It’s a perfect winter wonderland. Here, in an area nicknamed the Scandinavian Alps, a two hour flight north from London, with the few weekenders from Oslo back at work, we have this glorious resort almost to ourselves.
To say Hemsedal is bliss for children is like saying they quite like Christmas. This tiny Norwegian village is a blueprint for everything a ski resort should be: no bling or designer kit, but snowmen and sleigh rides, mini mogul fun runs, circular cross-country tracks that run for miles and skidoo racing for speed freaks age 12 and up. It’s impossible to get bored.
This is our second visit and already the small village at the foot of the peaks feels like home, a place that’s easily familiar and impossible not to be drawn back to time after time. It helps that we’ve found a perfect cabin with an open fire and a hot tub on the wooden terrace.
Perhaps the thing we like most is the opportunity for activities other than relentless skiing.
In summer, the area briefly returns to being two interconnecting lakes surrounded by the ubiquitous pines, but for the rest of the year it’s a frozen landscape, worthy of the Snow Queen, that belongs mainly to Johan and his team of Hemsedal Huskies and the occasional cross-country skier. After two hours of flying along as fast as our dogs can carry us, and a few tumbles along the way, we’re back at base camp, where untying the huskies from their harnesses is nearly as much fun for the children, who’ve both developed their favourites, as the actual sleighing.
Not that it’s just about the kids – flinging myself downhill at speed has never been top of my list and if it weren’t for having children, despite my Scandi roots, I might never have darkened another ski slope again. A cross-country odyssey holds far more allure for me, with its full-body workout and isolationist opportunities.
During a morning on the local cross-country tracks, a ridiculously attractive instructor from Learn2Ski, Sire Halle, with a 3ft blonde plait and cheekbones to die for, tells me that such ‘classic skiing’ has developed serious prestige and is now seen as a marker of a good businessman or woman (in Norway boardrooms actually are 50/50 male and female because they had five years of all-female shortlists to ensure they achieved equal representation).
There are 45 runs in all, including some fabulously long blues and reds, that meander down the mountains offering a combination of challenge and solitude that’s hard to find elsewhere. The double-diamond black run glints to our far left and tantalises the kids from their bubbling outdoor bath. It fills me with fear but remains their ultimate ski ambition, forbidden until they reach 12 years old.
For a family like us, with a super-skier father, accomplished children and a still tentative mum, it’s a perfect combination of challenges. The lifts are open from 9am to 4.30pm all year, but there is also early-morning skiing from 7.30am a couple of times a week and evening skiing on three nights for those who can drag themselves away from the fireside.
The resort at Hemsedal is made up of a cacophony of wooden cabins clinging onto the vertiginous slopes, of varying architectural styles, from Disney-style old world to glass and steel Bauhaus, a couple of less exceptional apartment buildings clad in pine and the über-modern Skarsnuten Hotel, sitting loftily above the rest with its lopsided triangular roof. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow for vertiginous vistas and a breathtaking view from the dining table.
Despite its picture-perfect setting and welcoming family atmosphere, surprisingly Hemsedal remains a Scandinavian secret with so few Brits that we stand out on the slopes. I admit the frills can be in short measure. Fluffy towels seem to be anathema, duvets on double beds come in single size so ‘individuals’ aren’t compromised, and the food is simple but delicious and based around a few basic ingredients, such as mousse and elk, beef and lamb, salmon and trout and the ubiquitous potato. A new tapas bar caters for anyone looking for more international fare.
Cost: People’s first reaction when you mention Norway is the expense, and it’s certainly not cheap. That said, if you opt mainly for self-catering (there are three well-stocked supermarkets in the tiny town) and stock up on wine at duty free, you’ll be no more out of pocket than at one of the swish Swiss resorts such as Verbier.
Price: A seven-night tailormade holiday to Hemsedal costs from £1,289 per person half-board, staying in the Storvarden cabin, including flights and transfers, with Ski Norway. The funSki Academy children’s ski school costs from £249 per child.
A lift pass for six to eight days costs £170, ski and boot hire is £90. Three hours’ dog-sleighing costs £100 for adults and £50 for children (including pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation). Skidooing costs £30 for 30 minutes.
How to get there: Norwegian flies to Oslo from £34.90 one way. SAS flies to Oslo from £149 return. Car rental costs from £100 a day with Avis. The train from Oslo airport to Hemsedal costs £25 one way if you book in advance at nsb.no.
WANT TO DISCOVER MORE OF NORWAY? READ OUR CITY GUIDE TO OSLO FOR YOUR NEXT FAMILY TRIP.