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Sogndal: where freeride meets ski alpinism in Norway.

The Sogndal ski touring guide.
Since around seven years Lyngen, and specially Lofoten have become the big protagonists when it comes to skiing in Norway. To be true, they have some heavyweight reasons on their sight with that combination of arctic landscapes, spiky mountains, old days sailor culture and fjords on the same frame. However, if we come back a bit further in time, the big name was Sogndal. As a matter of facts, Sogndal is and has always been the headquarters of modern skiing in Norway where freeride and ski alpinism melt together.

Sogndal is located at a very interesting spot. On the one hand it in one of the furthest inland  branchest of the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway, going 220 km inland. On the other hand, it is right under the biggest glacier in continental Europe, Jostedalsbreen and of several other glaciers making a very interesting blend of coastal and glacier climate that is ideal for the snow.

The valley is a short 15 min drive from the main village by the coast. At the center of the valley there is a not so big lake that is surrounded by seven main valleys offering a huge quantity of terrain with very diverse characteristics. All the sectors are very close to each other, and the access is as good as it gets in Norway. There are a few big parking lots just by one of the main roads in Norway. No need for spike tyres or drama driving up a steep tractor road. Best of all, there is virtually no approach for a really big percentage of the terrain. You can ski most mountains to both facings of the valleys allowing very interesting link ups. There is no doubt a huge amount of terrain: from open forests perfect for freeride on powder days, distinguished summits accessible for intermediate level, several glaciers accessible through easi-ish terrain, but as well a lot of big, technical and steep terrain.

There is a lot of big terrain, but the general perspective of the valley is not so much of a Chamonix like valley: this is not a vertical ocean of spikes of granite and hanging glaciers. Sogndal is something for itself, and it’s probably one of the best valleys I have ever encounter for that intermediate point between freeride and ski alpinism.

For going to the main sectors, you should be well educated and trained in snowpack assessment and decision making. For an important percentage of the mountains you better be solid with the kickturn technique on steep and exposed terrain as well as with crampons, navigating on ridges and glaciated terrain.

In winter you can do interesting activities and profit of good snow quality, however the snowpack is in general too unstable as for venturing in to the main peaks. The high season in Sogndal goes from March until the end of May.

Sogndal is as well extremely well situated as a base camp. On the one hand, it barely takes one hour and fifteen minutes to drive to Hurrungane, the most alpine mountains in Norway. Hurrungane is pretty much a sort of Chamonix, but sitting on the top of one of the highest mountain plateaux in Europe, and surrounded by the biggest glaciers in Europe. It is a true mountaineer dream. The down part (or positive part): it has such a severe weather, that the season doesn’t really start until easter and very often until may. If you are curious about this mountain range, don´t worry, I will do a cover article in a few weeks. Sogndal is as well really close to Jostedalsbreen, the biggest glacier in continental europe, offering really interesting possibilities for skiing, even in summer.

The best season for Sogndal is in spring. Prime conditions for ski touring in the big mountains, but a short 15 min drive away to the fjord, suddenly mild weather and even the most notorious climbing crag in Norway with more than 400 routes. Really interesting both for bolted and trad routes on quality rock. Some sectors even have these cherry three fjord landscape.

Well, let’s come back to the skiing in Sogndal topic. This time we were there for four days. I had already been there before guiding on the glaciers around the area in summer, but I had never skied in those mountains before. The objective for these days was to explore the main sectors, seek interesting activities for the groups that we will lead over the following weeks, and with a bit of luck, skiing some of the big lines of the valley.

This year, according to the locals conditions were weird: not too much snow, and a crust that would not necessarily soften during the day. We have had weird conditions all over Norway, but it was slightly funny for me hearing their complaints as compared to several other areas of the fjord regions, conditions here were like a dream. To be fair with them, it is actually true that it was no conditions for riding most of the famous lines of Sogndal that compress your stomach just by looking at them.

However, south faces had extremely fun slushy conditions, and even east and northeast faces would work fairly well due to the fact that the valley does not have too big mountains on its eastern side, so the sun works in a big percentage of the terrain since the morning. Also consider that in spring in Norway the sun pretty much does not really set, so of course its action power is different than to more south latitudes.

