A påske adventure
A week-long mountain trek in Norway taught this writer about more than skiing
During my time as a Fulbright student at the University of Oslo in 1957-58, I learned how to ski. I arrived as a flatlander who had only skied before on the prairie of North Dakota, on a lariat rope tied to a saddle horn behind a galloping horse.
By the time I got settled in at Blindern Hall, my home on campus, I started participating in the Norwegian way of life.
When daylight shortened and snow began to fly, I bought a pair of skis and began an evening routine of hitting the lighted slope at “Nordmarken,” near Holmenkollen ski area where there were some groomed slopes for practicing. It was sometimes difficult for me when I was trying to learn the “snowplow” to control speed, and a 5-year-old would “shoosh” by me full speed in good form. I’d see him at the bottom, pleading with his mother for another run, saying “En gang til!” (one more time).
I had a physical advantage over kindergarteners on the slopes, as I had been captain of my high school football team, but the young skiers had an advantage if they fell, because they were so low to the ground. I didn’t see many “wipeouts” with the kids, but I had more than my share.
Weekends progressed to new challenges for learning, venturing from snowplow turns to riding moguls and eventually parallel turns by the time days were longer. Weekends offered time to try both cross-country and mountain skis for downhill, plus venturing to new slopes or trails in commercial ski centers. I remember once meeting the brother to well-known champion Stein Eriksen, who gave me a few tips on more graceful freestyle turns. Families with children filled ski resorts and usually skied together on the slopes and trails in the mountains.
Other Fulbright students would join together to organize ski outings on weekends. Five of us began practicing for a påske adventure by practicing weekends at ski centers like Lillehammer, Geilo, Gol, Oppdal, and eventually Voss. As the slopes got steeper, we traded our narrow cross-country skis for wider mountain skis with steel edges and bindings that could fasten flat to the ski for downhill or pivot like a cross-country binding when skiing in open terrain.
Finally, påske week arrived. On Palm Sunday we began a trek for a week, with map and compass, provisions in a backpack, sleeping in mountain cabins along with other skiers on similar outings. The cabins were organized for recreational or emergency use by a national association and most trails were marked.
Maybe our ambitions were foolhardy for American students at the end of påske week to climb and cross the summits in Norway of the two highest peaks in Northern Europe. Four Fulbrighters—a Norwegian-born engineer, a geologist, an athlete, and a social science student (me)—put together a detailed plan for an adventurous week in the high mountains of Norway.
One day at the end of week, we climbed Galdhøpiggen and skied back in powder snow—a full day challenge that was an endurance but relatively safe in a guided group. On our last day, we climbed Glittertind on the sun side, carrying our skis in one arm and, because the snow on a steep ascent was glazed, we carried a hammer-sized ice pick to anchor ourselves in place in case of a fall. Sometimes, we ascended a slope at about a 30-degree climb, steep enough to chip toe holds in the frozen snow.
Our group was led by two accomplished Norwegian-born skiers—the engineer from New York who grew up in Norway and his Norwegian sister who wanted to join us. She became an equal member of our team, which was another cultural lesson for me to experience about Norwegian society.
After seven hours of ascending Glittertind, the ultimate experience of crossing the summit was exhilarating. The steel edges on our skis left razor marks in the glaze and knowing that there was an ice overhang at the top and a precipice below, it was nervy.
The view from the top of Glittertind was spectacular—a once-in-a-lifetime memory. All of Norway’s mountains spread out majestically in front of us in all directions—a 360-degree panoramic view of many of the 291 peaks over 2,000 meters above sea level.
A secondary memory is the thrill we all experienced in skiing down the other side of the summit in wide “S” swoops in deep powder snow halfway up the calf of the leg until it gradually leveled off. For me, recalling the 20- to 30-minute downhill run on a powdery glacier is indelible in my memory.
Later, in Oslo, I met and married a Norwegian nurse-in-training, who was an accomplished skier from Voss. She received a Fulbright scholarship to Luther College in Iowa; we were married in the United States and became a Norwegian-American family of skiers for a generation on both sides of the Atlantic.
This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.