Chapter 6 - History, Culture, and Backcountry Skiing in Norway and Sweden - February 17-March 1, 2019
This is the sixth of a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter.
Chapter 6 - The trip home
As we woke up and ate our last abundant breakfast at Storulvån the realization that we were on the last leg of our trip set in. We had been trying to contact the taxi service in Storlien without much luck so we went to plan B and called our friend Sasha who had driven us from Storlien earlier in the week. Wouldn’t you know it but as we are getting ready to load up our bags into Sasha’s VW the taxi driver arrived. Bennett did a great tap dance in letting the taxi driver know that he needs to communicate a lot better with his potential clients but that we were taking the ride with Sasha. The unhappy taxi driver departed and Sasha drove us to the Enafors rail station where there was a ping pong table so Bennet and I could have a little competition before the train arrived.
An uneventful train ride through the ski country of Åre delivered us to the small city of Östersund where Beret was waiting for us. We had two main things we were hoping to do in Östersund. One was to visit the Jamtli Museum which features the cultural history of the region. The other was to visit the Woolpower outlet store. We had seen Woolpower products for sale in many places in Norway and Sweden and met some college students that encouraged us to visit their outlet store where you find some great deals on wool outdoor clothing. Beret dropped us off at the museum and we had a wonderful afternoon learning about the history of Jämtland. She picked us up a few hours later and drove us over to the Woolpower store which was a real treat. Woolpower started making outdoor clothing in the late sixties and has its only manufacturing facility in Östersund. It’s a neat company and we were able to find some deals allowing me to bring home some nice gifts.
A pleasant, if chilly, walk for one last dinner out with Beret and we went to bed early in anticipation of Edie’s and my flight home. We were up early and off to the airport where there were signs everywhere celebrating the World Cup Biathlon competition Östersund was hosting starting later in the week. I couldn’t resist purchasing a World Cup Biathlon ski cap for my friend’s daughter at home who is a biathlete.
Our easyJet flight took us to London Gatwick where we had to get our luggage, process through customs and recheck our luggage to Boston. Everything went incredibly smoothly and before we knew it we were watching inflight movies as we flew across the Atlantic.
We were to have two more little adventures before we got home. Since our flight didn’t arrive in Boston until 9:00 PM local time we made plans to stay the night with my in-laws Susan Ellsworth and Rich Feeley. It turned out that Rich was returning from a meeting in Berne, Switzerland within an hour of our arrival. We had dinner with Susan while waiting for Rich and then headed to their house in Concord and celebrated with some wine, and Swedish cheese and reindeer sausage before heading to bed. We were up early to catch our puddle jumpers to Saranac Lake and Bangor respectively. Cape Air is a fun airline and because it goes to such small communities you frequently see someone you know on the plane. I didn’t but Edie saw a friend and knew the pilot. As I boarded the eight passenger plane I asked the pilots what kind of visibility we would have and one responded, “The best of the year.” He wasn’t wrong as we had a bluebird day flying over the Adirondack’s High Peaks and over my house on Lower Saranac Lake. It was a treat to be greeted by my wife Phyliss and to know that the weather had been so cold that I hadn’t missed a bit of the maple season.
Given my work with Adirondack Hamlets to Huts I tried to make note of lessons learned or things observed that might be useful as we develop hut-to-hut routes in the Adirondack Park. Here are a few.
Nice article on the triangle: https://adventuresweden.com/hiking-sweden-jamtland-triangle/
Info on Swedish lodging https://www.smartertravel.com/stay-sweden-lodging-tips/
Read Part 5 of this series HERE.
Read Part 1 of this series HERE.
Chapter 5 - History, Culture, and Backcountry Skiing in Norway and Sweden - February 17-March 1, 2019
This is the fifth of a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter.
Chapter 5 - The Jämtland Triangle Experience
Although it had taken me a while to discover the Jämtland Triangle when planning our trip, it was obvious from our arrival at the busy buzzing bastion of skiing that the people of Sweden were well aware of it. People from 7 to 70 were scurrying about with XC skis, AT skis, pulk sleds and other winter outdoor gear. We had arrived at the right place to experience Scandanavian cross-country skiing.
