What is it about Scandinavian languages that the moment you hear them you just want to drop everything and move to where the sky glows green? Friluftsliv is a Norwegian phrase that translates as free air life. It means living in harmony with nature, exploring, learning, revelling in the outdoors rather than competing with it.
In Sogndal, which sits on an inlet of the imposing Sognefjord, roughly four hours’ drive from Bergen, the inhabitants embrace this concept so wholeheartedly that the university even runs a degree course in it. In 2012, this municipality hosted a leg of the Big LePowSki a freeskiing event.
“The ski rando [touring] thing has gone through something of a revolution here in the last few years,” says guide Gjert Grdal of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA), whose company Breogfjell is based in Sogndal. “When I started touring in 2007, I’d be the only one here. Now the parking lots are full as people are realising the conditions are good. We have more snow than the Lyngen Alps and it’s more stable.”
Gjert guided his four-wheel drive through conditions that could only be described as extremely hazardous. Eventually, he deposited me at Uteplassen, a group of wooden cabins surrounded by mountains.
The next day, with snow still falling, we set out. When we reached the top, Gjert made the call and we began the descent.
Perfectly spaced, forgiving trees (thin ones that bend when you clip them) broke up the horizon forging powder turn after powder turn as we whipped in and out. Out in front, the frozen lake of Dalavatnet hovered, opening up the landscape to a widescreen setting. We all met back at sea level, breathless and grinning as we made our way back to Uteplassen.
The next day by the time the sky was changing colour we were already at the top of the longest drag lift at the Sogndal Skisenter. This time we joined an enthusiastic line of skiers trekking uphill. Our goal was the top of Blfjell — the Blue Mountain. From it we could see the entire valley.
“The area is easy to access but it’s still quiet,” said Torstein. “If you want Alpine you can find it you just need a guide or to know what you’re doing.”
After a while the powder bus scooped us up and carried us off. The atmosphere inside was like a school trip, with people yelling and laughing. Scott, a Canadian from Whistler, said: “I came here last year with my brother. We figured nowhere could be better than Whistler, which is our home mountain. Well, we’re back this year so I guess we were wrong.”
“Everyone is so happy here,” said Gjert as we watched a chap front-flip the bonnet of a car while we packed up our ski gear. Must be all that friluftsliv.