Friday, 10 January 2014

The Magic Ski Resort, The City Break, and The Search for Snow

Driving up to the Cairn Gorm ski resort in Aviemore in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, the snow was fresh and the resort was finally open after a number of days of rain, fog and high winds. Richard pulled the car around a bend, and suddenly announced "It's full." He'd seen a sign whilst I was busy snapping photos, and my heart sank. We drove on with our fingers crossed...

After arriving at the top my hopes came crashing down. Lining up in droves across the car park was a sea of Gore-Tex and fleece-clad skiers and boarders snaking along in what could only be an immensely long (and very British) queue, to get their padded paws on ski passes.

It has to be said, I have never come across such a thing in all the European ski resorts we have visited. To top it all off, it was a beautiful day - sunny with a massive recent snowfall. It would have been perfect skiing if the rest of the UK hadn't had the same idea...

We drove onwards, North East, and reached the smaller and more beginner-friendly ski resort 'The Lecht'  with its rural Grampian setting. Within 15 minutes we had paid for our £20 half-day ski passes, and rented our skis from the helpful staff - finally I was in the snow. I promptly left Richard at the nursery slope, cockily heading straight for a blue run.

Scraping across the ice at the top I found myself stumbling to a halt, staring down the valley. I seemed to have forgotten how to ski. It was impossible to turn where I wanted and my ski edges just wouldn't grip. My calves burned and cramped as I panicked, zig-zagging awkwardly across the gritty, icy snow. Those blue runs are like blacks when they're icy - truly expert territory. After some time, I arrived back down. I had slid my way across the snow, avoiding the tufts of grass and smudges of mud; I had made it. They hadn't had as much snow here... Literally quaking in my boots, I skulked back to the nursery slopes to join Richard, skiing over the icy snow on the safer and gentler nursery slopes below. Within an hour or so I felt better, but I still had my fingers crossed for less icy encounters on our next excursion...

We arrived home the next day after a long drive South, cheered in the new year with my sister and some friends, and got up again at 4am to catch our cheap flight with Ryanair to Oslo, Norway. Anything for a good snow-fix!

We woke up in our lovely Radisson Blu hotel room (amazing deal, thanks Expedia!) The immaculate hotel was ideally placed - a little outside of the city centre but directly opposite the Nydalen metro station. After taking full advantage of the enormous breakfast buffet we caught the metro up to Voksenkollen. 20 minutes later we were shuffling out of the train, up in the snow-covered hills at the Oslo Vinterpark, Tryvann.

It has been 3 years since I last visited but I've always had a soft-spot for this little resort so close to Norway's capital city. It is here that I finally learned to ski properly - gliding along with my skis parallel, repeatedly flying down the long 'green' runs in the gentle melting April snow.   

We climbed into the skirental minibus at the bus stop and rented our equipment on arrival at their shop (cheaper than at the actual resort), then we made our way to the slopes in their mini bus (just a minute or so away). Oh, and we had a private instructor for around £20 each for an hour because when we were idly asking about prices the guy gave us the wrong price so offered a massive discount, and we took it!

Neither of us have ever had a lesson and have managed well so far, but I must say, this guy was fantastic. His concise and positive instructions had us flying down the slope with absolute confidence, something we had both been missing until then - even if it was mostly Psychological.

"Press down with your big toe and keep your skis straight. that's all I want you do think about"

Richard's skiing changed instantly. From wibble-wobble, and "I can't stop" to controlled parallel turns and eagerness to slide back through the barrier to go again.

I decided to give one of the blue runs a go and was momentarily shocked to find a very steep and winding slope with a set of moguls and jumps. Adrenaline-junkie snowboarders were flying about the place and I suddenly felt awkward again. I looked around nervously but promptly noticed people smiling back and I had nothing to worry about. They could do it and so could I. Suck it up, I thought to myself, and I plunged down in parallel, flying past the snow-covered trees and I didn't even need to think about it, it felt so natural.

Gliding along again on the long wide green runs I noticed Richard starting to speed up and try new things. He was finally able to ski alongside me with total confidence, come with me on ski lifts, and he was even the most reluctant to finish for the day and head back into the city for a delicious meal at Egon. I even caught him sliding backwards and experimenting with a reverse snowplough...

Oslo City Break: Things to Do, Eating, & Travel/Practical Information

Norway is more expensive than the UK, but you can minimise these costs and cheap flights make up for this. Buy a week's travel ticket rather than day pass if you are in Oslo for more than 3 days and using city transport everyday - it's cheaper. The travel ticket includes all city trams, metro lines, city boats and buses.

Most hotels include breakfast buffets, and most of these are extensive - fill up while you can, even if you have to ignore the traditional pickled herring option that graces most Nordic breakfast tables.  

Eating out is more expensive if you drink alcohol. To really keep costs down just order tap water with your meal, it's perfectly clean. Most main meals in regular restaurants will cost between around £13 and £18.

'Dolly Dimple's' is a great little pizza restaurant, and with larger options to share, costs can be kept to a minimum.

'Olivia's' at Aker Brygge is an excellent quality restaurant with a beautiful interior and traditional thin base wood-fired pizzas, pasta dishes and seafood.

Retro-style restaurant chain Egon can be found in many places around the city. The 3-floored Egon at the train station in the city centre is a convenient place to meet and eat due to good metro line connections and a buzzing atmosphere.

There is so much to see and do in Oslo; possibly the most unique and interesting being the Nobel Peace Centre at Aker Brygge, the Viking Ship museum on the Bygdoy peninsula with real intact specimens, and the famous Holmenkollen ski-jump with its ski simulator, museum and zip-wire.

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2014
All Rights Reserved

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