The Storulvån Fjällstation I later learned is one of the more upscale fjällstations. STF has four kinds of lodging; hostels, hotels, mountain stations or fjällstations (19) and mountain cabins (42). The winter season in Jämtland typically starts in mid-February to late February and runs until the end of April. The summer season runs from June 20 until the end of September. Storulvån is a beautiful facility with a capacity of about 150 people. The three of us stayed in a room with two sets of bunk beds with four separate beautiful bathrooms down the hall. They told us that it was possible we would have to share the one bunk with another visitor but it didn’t happen. We saw another room that was similar but had a private bath. We talked to families who stayed in “family” rooms. Amenities include; dining room, family room, guest kitchen, equipment rental, sauna, gift/equipment shop, wifi, drying rooms, laundry room, luggage storage, guide services, rock climbing wall, and special rooms where pets are welcome. On top of that trails and routes up trailless peaks start less than a kilometer from the lodge.
We decided to take the meal option and didn’t regret it. The three course dinners were outstanding. A sample dinner included homemade reindeer black pudding with pork, apple, leak, and lingonberries for the first course. The second course was local Arctic Char with parsnip and potato puree, herb sauce and juniper cucumber. For dessert we had raspberry and blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. Breakfast was a bit simpler but delicious and hearty. We made our own lunches from a luncheon table that include filling our thermos with hot cocoa or tea and a water bottle with our choice of scandinavian fruit drink. How much for all this you ask? A bunk in a 12 bunk room is around $44 while our rooms were $62 per person. Dinner was about $25 per person. There are also charges for linens and towels. We had sleeping bags, or sleep sheets and our own towels. It’s an a la carte way to get families into the outdoors. You don’t have to spend a lot. We saw some folk winter camping and just using the kitchen or sauna at a very reasonable rate.
After an afternoon of exploring the facility, Bennett renting skis, making plans to store our suitcases for the three days we would be gone, purchasing a map, packing and organizing our gear and a delicious dinner we headed to bed.
I should mention Bennett’s skis. We think of our contemporary athletes endorsing products. Whether it is basketball players like LeBron James or Stephen Curry, we’re used to seeing their photo endorsing a variety of products. Some folks have staying power like Michael Jordan who is still hawking underwear for Hanes even though he retired in 2003. But do any of them have the staying power of Roald Amundsen? Amundsen was featured on Bennett’s Amundsen BC Åsnes skis with half a portrait of Amundsen on each ski. For those who don’t know, Amundsen led the first expedition to reach the South Pole in 1911. Now that’s staying power!
In the morning after our breakfast, making our lunch, and packing away and leaving our belongings we wouldn’t need, we headed out on the trail. There’s a sparse birch forest around the lodge but once you head down the trail you’re in open country with unlimited visibility on a clear day, which our day wasn’t. It was slightly overcast with temperatures around 35F. That made the snow soft enough for good skiing. Our plan was to ski ten miles gradually uphill to the Sylarna Mountain Station which was located in a cirque like area surrounded by treeless peaks and take a layover day to explore the area. Our trip went smoothly encountering few people along the way. The first person we met coming towards us was a young man with a long red beard. He told us he was from Åre which is a small community with a world-class ski area not too far where we were. He said he is an outdoor guide there but not very familiar with this area, so he and his friend were exploring the mountains near our destination. I told him that I was a guide in my part of the world. He was surprised to see Americans observing that he didn’t see many Americans in this part of Sweden. He asked to take our photo which we gladly obliged.
Because the country is mostly treeless there are no place to naturally put trail markers. As a result they have ten foot high poles about four inches in diameter with a red X similar to a railroad crossing sign located every forty meters. When the clouds roll in, which they do on a regular basis, or the snow is blowing hard limiting visibility the posts are literally life savers.
