Mountains open for the high season

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Record numbers of Norwegians are heading for the mountains this summer as the high season for hiking, cycling or simply gazing at the scenery gets underway. Recent surveys indicate that a vast majority of Norwegians are more keen on the great outdoors than ever before.

Norway's mountains are easily accessible and apparently more popular than ever. This photo was taken in the area known as Aurlandsdalen, south of Aurland. PHOTO: Views and News

Nine out of 10 Norwegians questioned in this year’s edition of Natur- og Miljøbarometeret (a so-called “barometer” compiled by TNS Gallup for several state agencies and organizations) said they are interested in outdoor activities. Nearly 70 percent have camped out in a tent or stayed in a hytte (cottage, normally located in scenic areas) during the past year.

Fully 66 percent questioned said they wanted to spend more time in the mountains or other scenic outdoor areas than they already do. That’s good news for the mountain trekking association Den Norske Turistforening (DNT), which officially opened its mountain lodges and hytter all around Norway over the weekend. DNT has been reporting strong increases in membership for the past several years, and confirmed 3,217 new paying members as of June.

A vast system of well-marked trails invites hiking in the Norwegian mountains and valleys. PHOTO: Views and News

“Most people realize that they actually have very good access to the great outdoors, and there are many reasons to get out there and take advantage of it,” Lasse Heimdal, secretary general of the umbrella organization for several outdoors organization Frifo (Friluftslivets fellesorganisasjon), told newspaper Dagsavisen. Frifo was among those backing the annual barometer survey, along with Statskog, in charge of state-owned forests; the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (Direktoratet for naturforvaltning, part of the Ministry of the Environment; and the state hunting and fishing association, Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund).

“Our ideals are a bit different from those in other countries,” Heimdal claimed. “The experience of stillness and the feeling of being alone with the nature is a traditional Norwegian ideal.”

Accommodation can vary, from pitching your own tent, to staying in rustic "hytter" or a hotel like this one at Østerbø. PHOTO: Views and News

He worries, though, that as Norway has become increasingly urbanized in recent decades and home to more immigrants, not all local residents are as skilled at functioning in the outdoors as before. “Our surveys, our experience in taking children out hiking and feedback from tour leaders indicate that fewer know how to pitch a tent, pack a backpack most efficiently, light a fire or use a map and compass,” Heimdal told Dagsavisen.

Increasing reliance on mobile phones and GPS equipment also has led to a lack of expertise with maps and compass, with this year’s barometer showing a steady decline in compass competence since 2008.

“We can no longer expect that parents will pass on expertise in how to use the outdoors to their children” Heimdal said. “We need to see more attention to this in schools and day care centers.”

Visitors to the mountains can also run across historic farms open to the public for exploring, or even for traditional food and drink, like this one at Otternes, just north of Flåm. PHOTO: Views and News

Hiking on Norway’s vast network of well-marked trails remains the most popular outdoor activity, followed by fishing, enjoying mountain scenery, walking through forests and skiing, according to the latest barometer.

At DNT, officials have seen growing demand for comfort along with the increase in membership. They’ve responded by upgrading several of their mountain lodges, installing running water and electricity and offering gourmet meals with the ability to purchase wine and beer. Several lodges also welcome guests for relatively lengthy visits, instead of the traditional overnight stays for hikers moving on the next day. They’re also offering various courses and activities from painting to climbing and baking.

“Instead of going from hytte to hytte, we’re seeing that more prefer to stay at one place for several days and take day hikes,” Ida Amelie Helgesen of DNT (external link) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week. “Maybe they don’t want to carry heavy backpacks, and many want a high standard of living also in the mountains. At our biggest hytter they can get their own room (instead of sleeping in dormitory-style) and a three-course dinner.”

There also are many hotels and privately owned lodges called fjellstuer that cater to hikers and mountain enthusiasts keen on the outdoors but also keen on comfort indoors at night. Many have vacancies this season, not least because of a decline in foreign tourists from countries hit by the euro crisis and economic problems.

Many of DNT’s lodges reported brisk traffic over the opening weekend despite rainy weather in most areas, although exact numbers weren’t yet available. The season runs through the summer and into the fall, with some lodges staying open until the first snow falls. They re-open when enough snow has fallen for skiing, while unstaffed hytter are open at all times for members with a standard DNT key who bring their own provisions or buy simple supplies at the hytter on an honor system. Many hotels are also open year-round.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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