Norway's haven of hidden singletrack
Hafjell, in Norway, is home to one of the world's best bike parks, but beyond the marked trails is a whole network of singletrack waiting to be discovered
For most of us, the name Hafjell conjures up images of World Cup racing – Stevie Smith winning the overall title, or Josh 'Ratboy' Bryceland breaking his ankle in sight of a World Champs gold. But away from the rock-strewn slopes of the race course and the manicured jumps of 'Rollercoaster', the small Norwegian ski resort's got a quieter side. During a trip to the bike park last summer, we were lucky enough to meet up with some locals who showed us a seemingly endless maze of criss-crossing singletrack.
The mountains around Hafjell aren't like the Lyngen Alps further north, in that instead of rising to sharp peaks, they level off at roughly 1,000m into a rocky plain that reaches as far as the eye can see. The terrain almost feels like UK moorland, with rocky ribbons of dirt snaking between boulders and bushes. The riding is fast-paced and undulating, punctuated by sharp rises that keep the heart-rate peaking.
In a landscape that unfolds for miles and miles, we could easily have got lost, if it weren’t for our guides, who led us back to civilisation, via an epic descent to the valley floor, known to the locals as ‘Fireplace’. The name, it turns out, has a chilling origin – it comes from a tale of a man who killed his father, cut him into pieces and burnt him in the woods. When the trail builders were breaking ground, they came across the ashes and a charred foot – a discovery that we imagine would have made even the most hardened spade-wielding Norseman jump right out of his plaid shirt!
We were glad we weren't riding alone and at night – not just because of the trail’s spooky history, but because in places it threads a fine line along the edge of a rocky river valley. We hung onto the back of Ole Henrik, Kari Anne and Sverre as they showed us the lines. Skittering down loamy chutes and over roots, we finally blasted out onto the highway, grinning from ear to ear.
More like this
We'll make a confession – we didn't film much that evening, because we were too busy getting stoked on the trails. But here's a sample of our GoPro footage to whet your appetite:
If you fancy a bit of the action for yourself, this is what you need to know:
Scandinavian Airlines (www.flysas.com) fly regularly to Oslo Gardermoen airport. From there you can hire a car, and Hafjell is two-and-a-half hours away. If you’d rather travel by public transport, catch a train from the airport to the city of Lillehammer, then Hafjell is just a short bus ride.
Hafjell is a full-scale ski resort with all the amenities and accommodation options you’d expect. The bike park (www.hafjell.no) has 15 trails, ranging from green-graded beginner runs to black DH lines that incorporate most of the World Cup course. At the base of the mountain is a well-equipped bike shop with a big fleet of Scott rental bikes. Guiding and coaching are available too. The park is open from 16 June to 7 October 2018, but only on weekends, or from Thursday to Sunday in peak season. While you’re there, we’d recommend hiring a car and visiting one of Norway’s other riding spots.
Former Mountain Biking UK features editor Ed Thomsett is a downhiller at heart but has been riding bikes of all types since a young age. He's raced both nationally and internationally in downhill and enduro, and has spent several summers living in the Alps and Canada, riding, roadtripping and living the dirtbag lifestyle. Now Ed calls upon his years of experience riding bikes to the limit as a writer and reviewer for MBUK and BikeRadar. He's also an avid trail builder and has scraped out numerous steep and technical lines in the woodlands of his native North Yorkshire. These days Ed will happily turn his hand to any discipline and believes the sign of a good week is when every bike in his shed ends up muddy by the end of it.