We continued on at a pretty leisurely pace and got to an emergency wind shelter at lunchtime. We found these small emergency wind shelters on each of our travel days located just halfway to our destination. Because the land is so open they have these huts, which had firewood to be used only in emergency, allowing people to get out of the sometimes severe winds. Another group caught up with us. They turned out to be a group of Swedish and German tourists being guided by an STF guide. It was interesting to hear the guide use English as the common language to talk to them in. I got to chat with the guide the next day and told him I was a guide and would like to bring American tourists to the area and felt I could guide them but would it be possible to hire a guide to give us some cultural and natural history. It turned out that the young man was the head guide and said he would be glad to do that. We also met a middle aged man and two young men who were backpacking about 75 miles winter camping most of the way although they did stay in a lodge one night. After our lunch we continued on and once again spread out from our Swedish/German colleagues. There was one more, in this case brand new, rescue cabin about a mile from the Sylarna Mountain Station at the base of the hill leading up to it. It was a beautiful afternoon with clear skies, no wind, and great ski conditions. The only downside was that it was steadily uphill and as we gained elevation the sun started to set behind the mountains and the temperature dropped.
We got to the Sylarna Mountain Station, entered the ski and boot room and headed down the hallway to a newly renovated lobby and dining area. We checked in, headed down another hallway with large gorgeous photos of the region during all seasons of the year on the wall. The bunk rooms were in an older section of the building. Not as new as our lodging at Storulvån but very nice. Bathroom and shower down the hall and sauna a little farther. A separate building had rooms for those who had dogs, a bunk room, and a self-service kitchen. There weren’t many people staying in the main lodge with us. Just the three of us and the Swedish/German group of about six adults and three children. All the lodges had large digital screens with the weather forecast. It was clear that the weather the next day was going to be extremely windy. Windy also meant, in all probability, poor visibility. We were glad we had planned a layover day, and while we probably wouldn’t be able to do the exploration of the area that we had hoped, at least we didn’t have to make it to a specific destination. Sure enough we woke up to winds of 40 MPH seemingly blowing snow in every direction. We went to breakfast and the Swedish/German group’s guide was breaking the news to the group that because of the severe weather he didn’t want them to ski to their next lodge and they would take the snowcat. They were disappointed but I thought it was the right call. We had a leisurely day with a Google Duo call home, lots of reading, and a ski about a mile up the trail and back in some of the most windy conditions I have experienced since I climbed Denali in 1971. The temperatures were mild though (30F) so it was a good test of our gear. The conditions were icy and we were glad to be using our skins. After a couple of miles of those conditions we were happy to be back at the lodge. It turned out that we were the only customers that evening so we enjoyed chatting with the young chef and quiz as many of the staff as we could about the eleven mile plus day we had the next day. They were confident we’d have no problem but after the windy conditions we had just experienced we weren’t.
The next day broke clear and windless. It looked awesome and the only question I had was how hard the snow was going to be. It turned out to be great. We packed up after breakfast and headed out. We had a wonderful ski down the long hill we had trudged up two days before and could each pick our own route across the treeless open landscape. Time passed quickly skiing through the beautiful open country. It was a see-saw ski of down, then up, then down, then up to the Blåhammaren Fjällstation, our third STF Mountain Station. We made good time to the midpoint, the Enkälen wind shelter. As we sat in the cabin eating our lunch the clouds slowly rolled in so the second half of the trip was in whiteout conditions. Fortunately there was little wind but it was snowing lightly as we slowly plodded the uphill sections. The temperatures started dropping and by the time we got to Blåhammaren it was quite icy and a challenge to get the last 100 yards to the lodge. As we arrived we encountered a middle-aged couple with a teenage son that had skied directly from Storulvån. They planned to spend a day skiing around the mountain station and then go back to Storulvån.
The Blåhammaren Fjällstation is the highest of STF’s mountain stations at 1086m (3563 ft). It is smaller than the other two and appears older but is well maintained with, what appears to be a new sauna, with a round picture window overlooking the mountains. The building has a welcoming quaintness with, like the other lodges, an incredibly friendly young staff. After the nearly 12 mile somewhat snowy ski we took advantage of the lodge’s drying room, a room of about 200 square feet with a heater and dehumidifier designed specifically to dry out guest’s clothing and equipment. From there it was off to the sauna. The saunas typically had single gender hours and coed hours to meet everyone’s preferences.
