Image credit: Visit Norway
Tamara Hinson takes to the slopes in three resorts in Norway on a Crystal Ski fam
It’s 5pm, the last chairlift has just ground to a halt and a panda-eyed skier has dropped an entire tray of Jägermeister shots.
So far, so predictable. But I’m not in the Three Valleys, Whistler or St Anton – rather a slope-side bar in the Norwegian resort of Hemsedal.
Norway is one of Europe’s most snow-sure countries, with a ski season lasting from early November until mid-May.
I’m here on a fam trip with Crystal Ski to experience three of the top resorts, all in southern Norway: Geilo, Hemsedal and Beitostølen.
Geilo: Good for families
The first skiers arrived in Geilo 100 years ago, but its reputation for ski was sealed when one of the country’s most important slalom races was held there in 1935.
It’s small but ideal for beginners, with 19 lifts (five chairs, six T-bars, seven drag lifts and one magic carpet) and 22 miles of runs, including nine green, 10 blue, 15 red and five black.
Our base was the Vestlia Resort, a short walk from the small town’s centre. The Vestlia’s accommodation is varied and includes 98 double rooms and three penthouses. Log fires give the place a cosy feel, while splashes of alpine chic come in the form of headboards which resemble stable doors (sounds weird, but it works) and black and white photos of skiers.
The snug-like bar is the perfect place for an après-ski tipple, although I spent my evenings in the huge pool. I also loved the 124-room Dr Holms hotel, with its huge spa, high-end artwork and eclectic assortment of stuffed animals.
Geilo is small but quite spread out, so having your own transport is handy, especially for competent skiers who will quickly cover the individual areas of piste.
I’d recommend it for beginners but also for couples who fancy a romantic winter escape, and families with young children.
“One of my highlights was the Hallingstuene restaurant in Geilo,” says Silvia Tidy, customer adviser at Crystal.
“The rustic decoration was beautiful, the food superb and the wine cellar spectacular.”
Hemsedal: Hardcore skiers ahoy
As soon as we arrived in Hemsedal we knew this resort was special. We’d all loved Geilo, but the keen skiers among us were beginning to wonder where the real mountains were. Hemsedal felt much more like a typical alpine ski resort: steep, tree-lined runs tapering down to the large town centre.
Our base was the Alpin Lodge, which has a great variety of rooms and modern self-catering apartments which accommodate between two and 28 people. This ski-in ski out hotel is ideally located – the resort’s main bars, restaurants and shops are just a short walk away but there’s a huge rental shop, supermarket, restaurant and bar within the lodge itself.
Hemsedal’s 55 runs cover 31 miles. Beginners are still well-catered for, with 24 green runs and 15 blue runs, but the more advanced skiers and snowboarders loved the nine challenging red runs and seven black runs.
Lunch was at Skigaarden, which is halfway up the mountain and has three restaurants under one roof, including a fine-dining option and a burger bar. With its tinkling chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows, Skigaarden appeared to appeal mainly to those who prefer to take in the views rather than take to the black runs: bottles of Veuve Clicquot lined the bar and, upstairs in the members’ club area, fur-clad skiers (or après-skiers, at least) reclined on the balcony’s sun loungers. Lunch was a delicious moose stew washed down with local beer, after which we headed over to the resort’s enormous fun park.
That evening, we toasted a fantastic day’s skiing at the slope-side Skistua Restaurant & Bar in Hemsedal. Within 10 minutes of the band starting up, the tables were heaving with skiers and at one point a young woman clambered up onto the stage, wrested the microphone from the lead singer and performed her own version of a Katy Perry track. Hemsedal can hold its own with the Alps when it comes both to ski and après.
“Hemsedal has some of the best downhill runs and off piste skiing in Norway,” says Paul Stafford, director of Ifyouski.com.
“The conditions, even in mid-April, were fantastic, allowing for some seriously fast, hard skiing, all day.”
Beitostolen: Adrenaline central
The three-hour drive north to Beitostolen in Oppland county provided a welcome opportunity for those who’d partied until dawn to get some much-needed shut-eye, so our batteries were fully recharged by the time we arrived at this beautiful resort, the smallest of the three we visited.
We immediately fell in love with Beitostolen Resort owner Atle Hovi, who started his welcome speech by pulling a string of multicoloured handkerchiefs out of thin air and making a pack of cards disappear.
Atle inherited the resort from his father, Steinar Hovi, of whom there is a statue outside the Radisson Blu hotel, while inside is a museum-like room filled with watercolour paintings of Atle junior.
The Radisson Blu, which has 125 rooms and 31 four-bed suites, was basic but perfectly comfortable, with a huge swimming pool and a large outdoor terrace for those all-important après-ski drinks.
Beitostolen has just 18 runs (most are greens and blues but there are a few relatively tame reds and blacks), serviced by nine lifts. But this isn’t a resort for hardcore skiers, it’s for people who want to get their kicks in other ways, whether it’s snow-rafting, air-boarding, cross country skiing or snowshoeing. And no, I hadn’t heard of snow-rafting either.
Image credit: Visit Norway
It’s exactly what it sounds like: you sit in an inflatable rubber dingy and zoom down a course carved into the snow – or, in our case, slide so far up the banked sides that the walls of the course have to be hastily rebuilt.
Visitors who want to try their hand at cross-country skiing are also well-catered for – there are 200 miles of trails, some of which go deep into the beautiful Jotunheimen National Park. Atle’s tales about the so-called “cat-bears” which roam the park prompted some nervous looks, but it turned out he was merely referring to the local (and harmless) wolverine population.
The resort has two main hotels – the Radisson Blu and the Bergo Hotel – and several self-catering options, including the Hovi Cabins (which sleep between two and six people), the Bergo cabins (sleeping two to 12) and Bergo apartments (sleeping up to four).
If you’re after bars and nightclubs, Beitostolen probably isn’t for you, but we all agreed it was the resort we loved the most.
“The range of activities at Beitostolen is unique,” says John Tipping of Travel Counsellors.
“The air-boarding, tobogganing and snowmobiling made for a trip I’ll never forget.”
Crystal Ski offers seven night holidays with transfers and flights from Gatwick. For departures on January 10, it has half-board stays at Vestila Resort in Geilo from £839, self-catering stays at Alpin Lodge in Hemsedal from £506 and B&B stays at Radisson Blu Resort in Beitostolen from £538. crystalski.co.uk
Ask the expert
Courtney Barella, content coordinator, Crystal Ski
“Each Norwegian resort has one thing that really makes it stand out. In Geilo it’s the food – my promise never to eat reindeer went out the window and I don’t regret it one bit; in Hemsedal it’s the après-ski – no one should go through life without dancing on a table in salopettes; and you can’t visit Beitostolen without trying the activities – bruised knees are worth it for the feeling of flying down a mountain on a lilo. You definitely wouldn’t get all that in the Alps!”
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