OSLO — Let's play what appears to be a game of travel trivia.
Scan all the winter holiday news and the ski magazines, then answer this question: On a scale of 1 to 10, which center of world skiing gets the least attention?
Did you say Norway? We would say the same, and the answer reflects the paradox of winter travel that's happening again this year, at least for U.S. skiers.
The spotlight of media attention continues to focus on the great Alpine slopes of middle Europe. Norway, where skiing was born 4,000 years ago, once more gets comparatively little attention this side of the Atlantic.
Combination of Events
The paradox is greater this year because more is happening on the trails and slopes of Norway this winter than at any time in recent years. It adds up to an unprecedented combination of international competitions, local events and festivities in cities and villages throughout this nation. All can be part of special packages and budget savings for a winter holiday on skis.
Mountain Travel, the California-based adventure travel organization, is adding for the first time a Lapland adventure to its ski trips, covering the trails, villages and national parks of Norway.
"We're never quite sure how people hear about our Norwegian trips," a spokesman said at the company's headquarters office in Albany, Calif., "but they do hear and have been signing up for the adventures that begin in February."
SAS Scandinavian Airlines, while acknowledging that once again there's not much about Norway in U.S. ski reports, is trying to get the word out about a special one-week package here in Oslo, right in the heart of Oslomarka's (Oslo's ski area) 1,500 miles of ski trails, slalom slopes and the Holmenkollen ski jump for international competitions. The cost of round-trip air transportation from Los Angeles, plus accommodations for the week in Oslo, is $695.
As another feature of this package, Norway joins with its neighboring Scandinavian countries to refund in cash before you leave the country the total of the Value Added Tax customarily added to your expenditures; the VAT averages from 12% to 14%. In addition, for every $100 you spend shopping at the major stores, $50 will be rebated to you as part of a deal worked out between SAS and the retail outlets.
Rate of Exchange
Budget bonuses can be enhanced by the fact that the U.S. dollar equals about 12 Norwegian kroner. My wife and I learned cross-country skiing in Norway, and we buy new cross-country skis here at less than their cost at home.
Whether we stay in Oslo at one of our favorite hotels like the Scandinavia, or up near the forest, slopes and ski trails at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel, we're never far from skiing. The rapid-transit trams put city center only 20 minutes from the Oslomarka, and each tram car has outside ski racks.
Some days we ski only a few hours so as to have more time for winter sightseeing in this capital city of Norway. Winter snow mellows the pedestrian walking street between the Royal Palace, the Parliament Building, the Historical Museum and the National Gallery. Other walks lead from the Viking ships on the waterfront to the often snow-capped figures and symbolic scenes in Vigeland Sculpture Park.
At every corner we're apt to meet someone with skis, smiling in anticipation of the nearby trails. With a population of about 500,000, Oslo is estimated to have more than that many pairs of skis.
Downhill skiing can be enjoyed along with the 1,500-mile network of cross-country trails around Oslo. The Oslomarka slopes are short but challenging. At Voss and Geilo, along the "top of the world" railroad between Oslo and Bergen, there are runs for the beginner and intermediate skier as well as for the expert.
No Comparison With Alps
Don't try to compare these runs with the length and variety of those in the Alps. Simply enjoy them. The cross-country trails definitely are in a class by themselves, and it's hard to decide between the three Mountain Travel tours for this winter.
All are led by Dave Parker, a Californian who speaks Norwegian and lived here for three years. He has guided ski tours in Norway for a decade. His "Villages and Trails" adventure is set for Feb. 13-23. The first two days are based in the Holmenkollen Park Hotel, where trails through forests and meadows begin right outside the entrance. Skiers are divided according to ability, and each small group has its own guide.
The morning of the third day is for a ride beside the picture windows of a train from Oslo to Lillehammer, a 12th-Century town in Norway's largest winter playground, not far from Rodoy where a rock carving of a skier is believed to date back 4,000 years. In the afternoon and for the next five days you ski along trails of legend and history. Depending upon your ability, they can lead to peaks far above the tree line or across gentle woodland valleys.
Routes for the Energetic