A good example of that is the attractive NE sector of Grånipa, very visible from the main parking, that was having really good conditions. In fact, the whole valley, Gunvordalen, is a five star valley for ski touring. You can access both from the main parking and also from the ski resort that is on the following parallel valley to the south. In Gunvordalen you can find everything: loads of quality forest terrain, obvious freeride terrain, more aggressive and technical terrain, couloirs, a soft ridge that leads to the glacier on the top of the valley: Gunvordalsbreen and of course, ski from the glacier.

Even though this whole area is really good for skiing, be careful. From the parking lot, all the N and NE facing sector seems obvious and easy-ish to manage, but in fact it is really big terrain. It is hard to get the scale from the parking and from the top it is not obvious to navigate. Moreover there are countless convex and concave micro terrain and you must constantly negotiate sections around 35 degrees, so this may turn into a nightmare when the conditions are not judged properly, or when the group is not managed according to the conditions.

The first mountain to the left from the main parking is called Togga: the locals playground. It offers good forest sectors, but especially easy access to it’s famous north face as well as to the ridge system, with countless of freeride challenges both towards Gunvordalen and Frudalen. A true freeride laboratory. However, none of this was in conditions this easter. Too much ice on the north side and too little snow on the south flank.

Two of the days we ended up going to the first bowl NW from Anestølen.

On the guide book it comments that it is not a so popular sector because it has a long approach that can be exposed to avalanche and rock falls, however this week the lake was still frozen, so we could just cross it safely on the middle. The bowl has big and very alpine terrain. The north face is extremely impressive. It is hard to not feel a thriver down the spine when you take a look at those vertical and exposed kick turns progressing in those monster couloirs right under big hanging cornices. It is not hard to grasps that the skiers from Sogndal are the best skiers in Norway. Do not worry, there are plenty of activities at a more human reaching level on this area. Through the first snow pilar on the left as you come following the river, you can get through easier terrain to the summit of Lammanipa and enjoy some “happy riding” ski terrain on the east face. From Lammanipa you can as well follow the ridge towards the glacier of Frudalsbreen crowning the main bowl.

Through the south facing flank we have the ridge Sogndalseggi with several main summits and the most obvious intermediate ski level of the valley. The terrain is big and incredibly enjoyable for cruising in big turns. However watch out, it is south facing and the temperature may rise fast creating a dangerous environment. We summited 3 of the main summits of the ridge. The first to the right is a very attractive horn to ski visible from Anestølen. Towards the left you progress towards the glacier. On the middle of the valley there is a very obvious and attractive coll that can be used as an alternative descent for doing a circle tour.

The last day we decided to go down to the fjord, to Kvam for exploring that famous climbing wall. It is definitely worth a visit. High quality climbing and it is refreshing after a few nights at several degrees below zero to climb without a t-shirt and enjoy the warm spring vibes.

We will be back in Sogndal when temperatures will rise a bit more. With a bit of luck we will even be able to head straight away to Hurrungane. There is a ski guidebook of the area, in fact it is one of the best ski guide books that I have had the pleasure to go through and it is called Toppturar i sogn written by Bjørnhusdal, Haslestad and Vereide, and published by Fri flyt. The book covers the valley of Sogndal, Hurrungane and the south flank of the Jostedal glacier. The inconvenient is that it is written in Norwegian, and even on the regional dialect, that it is not so easy to understand. So if your Norwegian skills are not so on point, which is more than understandable, do not worry, because the photos and topos are well detailed and in high quality. It is clear what the main uphill and downhill lines are and what are alternative freeride descents. The descriptions of objective dangers, schedules, facings, max steepness and required gear is as well easy to understand. A lot of key information will be missed, but with ability to judge and progress safely in the mountains, this guide book and a 1/50 000 map of the area, you should be able to do quite a lot of activities. If this is not your case, the best is that you contact a local guide at Sogndal or that you write us to the guiding company I work for, where we plan trips to the area in English, Spanish, French, Italian or Norwegian on the spot, or coordinated from the Bergen airport or the Bergen railway fixing all the logistics for you.

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