139. Snow patrol – Holmenkollen, Oslo

oslo-winter-morning-2.jpgShut your eyes and think of somewhere
Somewhere cold and caked in snow

Snow Patrol – May 2006

All of winter, and all in one day.

It’s mid-morning on a snowy Thursday, but as troublesome journeys to work might go, I really can’t complain.

Guildford’s white and black night is far behind me, and just a few hours later the snow is screaming past the train as we speed towards Oslo at 200 km/h. No Norwegian dogsled ever made such progress.

oslo-theatre-2.jpgArriving early at my meeting, I’ve a moment to survey the scene.

From the office window, the muffled view stretches out silently into the distance, Oslo peering shyly back at me through the white mist of intermittent wintry showers.

The view down to the railway tracks offers a camera angle perfect for any latterday remake of Anna Karenina, the architecture of this place even more impressive for the white curtain draping all around it.

There’s a special kind of elation on a snowy day, in any city, and my meeting goes well, and quickly. There’s a whole afternoon ahead to explore, so I walk down to find the harbour.

oslo-harbour.jpgLast time I was here it was late June, with the Oslofjord transformed into some Nordic offshoot of the Mediterranean as the locals basked in their mayfly-like midsummer.

Jazz had played from the open bar windows above Aker Brygge then, our dinner and drinks stretching easily into early morning as dusk and bedtime gladly pushed themselves back towards another day.

aker-brygge.jpgBut it’s not like that now. The harbour is bleak, almost black against the snow, and there’s a sharp wind stinging my face. A chill soaking up through my feet.

The covered arcades offer the promise of hot coffee and cake, but the muzak and ambience inside is as sub-zero as the weather without. I’ve come too far for this, and I’ve got to escape. Somewhere.

oslo-city.jpgMy first thought is of The Scream. But Munch’s painting is still under restoration following its recovery from theft. So instead I trudge my way up through the city, tripping past the shop displays and slushy alleyways to find the station and a tubetrain for the hills.

The outskirts of many cities look the same. But not this one. Because no matter how romantic you might find Sudbury Park, or even Sartrouville under a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow, the scenery mostly isn’t up to it. But now the line rises gently and soon we’re out in the landscape.

metroland.jpgAnd it’s nothing like Metroland.

norway-wood-house-snow.jpgPine trees and fine wooden houses float by as we trundle up through Vinderen. They are smaller, and more varied beyond, but the impression of prosperity and elegance and lifestyle and Norway remains the same.

A couple with skis sit down beside me, and soon after some kids with a sledge. Before long, the train is half-filled with people squeezing a last evening cruise on the toboggan course which runs down from here.

I get off at the next stop, but still I’m not quite there. The sign points upwards, past warmly-lit windows. I keep going, but the combination of city shoes and snowy slope is not a good one. I struggle and slither uphill for a good twenty minutes. It’s freezing cold.

holmenkollen-oslo-view.jpgAt last, I stumble round a hairpin, and there it is, reaching floodlit into the winter sky. Holmenkollen – the most famous ski jump in all the world.

Over a hundred years old, extended eighteen times, host to the 1952 Olympics, and home to an annual festival of ski-jumping each March ever since. The site of three World Ski Championships past, and the 2011 event yet to come.

So many times I’ve seen this place. The flying Finns, and Eddie the Eagle, and so many more, soaring as high as the heavens, skis slanted and tilted, sailing as they drift gently down to a slow motion landing.

holmenkollen-night.jpgIt’s all so much bigger and steeper than I’d thought. And it’s a very long way down – more than far enough to kill anyone who is brave enough to die here.

A piste basher is preparing an impossibly inclined snow slope below, the tautest of steel hawsers stretching upwards to bear the weight of the machine and the life of its operator as surely as – well – as surely as I hope it can.

And at the bottom, precipitously far away, lies no gentle run-out as I’d imagined, but a real U-bend of a compression, surely more than a match for the knees of any mad skiflier.

holmenkollen-landing.jpg Amazingly, this terrifying slope isn’t even the hill itself. I’m standing here, just at the top of the landing zone. The concrete tower of the ski-jump’s inrun – that stands fully 60 metres above me, soaring high into the Nordic night.

The twin ski-tracks vanish ever upwards, ready for someone to brave the terrifying climb up to the starting box. And as for the descent – I couldn’t even consider it, not for a moment.

On jump day, the steps all around me and way down to the wide bowl below would be filled by a hundred thousand chanting sports fans, wildly waving Norwegian flags and sipping aquavit in doubtless equal measure. The half-heard roars to greet each graceful jump and successful landing echo around me now, as loudly as the deafeningly hushed sighs which greet any airborne disaster.

holmenkollen-snow-jan-greve.jpgBut now, the white amphitheatre lies open, unpopulated. The snow is falling in fine flakes through the floodlights and past the empty press and TV boxes, the cloud parting fleetingly to a shimmering Oslo skyline in the distance, half an hour away.

