Jenny Zarins

The Sunnmøre Alps: Adventure up north

Ski touring high above the fjords: The Sunnmøre Alps are renowned as one of Norway's snowiest regions. In the winter, the majestic mountains beckon with a superb deep-snow experience, a taste of "hygge" and a glimpse of the ethereal Northern Lights –free from the disruptions of mass tourism.

February 22, 2024

Jenny Zarins

Ski touring is one of the most scenic and original ways to explore the mountains. You avoid the tedious lines at crowded lifts and trek up the mountain at your own pace. The strenuous ascent is rewarded with a well-deserved descent. Even experienced backcountry skiers are astonished by the fascinating winter landscape of Norway. A vast, white expanse stretches before you, with a huge fjord gleaming majestically below, sculpted by glacial forces over thousands of years. Add to this a bright blue sky, rugged cliffs, lots of powder snow - and extraordinary tranquility.

Jenny Zarins 

Snow? No problem! The Sunnmøre Alps south of the city of Ålesund are renowned as a winter wonderland. Due to their proximity to the North Sea and its humid Atlantic air, they are among the snowiest regions in Norway. The peaks rise to a height of up to 1,700 meters with the mighty mountain slopes reaching all the way down to the fjord. Conditions permitting, you can ski right to the edge of the sea, while the perfect deep-snow conditions that usually prevail make it possible to tour for hours – preferably accompanied by a local ski instructor familiar with the terrain. The Sunnmøre Alps ski area is huge, and untouched by the trappings of mass tourism such as sprawling parking lots, an après-ski scene, or long lines in front of the ski lifts. Visitors come here to enjoy the vastness of the landscape and experience the profound silence.

Jenny Zarins 

The hotels are small but of a high standard – from the stylish panoramic windows and tree-house feel of the "Juvet Landscape", a hotel that has served as a location for several movies, to the rustic "Hotel Union Øye", a grand Victorian-style hotel where every room is rich in history. The famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was a frequent guest here. With its floral wallpaper and piano in the salon, it feels like a film set, transporting you back to the time when royal families and authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Karen Blixen, Knut Hamsun and composer Edvard Grieg sat here drinking champagne and admiring the snow-covered mountains.

Jenny Zarins

Archaic landscape

Here, "hygge" (a uniquely Nordic type of coziness) is more than a marketing term. As you sit by the fireplace in your timbered hotel or in front of the panoramic windows of the Juvet after a day in the fresh air, you really do feel like a Norwegian Viking. The archaic landscape of this magical fairy tale land at the end of the world has a calming effect on visitors; it's no wonder the popularity of the ancient tales of trolls shows no signs of abating. But luxury and rustic coziness don't have to be mutually exclusive: In Norway, you'll find hideaways that effortlessly combine both. The cuisine features fresh, locally sourced ingredients and cleverly combines traditional classics with fine dining. With a bit of luck, you'll also catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights flickering in the night sky. Because there is so little light pollution, the Sunnmøre Alps are a prime place to view this natural spectacle.

Jenny Zarins

Hotels such as the "Øye", the "Storfjord" or the "Sagafjord" specialize in ski touring and are ideally situated to advise on the best times for skiing – and when it's best to do something else. For alpine skiers, the "Stranda Ski Resort" is ideal. Its six lifts ensure an enjoyable skiing experience with breathtaking views of the fjord. The enormous variety of the region means that everything is possible, from easy to moderately difficult ski touring. The slopes usually have gradients of between 30 and 35 degrees, making them the perfect terrain. Extreme skiers are also catered for, as are families who want to spend a relaxing weekend snowboarding, tobogganing or hiking in the snow.

With 1,500 kilometers of marked pistes and a world-class off-piste system, there are also plenty of long descents for those who want them. The optimal combination of stable snow conditions and abundant daylight occurs during March and April, although the extended season lasts until early June. The month of February has the most snow, but also far less daylight, as the days are short. This does mean, however, that you'll get a good night's sleep in your comfortable accommodation.

Fascinating wonders of the Ice Age

Jenny Zarins 

No other region combines fjords, peaks, glaciers and the sea in such proximity, allowing you to enjoy a fascinating landscape shaped by the ice age firsthand. The fjords were formed by glacial erosion, cutting deep channels into the coastline, causing them to fill with water as the sea level rose. Norway has over 1,700 such witnesses to the Ice Age, with the Hjørundfjord considered by many to be one of the most beautiful. It is 35 kilometers long and surrounded by steep mountains, waterfalls and idyllic villages such as Volda, Ørsta, Stranda and Sykkylven. For years, the fjord has drawn adventurers and aristocrats, as evidenced by the enduring legacy of its historic hotels. Trolls were once carved into the mountains, their enduring presence deeply embedded in popular folklore. The mythical creatures were described as large and scary and, according to tradition, they only ventured out at night. Although they were stupid, they still managed to lure people to their doom. The longer you look at the mountains, the better you understand these stories: many of the rock formations really do look like faces and figures.

Art Nouveau city center

Jenny Zarins

There are still plenty of activities to keep you entertained when the weather takes a turn for the worse in the winter. If you're looking for adventure off the slopes, head to Hoddevik for cold-water surfing. If you fancy a pleasant city trip, visit Ålesund, an architectural gem made up of several islands located at the entrance of the Geirangerfjord. Its architecture was preceded by tragedy: In 1904, a fire broke out in a margarine factory that ended up burning the whole town down, destroying 850 wooden houses. Fortunately, Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, was a great fan of the region. He liked to explore the picturesque fjords on his yacht and was a driving force behind the rise of German tourism in the area. He also actively contributed to the reconstruction effort. Instead of wood, stone was used to rebuild Ålesund, a decision that contributed to the enduring charm of its art nouveau town center. The best way to explore is to rent a kayak. Alternatively, climb the 418 steps to the top of the local mountain, Aksla. You'll be rewarded with an incredible view of the islands and mountains. If you get hungry, nearby restaurants offer an excellent way to end the evening.

Bird watching tours are also offered from April. More than 500,000 birds come to the islands to nest, including the puffin with its distinctive red beak. But even in winter there are sea eagles that defy the harsh weather of the Sunnmøre Alps and do not migrate south - even the animals know how special and beautiful this region in southern Norway is

Read more: These are the best spots in the Sunnmøre Alps

This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Winter 2023/24.

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