hills tend to be short and steep. Sjusjoen is at the edge of forest and more open area. If it’s clear and sunny, you go up; if it’s foggy and snowy, you go down.”
Nestled in hills and forests about 20 kilometres outside the 1994 Olympic host city of Lillehammer, Sjusjoen boasts about 350 kilometres of trails in the immediate area at elevations between 750 and 1,000 metres above sea level.
That last detail is important, particularly as Norway experiences one of the warmest winters in decades. There was no snow in Oslo and very little even in nearby Lillehammer when we arrived in early January, but Sjusjoen was covered in a thick blanket.
“It’s been getting known both nationally and internationally that this is the place where the snow comes and stays,” said Karianne Rustad, who operates a hotel that bears her family’s name.
It’s ironic, then, that a region that has become guess factory such a reliable draw for cross country skiers got its start as a summer destination.
Rustad said farmers in the valley below had summer houses in Sjusjoen and used to pasture their animals there in the warmer months. But in the early part of the century, there were no roads in the area and it was inaccessible in the winter.
What’s now the 44 room Rustad Hotel was originally a modest summer place bought by Karianne’s great grandmother, sight unseen, “at a tea party in Lillehammer” in 1935.
As roads opened up the area over the decades, Norwegians who hold cross country skiing as dear to their hearts as Canadians do hockey followed with their skis.
“In my grandfather’s time, there were three hotels here and all the managers would go out every morning and make the ski tracks themselves,” Rustad said.
Now Sjusjoen is dotted with hotels and hytte (cabins), many of which are for rent to groups of varying sizes. There are a few stores in the area to buy groceries and supplies, too.
Travelling light was important to Lea and I, so we wanted the amenities that came with staying at a hotel. Room rates at the Rustad Hotel include meals, with the cost dependent which plan you choose: three full meals a day or a 3/4 plan, which includes breakfast, dinner and a bag lunch.
Like many guests, we opted for the 3/4 plan, filling paper lunch bags left on our table each morning with bread, cheeses and cold cuts set out with the sprawling breakfast buffet. A Norwegian family dining next to us tol guess factory d me about brunost, a Scandinavian brown cheese that gets its distinct brown colour and sweet flavour from being boiled for several hours until the natural sugars in it turn to caramel. It’s calorie dense and good fuel for the trails.
The Rustad rents out skis and has a full service pro shop important even for people who bring their skis, considering wax is highly flammable and not allowed on airplanes.
When it’s time to hit the trails, they’re right at your doorstep.
Its origins as cottage country for Norwegians is one of the things that distinguishes an outing in Sjusjoen from a day in Kananaskis or one of the mountain parks. Skiing through a populated area, as opposed to protected Crown land, brings different sights, smells and stops: rustic cabins with wood smoke coming from their chimneys and quaint cafes offering a warm drink and a place to rest.
The main trails can be congested, particularly on weekends, but there are also many, many side trails where it’s possible to ski for a long time without encountering anyone else. There, the only sounds are your skis gliding over the snow and your own breathing.
One thing all the trails, big and small, have in common is they’re groomed daily, with classic tracks in each direction and a skating lane in between. In Norway, where skiing is the national sport, there are far more skate skiers than you’d encounter in North America. It can be a little (OK, a lot) humbling to be gliding along on your classic skis and have a 10 year old Norwegian boy pass you on skate skis like you’re standing still but the good news is that most of the terrain is well within the ability of a someone used to skiing intermediate trails here.