It turned out that we were three of eight guests that evening and were bestowed another gourmet dinner. Once again the weather forecast wasn’t too promising so the family decided to head back to Storulvån the next morning. The final leg of our trip was the shortest at about eight miles mostly downhill. The conditions were boilerplate icy and I was wishing I had my alpine ski equipment. I left my climbing skins on for the first four miles as we descended open country through what normally I would have considered a dream ski, but this day was a minor nightmare of digging my metal edges into the ice, trying to slow my turns. We descended over 1200 feet to another wind shelter where we encountered a number of friendly people. For some reason natives wanted to take a photo of the American tourists and we readily obliged once again and took a picture of them in return. The descent provided us with warmer weather and a light drizzle. The last four miles the drizzle ended and we had a wonderful ski through the softer snow back to Storulvån.
After a hot shower we were ready for yet another incredible meal. This time it was a starter of Jerusalem artichoke soup with sourdough croutons, a main course of local lamb with potato cake, carrot puree, with a red wine sauce and black currant gelè and for dessert apple pie with vanilla ice cream. One of the most pleasant surprises of the trip was the outstanding quality of the food.
We sorted through our clothing and gear transferring from backcountry to “civilian” travel mode and preparing for the last phase of our trip. Our plan was to get a taxi the eleven miles to the tiny village of Enafors to get a train to Östersund, a city of 50,000, where our friend Beret offered to put us up at her apartment for a night before Edie and I were to fly home while Bennett was going to spend a couple of more weeks in Sweden working on a couple of projects.
Chapter 4 - History, Culture, and Backcountry Skiing in Norway and Sweden - February 17-March 1, 2019
This is the fourth of a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter.
Chapter 4 - The trip to Storulvån
With Sleepy eyes we were up at 4:00 AM and our taxi got us to the rail station with time to spare. As you can imagine there weren’t many people on the 5:00 AM train that took us to Trondheim. During the morning rush hour we switched trains to Sweden and met a wonderful family going to Duvet to alpine ski for the weekend.The family consisting of two young boys and a teenage Italian foreign exchange student. We played a couple of fun Uno games with them. Before we knew it we arrived in Storlien, Sweden where all passengers had to leave the train to get on a Swedish train. Our Norwegian friends, with skis in hand headed on to the Swedish train as they were heading to Åre Duved ski area.
We decided to try to get transportation to our Swedish Tourism Association lodging (known by the initials STF for its name in Swedish) from Storlien. We went into the hotel located right on the tracks. It had an aura of Dr. Zhivago but had the unoriginal name of Le Ski Restaurant & Nightclub. A woman with an eastern European accent welcomed us and offered us the breakfast buffet. When we inquired about the supposed taxi service she said, “Oh you can never count on him. I’ll take you to where you are going.” It turns out she was Bosnian and after a hearty breakfast we loaded into her four-wheel VW van with studded tires and headed down the road. As we got in and I hopped into the front seat Bennett said to me, “I’m not sure she knows where we want to go.” I circled our destination on the map and tried to show it to her but she ignored my pointing of our desired destination and headed down the road.
Given the icy conditions and her aggressive driving I was very grateful for the studded tires. We settled in for our 30 Km ride when before we knew it, she said, “here we are.” Pointing to the map again I said we needed to go here! She exclaimed, “Oh no! You didn’t tell me we had to go THAT far. I have to get back to cook lunch but I’ll get you another driver who can take you.” Thankfully Sonja got us back to the hotel safely where she turned us over to Sasha who evidently had cooked during the night shift and had just woken up. He was friendly and headed down the road apparently comfortable with our desired destination. He started to pull into the same place Sonja had taken us. When I pointed out where we wanted to go on the map once again, he said, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted to go there. We have to go back to Storlien to get more fuel.” So for the second time we turned back. Storlien is a small ski town that seemed pretty sleepy this morning of freezing rain. Sasha got out and took a number of minutes before he got back in and drove over to another fuel pump. It turns out the VW had a diesel engine. He walked around and around the vehicle fiddling around and finally said to me that he couldn’t find the fuel filler location. I got out to help and he was looking in what I thought was an odd place, the horizontal panel behind the passenger sliding door. By the time I located it and showed him where it was the pump had timed out and he had to go back and re enter his credit card. After what seemed like an eternity we got back on the road and headed to Storulvån Fjällstation. We finally turned off the main highway and headed down a single lane road that had just recently opened. It turns out many of mountain stations are closed in the early winter until around February 15. After about 10 miles we finally come to the end of the road. Surrounded by snow covered treeless mountains sat an attractive sprawling building. We had arrived.
