Oppdal, Norway - Take One Stone Out, Put Three More In
We tested this tough Scandinavian track...
From Dirt Issue 109 - March 2011
After a quick stop at the supermarkets that gather around the border, to offer Sweden’s neighbours the opportunity for cheap goodies like booze, fags and strangely almost everything else, we crossed the border into Norway. I’d just spent a week in Sweden’s premier ski resort of Åre, and was on my way down to Oppdal to discover what riding it held in its undulating surface. I was kindly being driven down by Hans Gunleiksrud, who I had only met a few hours previously. This is the kinda vibe I’ve become accustomed to after a few visits to Scandinavia.
I’ve heard some people say that they thought the Scandinavians were a stern bunch, but they are genuinely some of the most welcoming and generous people I’ve met. Hans made the journey entertaining the whole way with tales of his days as a pro skier and plenty of insight about the beautiful landscapes we passed through. As the journey was coming to an end and we were entering his home territory he was pointing out slopes he’d skied including one where he managed to smash his face into a tree stump and nearly died. It sounded horrific but with constant optimism he moved quickly on to pointing out more descents he’d discovered in the snow that he thought would hold incredible bike tracks now they weren’t covered in the winter white>>
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[part title="One Stone Out, Three More In"]
Skiing has evolved over the years and it is now that the powers–that–be have taken notice of what can be offered to bikes as well. There is a small group of local riders that have taken it upon themselves to improve what lies in front of their wheels and develop the area’s riding. With tentative, but solid, support from the resort, things are moving forward, a new track is being built every year and this will surely speed up with more and more visitors to the area.
The main site that is being developed for riding is Vangslia, this is Norway’s first official Kona Bike Park. It’s accessed from one chairlift that takes you to the start of about five tracks, there are a few novice ones that we didn’t check out, as they seem to be more for the beginner, but the two we did were the ‘Flytløypa’ and ‘SuperFlytløypa’, meaning ‘Flow’ and ‘SuperFlow’. These are fun tracks that mix up natural terrain with manmade berms and jumps. And as the name suggests, they do flow good. The ‘Flow’ is graded blue and doesn’t contain anything that will catch you out, but will offer you a blast darting in and out of the trees.
The ‘SuperFlow’ on the other hand is worth having a cruise down first. There are some great sections here and it has a nice rhythm that goes from an intense succession of corners and obstacles switching back and forth on each other to some longer mellower turns that let you re–gather some composure. One particular part that sticks in the mind is the one leading into a gap jump over a stream. Sizeable as it is, it is not just the gap that is memorable, it’s the corners leading into it. These have to be ridden just right to keep enough speed to clear the stream, with a jump between two of them to spice it up even more.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t steep sections because at points this track drops away with roller–coaster stomach troubling intensity. The first corners cut their way in between the rock outcrops as if you are water finding the quickest route down the slope. As it ducks and dives through, you come out of a lot of turns blind, but a few runs here and you could hammer these turns. This is a far more natural affair, if a corner’s banked it’s much more likely to be a trait of the landscape than the dig of a shovel that created it.
This track is touted as the best downhill in Scandinavia and was my initial reason for visiting the area. Work started on this track in 2001 after the locals became inspired by watching VHS tapes of freeriding in America. The main guys behind it, Øyvind Mæhle, Nicklas Fastegård and Steinar Husby, utilised the gondola access and have continued with the help of many a local rider to keep this track evolving. As the bike park manager Tore Meirik says, “It was never intended to be a competition trail, but now I guess everyone agrees that it is the best downhill trail in Scandinavia."
The motto of the guys that built this track is that for every rock that is removed from the trail, they put in three new ones, and this shows with its tough nature. Lower down the track gets more technical with hard sections of jagged rocks and twists and turns implemented by the Bjørk trees, great to have a tree with the same name as an Icelandic singer hey. And in these trees lives a bird called the Gok whose tweet sounds just like it’s saying ‘Opp-dal’. Makes you feel very welcome.
[part title="One Stone Out, Three More In"]
If you’re looking for continual lift access this will obviously limit any trip, but if you’re keen for some Enduro riding and have a disposition and bike capable of some uphills then you’re opening up a load of opportunities. Norway has an incredible attitude towards this, bike riders are free to go anywhere in Norway, no sticking to bridleways or angry walkers shouting, not that you’re likely to bump into many people in this vast landscape, but you can simply see something and ride it. From everything I have heard, it is well worth checking out, I unfortunately didn’t have the right bike or the time to head off into the wilderness but ask at the Vertical Playground (VPG) Bike Shop and they will point you in the right direction.
The other option to make this trip worthwhile if you want to go for more than four days riding is to tie it into a Scandinavian road trip. Oppdal lies almost exactly half way between Hafjell to the south and Åre to the north east in Sweden, four hours from each, it makes the perfect stop off point between two of the most developed riding spots in Scandinavia. I intend to return and ride all three on a couple of weeks road trip very soon.
How every local knows about the weather in detail, predicting rain in millimetres and understanding how the topography will affect it, which goes to show how in touch with the land these people are. And good job too, as I've never seen clouds like it. Dark impending ones with doom written all over their billowing dresses. But fighting them off are massive patches of blue sky and the sun burning away at the cloud edges and lighting a mountain here and there like spotlights on a stage coming in from very low angles. I was hit with heavy rain one day and gorgeous sun the next, it feels very raw and real in how it can change.
It’s great to see these resorts emerging and creating something in this beautiful and unique landscape. Hopefully it will continue to expand even more, but there is enough here already to keep you entertained for a few days and even more if you’re prepared to explore. There is a feeling in me that I only touched the tip of what is here.
www.oppdalbooking.no is a great start to look for accommodation and most things about the resort.
There are a few bike shops in the town, Vertical Playgrund (VPG) is probably the best one, having a great selection of parts, some cool clothes and friendly staff who have good knowledge of the local riding. There is also G–Sport, Intersport and Auna Sport.
Norwegian Airlines have direct flights from Gatwick to Trondheim, a couple of hours drive from Oppdal. There are regular departures, and they’re happy with bikes and also fly from Edinburgh, www.norwegian.com
The train service from Trondheim to Oppdal is very easy, with the station right in the town: www.nsb.no. Although having a car does make getting to the lift stations easier, as they’re a short ride from the town otherwise, although easily manageable.
Norway can be a little expensive with a pint costing approximately £6, but direct flights don’t take too long and aren’t that expensive, so a well planned trip can be well worthwhile even just to see the beautiful landscape.