[published by the Hindustan Times, 19 December 2009. Read the pdf version here: Norway]
Snowmobiling and dogsledding over snowy trails on Norway’s Arctic Circle is exhilarating. But only if you can handle the ceaseless adrenaline rush, writes Kate Hodal…
The cold, crisp night air hugged us tightly as we sped, airborne, over the snowy white trails of Norway’s Arctic Circle.
Our guide had told us to keep one eye on the road and another on the sky, but both my eyes were on the green and blue lights flickering like psychedelic ghosts along the horizon. As the Northern Lights shimmered briefly between trees and then disappeared into the dark sky, I’d forgotten entirely I was behind the wheel of a snowmobile. And in the split second that I’d looked up instead of straight ahead, our snowmobile had flown off-piste over a small cliff and slammed into the banks of an icy creek.
Gateway to Lapland
Our first night on our adventure-packed short break to Norway, and I’d already fluffed the quick health and safety talk we’d had just moments before. “This is the brake, that is the throttle,” our guide Jan had said. “Most people press harder on the accelerator when they panic and end up flying off the road.”
My partner and I had flown from London just hours earlier into the pretty port city of Tromso, the gateway to Lapland, where we would embark on an action-packed weekend that would take in snowmobiling, husky sledding and Northern Lights viewing. We would be spending two nights in the snowy peaks and valleys of Lapland, a short drive away from the city past turquoise fjord-hugging roads and yellow and red fishermen shacks. Our final night would be in trendy Tromso.
After checking in at the quaint red cabin named Guesthouse Vollan and lunching on a hearty meat stew (washed down with a pint of Norwegian beer named ‘Aas’), we’d met Jan and our fellow German and American snowmobilers, and piled on the supplied sweaters and snowsuits, along with helmets, gloves and night goggles.
Waiting for the lights
We headed for the open snowy valleys between Finland and Norway, where the Northern Lights, caused by light particles blown to Earth by the solar wind, are reportedly best seen. But the weather forecast for our weekend was dour, and that brief shimmering snapshot was to be our only view of the phenomenon.
Snowmobiles require a tricky balance of weight and speed, rendering night snowmobiling at once exhilarating and terrifying. The natural urge is to speed along the dark woodland trails, even though you don’t know that there are bridges over icy creeks or just how narrow those bridges really are.
I was the only girl in our team to try my hand at the lawnmower-on-ice, and while I’m glad I did, I’m not so sure my pillion-riding boyfriend much enjoyed his brush with death. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who’d been a bit slapdash in all Jan’s years of guiding eager snowmobilers.
“Broken arms, cuts and bruises, they’re all common,” Jan tells us later over a dinner of reindeer, carrot and onion stew back at camp, where we’re sitting around an open fire in a traditional lavvu (teepee).
“We haven’t had any serious accidents yet, but then, you, dear Kate, only arrived today.”
Little did he know how portentous those words would be. The next day, I was more than eager to try my hand at a new (and, I was sure, less dangerous) sport: husky sledding.
Our ‘musher’ for our overnight sledding adventure was Espen, who shouted over excited yelps as he introduced us to his 14 dogs — among them Wagner, Penny, Podka, Lotta and Vroom Vroom.
After teaching us how to properly hold on, brake and lean into a turn so as not to knock the sled over, Espen hollered “Hunden klar! (Dogs ready!)”, and suddenly we were off, bobbing through birches and pines.
The sled’s gentle scraping of the ice was a welcome quiet from the dull roar of the snowmobiles, and we held on tight as the dogs plodded through the thick snow.
Despite its romantic image, dogsledding is arduous work — and although I’d paid superb attention to Espen’s earlier instructions, I soon found myself wrestling with the sled as the dogs took tight corners through trees and over icy rocks. It was only a matter of time before I tipped over and was dragged downhill along the icy path until Espen could stop the dogs himself. So our fish stew dinner, brewed over the lavvu’s open fire back at camp, was an all- too-welcome break from an exhausting day.
A night in Tromso
That night we slept in a lavvu and had our bed lovingly prepared by a Sami named Roar (pronounced Ru-arr). It was a sort of bird’s nest of branches covered with thick reindeer skins. The next morning we went dogsledding again and felt like seasoned pros while doing it. And when we left to go back to Tromso, the dogs looked genuinely sad to see us go.
Tromso is known for its trendy shops, cafes and maritime museums, but a heavy snowstorm meant that we spent the evening in our hotel sauna instead.
Although we’d only had a brief glimpse of the Northern Lights, the snow, the fresh air and the endless adrenaline made for such a superb holiday that we’ve already planned a second Norwegian adventure. Let’s just hope I’m less clumsy this time.
Kate is a freelance writer based in London. Her snowmobiling and husky sledding were organised by Lyngsford Adventure via Activities Abroad, a UK company.