Photo by fruchtzwerg's world
Tell some folks you’re going to Norway in the winter and they’ll tell you you’re crazy to subject yourself to such cold conditions. But the truest Norwegian adage I ever heard is this one: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. So every winter, I layer on the wool and make for snowy Scandinavian landscapes that are, to my mind, the most spectacular in all of Europe. From riding a snowmobile through the whitescapes of the Finnmark Plateau to sledding behind an actual reindeer while the northern lights light up the skies overhead, winter is at its most wonderful here.
Here are my five favorite snowy activities for a perfect Norwegian winter vacation:
Fat biking in Tromsø
When my Norwegian friend Linn-Elise invited me to go fat biking with her in the snowy mountains around Tromsø last winter, I figured she was just trying to kill me. A helicopter pilot in the Norwegian Air Force, she’s a typically hard-core Nordic outdoorswoman. So I was surprised how much fun it was to cruise down the maintained trails in the mountains surrounding the city. The bike’s ultra-wide and low pressure tires make it easy to turn and ride on the packed snow — but it’s worth getting off the trails a bit, too, to throw up big powder plumes. At the end of our little adventure, we warmed up in a Lavvu (a Sami tent) with hot coffee around a blazing fire. You can rent a bike from Tromsø Outdoor to head out on your own adventure. The trails are all well marked and easily accessed from the city center.
Snorkeling with Orcas in Andenes
From around November to early February, the waters around Tromsø, Andenes and Senja host one of nature’s most impressive feeding spectacles when orcas and humpbacks arrive to feast on migrating herring. And Norway is one of the only places in the world where you’re allowed to enter the water alongside the whales. I headed out in a zodiac from Andenes with guides from Lofoten Opplevelser for the chance to swim with the giants. Clad in a dry suit with layers of wool long underwear underneath, I stayed remarkably warm (and dry!) in the icy Arctic waters. Nothing can prepare you for coming within mere feet of orcas and enormous humpback whales as they feed on stunned herring (slapped silly by the orcas tails) by the thousands. So bundle up and dive in.
Scandinavia’s indigenous people, the Sami, are probably best known for their close relationship with reindeer, which have provided them with everything from transport and food to clothing for centuries. One of my most unforgettable winter moments in Norway came during a reindeer sledding expedition about 30 minutes from Tromsø. Being pulled by the animals as I sat in a sled, traversing snowy plains and frozen lakes, was made all the more magical as the Aurora Borealis lit up the skies overhead. At the end of the expedition, you warm up in a lavvu while your Sami guide shares details of his life in Arctic Norway.
Photo by Ben Fredericson
Even in the south of Norway, the days are short during the deep winter months. But neither that nor the cold can keep locals from getting out to enjoy the scenery. Even right in Oslo, the country’s capital, there are plenty of snowy winter sports to enjoy. The forests surrounding the city are crisscrossed with more than 1,600 miles of cross-country ski trails — and 56 miles of them are illuminated so people can head out after the work day ends for some exercise in that fresh, fresh air. I rented skis in the city center and used the city’s easy public transport system to reach the trailheads for one of my favorite urban adventures ever.
I was ruined for snowmobiling anyplace else after my first experience atop the machines, which saw me roaring across the Finnmark Plateau outside of the town of Alta in northernmost Norway. The low winter sunlight made the snow glitter like a billion prisms all around me. And the wild Arctic landscapes we crossed through are where the Sami people bring their reindeer herds to pass the winter months. To top it all off, tours start and leave from the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, where more than 20 rooms, an ice bar and chapel are carved from ice and snow each winter to a completely magical effect.