Chapter 3 - History, Culture, and Backcountry Skiing in Norway and Sweden - February 17-March 1, 2019
This is the third of a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter.
Chapter 3 - The Røros experience
The Rørosmartnan has been celebrated since 1854 when vendors throughout the region brought their wares by horse drawn sleigh. The sleigh trips which take up to eleven days are still the means of getting vendors’ wares to the festival. We got up pretty early considering jet lag and all our travels and went into town and got some breakfast at a neat old restaurant. The restaurants typically are rambling old buildings, some with low ceilings and numerous rooms. Nothing modern, generally old in every way.
After breakfast we headed over to the opening ceremony which was outdoors. Spectators stood out in the snow throughout the surrounding hillsides. Given that my Norwegian is non existent I didn’t understand the opening ceremony welcome and narration but music reaches across all languages. There were a number of musical performers before the parade of horses pulling sleighs. The market festival takes part around two streets in the old portion of town. There were street vendors of antiques, cheese, sausage, clothing, reindeer burgers and vendors typical of a rural county fair in the states. In addition there are outdoor sports stores where we could get last minute items for our ski trip and clothing stores with lots of wool sweaters.
We met up with Bennett’s Swedish friend Beret Bertilsdotter at the dance hall where Edie and Bennett learned one of the traditional folk dances with Beret. She also provided invaluable advice as to what music performances we should attend. Each evening many of the bars and restaurants hosted performers and Beret was spot on in her advice. The first night we listened to a fiddle and accordion duo. The second night we listened to a duo with one gentleman playing the traditional Norwegian Hardanger fiddle with the other playing the Swedish Nyckelharpa. A great sound by great performers.
Each evening you could find Bennett in one of the bars, restaurants, or outdoor fire rings jamming traditional Norwegian fiddle tunes with other fiddlers. It was amazing to watch him join a group where they quickly found traditional tunes they all knew.
One day we got out for an 8 Km XC ski with Beret. We were told by our Airbnb host that we could ski from our door and he wasn’t kidding. Groomed trails wind throughout the area. You could ski for days on the available trails. The weather was mild for this time of year with day-time temperatures above freezing.
Our last night in Røros was another adventure. Bennett had met a couple of fiddlers during the day and they turned out to be traditional woodworkers and blacksmiths. They work in conjunction with the local museum to use traditional methods in maintaining the historical buildings within the community. They were having a special dinner that night to celebrate their work. They invited Bennett and when he said that his mom and I were traveling with them they invited us as well. It was a fun dinner with lots of fiddling. After dinner Edie went to folk dance more, Bennett found more fiddlers to jam with and I went to bed. We had to get up at 4:00 AM to catch our train to Sweden where we would start our ski trip.
Chapter 2 - History, Culture, and Backcountry Skiing in Norway and Sweden - February 17-March 1, 2019
This is the second of a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter.
Chapter 2 - The Trip to Røros
Sunday February 17 my wife Phyliss drove me down to Saratoga Springs where we met Edie and Bennett. Bennett was playing at the Flurry Dance Festival and Edie was dancing. Edie, Bennett, and I took AMTRAK to Penn Station and then, because of our skis and luggage we decided to take a Lyft to JFK rather than the LIRR. Everything went smoothly and we checked in with two pair of skis (Bennett decided to rent skis in Sweden) and had time for some dinner before our flight. We took Norwegian Air which is worth noting, a discount airline. Great prices, very nice planes, and friendly staff but you want to read the fine print. Everything costs extra, food, checked luggage (make sure your bag is no more than 20Kg). We had arranged for checked luggage and our skis ahead of time so everything went smoothly. Our flight also went smoothly and we arrived in Oslo on time and had no trouble with customs. I did get a chuckle when I told the customs agent that I was going to Røros he said, “you’re going to the coldest community in the country.” It sounded a bit like my home town of Saranac Lake, NY, which is regularly listed on the morning news shows as the coldest community in the nation .
