Friday, 5 April 2013

Does Norway hold the key to sustainable skiing?

Last month I spent a week ski touring from hut to hut in Norway’s spectacular Jotunheimen Mountains. Navigating the snow-enveloped landscape, we crossed frozen lakes, climbed several mountains, and managed to get ourselves down the other side in one piece (if not in style). We covered close to 100 miles in 6 days, and our appetites certainly knew it; after a (surprisingly) delicious dinner of tinned reindeer meatballs and rice, we would finally collapse onto our bunks with the glow of another perfect day of Norwegian friluftsliv (outdoor life).  
Sletningsbu Hut
Attempting this journey would have been virtually impossible without the infrastructure of DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association. The huts are owned and maintained by DNT who operate a whole network of serviced, half-serviced and un-serviced huts based on a trust system. We borrowed a key from them (which they had arranged for us to collect on a Sunday night at a bus service station half way from Oslo to the Jotunheimen) and this opened the padlock on the doors of the self-service cabins. These cabins are basic wooden huts without electricity or running water. They have a stove, several bunk beds with blankets (you simply bring a sleeping bag liner, or hut sack) and are kept stocked with tins and packets of food, firewood, cooking utensils and a supply of candles. Being lucky enough to be the only inhabitants, arriving at the hut meant falling straight into homemaking mode – getting a fire lit (it took over an hour to get the temperature inside the hut above 0C) and melting snow to get water for dinner and the numerous cups of tea drunk while reflecting on the day’s journey and planning tomorrow’s. The one downside was that needing to go to the toilet in the middle of the night usually meant a headtorch-lit icy scramble through a snowdrift to the long-drop. The toilets are treated with organic composting chips, although at -20C they don't tend to smell too bad anyway.  

Frozen lakes: useful for navigating in a completely white lansdcape
Upon leaving each hut, you fill in one of the DNT’s envelopes, detailing what food you used and how many nights you stayed and tally up your bill accordingly, adding cash or your credit card details and then simply post this into the box provided. The fact that this system of trust obviously works and enables the whole network of huts to exist is a refreshing taste of how simple tourism can be effective, not to mention low impact (no chairlifts, piste-makers, snow canons or resort complexes) and take you to some pretty awe-inspiring places.