High times on the pow-pow railway

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I never set out to spend five adventure-filled days living off goat cheese sandwiches and salt cod just so I could afford to buy a cheap old pair of cross-country skis from a secondhand store in Bergen, Norway and keep riding the Flobanen Funicular Railway 1,200 feet up and down a big, snowy cross-country ski hill called Mt. Floyen to my powder-hound heart’s content.

But in late January 2003 that’s what happened because:

1) Both the groomed and off-piste snow conditions on the Mt. Floyen trail system at that particular time were ungodly slick, steep and treacherous and those big-ass secondhand pine planks I was three-pinning up there were running hella fast. 

2) During my first two days that mountain was perpetually wrapped in some kind of ultra-dank North Atlantic hoar fog and even when I could see up ahead around the corners I still took one humiliating tumble after one humiliating tumble until I finally got the lay of land enough to make some small but crucial adjustments to my descent stance—which have been helping me stay upright on snow ever since.  

3) Because I got so lost and disoriented one night that I wound up skiing straight off a 20-foot retaining wall and, when I finally dug myself out, swore I saw God for a moment until I realized it was just the entire night sky of Norway burning on fire with undulating green/gold aurora borealis.

4) I got to stop at a trail-side cabin and help a bunch of goofy, super-enthusiastic little kids and their families design and construct a 10-foot-tall snow tablet full of runic Sponge Bob Square Pants inscriptions just for the fun of it.

5) After I got done with that, the families invited me to join them in their huts for a home-cooked feast featuring poached salmon in dill sauce,  juniper-spiced venison with brown goat cheese sauce and, my all-time familial favorite: Norwegian meatballs with spiced cream sauce.  

6) Then, soon after enjoying a rather lavish dessert, I got to join the men-folk for a long, sweaty gab-session in the sauna where I wound up listening to one of them tell me about how every day after class was over during the Nazi Occupation he and his schoolmates hiked and/or skied up to the top of a nearby hill to shoot cannons at Panzer tanks.

7) Last but not least, just as one of my old ski bum buddies recently reminded me during what turned out to be our final conversation: “Making fresh tracks and making fresh friends is what skiing is all about. Really. Truly. You must strive always to do both. ‘Cause when you’re out there mucking around on the slopes just doing one thing without the other, then you ain’t even skiing anymore. You’re doing something else.”

And his words made me think: So what if the reason I wound up skiing Bergen that winter was because I couldn’t afford to join the rest of my bros for a hut-to-hut ski tour through Jotenheimen National Park. Sure, that lower coastal terrain down around Bergen might not have been as epic. But it was pretty damned fun.

For five once-in-a-lifetime days I had salt cod, beaucoup Nordic trails and the Flobanen—my very own personal pow-pow railway—all for six measly bucks per one-way ticket. I’ve never made a more sound investment.

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