Getting to the train was easy as it left right from the airport. We had a somewhat lengthy layover so got both breakfast and lunch along with some postcards to mail home. The train left right on time and there was plenty of room for all our gear. We caught some shut-eye as our trip from the US to Roros was about 30 hours. On the last leg of the trip met a couple of women with which we had extended conversations. One woman had her incredibly well behaved herding dog with her. The other was from the Congo and had quite an adventure emigrating to Norway with her children. We tend to think that all the European trains run perfectly and U.S. trains are terrible but our AMTRAK train was on time while our Norwegian train broke down during the last portion of our trip to Røros. We ended up having to be towed to our station by another train. As a result we didn’t arrive until midnight and got a taxi to our Airbnb home on the edge of town and a 15 minute walk to the festival’s activities.
This is a six part series on Adirondack Hamlets to Huts Senior Advisor Jack Drury's trip to Norway and Sweden this past winter. A chapter will be posted each day for the coming week.
Chapter 1 - Origin
My cousin Edie Konesni, a retired PA (Physician Assistant) on Islesboro, Maine and her son Bennett a talented musician as well as garlic farmer living in Belfast, Maine visited us at Thanksgiving and planted the seeds of a possible trip to Norway. The idea was to attend a community festival and take in Norwegian folk music and dance, passions of Edie and Bennett, and then ski hut to hut for four or five days. The hut-to-hut experience would be great research for my work with Adirondack Hamlets to Huts in developing “hut-to-hut” routes in the Adirondack Park of New York. Round-trip flights looked very reasonable at well under $500. The challenge was to find dates that would work for us all and get me back in time for maple syrup season as I operate a small sugarbush and mother nature determines when the sap runs.
I felt the need to be back by the first of March and Edie and Bennett were willing to work around that date. Bennett was keen to attend the Rørosmartnan or market festival in the town of Røros, a small former copper mining community of 5,600 located midway up Norway along the border with Sweden. Bennett is a student of Norwegian folk fiddle music and hoped to find fellow fiddlers to play with. Edie is an accomplished folk dancer and was looking forward to finding opportunities to learn some Norwegian folk dances.
The trip to Røros came together quickly as the market festival started February 19 and we wanted to see the opening ceremonies. So we planned a February 17 departure date from New York with a day to travel from Oslo to Røros by train. We purchased one-way tickets and started researching hut-to-hut options in the area.
As we started our research it was clear that there were lots of “huts” in the area but a number of things emerged. We were early for the typical ski season because it was still usually pretty frigid until mid-March and second, many of the huts didn’t even open until then. A Swedish friend of Bennett’s suggested we look on the Swedish side of the border and all of a sudden more opportunities started to come into focus. I studied an online topo map of Sweden along with the location of fjällstations or mountain stations (lodgings) and after considerable study came up with a possible route. After all my research it turns out I had stumbled onto one of the most popular hiking routes in central Sweden called the Jämtland Triangle, Jämtland being the region or state we were traveling in. I also stumbled on to the Swedish Tourism Association’s website which I thought was a government agency. It wasn’t until we got to Sweden and stayed in their “huts” that I realized it was, as they described it, “An association of committed people who seek discoveries off the beaten track, deeper into the forests, and higher up the mountain.” They operate nearly 300 lodgings ranging from hotels, to hostels, mountain stations, and mountain cabins. Edie made reservations for us to stay at three different fjällstations including a night at the same one the first and last night of our trip and a layover day at the second lodging. We were set! There were some minor train connections to arrange but we had a good plan and were excited to have a trip that included a rich cultural/historical experience in Røros, Norway and an adventurous hut-to-hut cross-country ski experience in Jämtland, Sweden. Edie and I arranged to fly home from Östersund, Sweden via London to Boston where she would fly to Augusta, ME and I would fly to Saranac Lake, NY. Bennett was to stay in Sweden for further adventures.
Read Part 2 of this series HERE.