There’s only silence, and snow, and cold.

And yet, simply being here in this atmosphere is enough. This is one of the greatest sporting arenas of the world. This is Holmenkollen, in all of its magnificent desolation.

I put down my bag, and find my gloves. I risk snowy socks on this Scandinavian nightfall as I change into my running shoes, and then slowly, carefully, I make my way back down the hill. Back to the station, and the tubetrain. Back to the city, and a steamed cod supper behind warmly-lit windows.

ski-train-from-oslo.jpgAnother train, much later, back to the airport. Four hours of sleep before I awaken to another black day not yet remotely dawning. A bus to the airport, and a wait aboard the plane.

Finally we taxi out into the wilderness of the Norwegian dawn. The snow is streaming gently across the tarmac as we turn into the wind, rumbling and then floating ever faster from sparse grey up into endless white, the black of the pinetrees fading into grey cloud as foggy as the dream of a season receding below me.

holmenkollen-sunset-sergio-molina-palacios.jpgTwo hours later, the weather has already wilted in London – the fields beside Windsor Castle showing only speckles of white, The Copper Horse far below looking out from Snow Hill over the soggy remnants of this English winter of just a single day.

But this one white day’s night will stay with me much longer. Because I saw that frozen soaring drama, I felt the rush of sailing skis, and I heard the deafening roar of Olympic destiny.

And high on Holmenkollen’s hill, I touched them in the snow.

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20 responses to “139. Snow patrol – Holmenkollen, Oslo

  1. It looks as though there is more snow in Norway than in CH at the moment, Roads! It’s so warm here during the day, it seems like Spring – there are even a few little green shoots in my garden under the trees.

    Your photos are great on your blog – well done! Did you climb all the way up the Holmenkollen to take that photo looking down? It made me feel quite weak at the knees!

  2. We had quite a snowstorm here last week just as I left for Norway, sliding sideways down the hill and past the Castle at 5am, but it only lasted one day, more or less. Oslo was much more determinedly frozen.

    That vertigo-inducing photo was taken from exactly where I was standing, on the steps some way down the landing zone. Just below the four flagpoles you can see on today’s masthead image. That’s more than terrifying enough, but I’ve added an uncropped version within the post above to show that the top of the ski hill is actually at least 80m higher up from there.

    Those athletes have to fly a scary distance just to reach that point. It’s not a sport for the faint-hearted. A certain commitment is definitely required.

  3. I should imagine most of that beautiful snow will dissappear towards the middle of the year. And that in turn might lead to, well . . . races in May perhaps?

    My sympathies are with Louise – Vertigo strikes when I step off a high curb, never mind that torturous plummet. Impressive shots though, roads, and a nice piece to boot.

  4. Thanks, Sweder

    It’s very good to hear from you.

    Meanwhile you may think that I’ve forgotten that CD of Almeria photos and promised morning run on your Sussex Downs.

    But I haven’t. Oooh no – not me. I’m working on it. Really I am.

  5. Yes, Roads, I heard all about the snow in England and was inundated with snow pictures from my brother in Guildford and all friends who witnessed the 24 hour wonder!
    Is vertigo hereditary, I wonder? My son, who as an adolescent and therefore invincible, throws himself down mountain and shoots over cliffs without a care in the world – show him a stepladder and he turns into a total wimp! My daughter, however, is totally fearless and participates in KL competitions (kilometre lancé) where you take off down a mountain with a 90% gradient for 1km at the most frightening speeds, hope you don’t fall and try and stop before crashing into the crowds. The run here looks like the Holmenkollen, but is not man-made and there isn’t a jump at the end.
    She won the amateur championship here last year despite coming off on her second run – at the time an enormous cloud floated across the mountain and we heard on the loudspeaker she had come off but couldn’t see anything … KL falls can often be fatal, so our hearts all missed a few beats, I can tell you! Ten minutes later, she appeared on the bobsleigh unharmed and delighted because she had fallen after the time gate and it had been her fastest run!

  6. I did try skydiving back in the mid-80’s as a ‘kill or cure’ for my height issue. As with many foolish steps the first was taken in a pub where I stupidly questioned how difficult it could be to ‘fall out of an aeroplane’. Twelve hours later I had a gaggle of adrenalin-fuelled jumpers outside my appartment baying for a virgin.

    I actually enjoyed it – it was in Texas, where they don’t muck about with all that wimpish static-line nonsense. There was a swift intro course on the ground, a 20 minute video covering last year’s fatalities, a waiver to sign and then into a 4-seater Cessna, up to 12,000 feet, out onto the wing and way-haaaay . . . I managed five jumps in just over a month. Before you doubt the inegrity of this tale I should say that I was accompanied by two Jump Masters – one was my boss, a lady diminutive only in stature; she now has over 1000 hours in freefall and is a senior judge at the US Nationals in Muskogee, OK.

    Bizarrely it was the climb to altitude that got me – that and the need to commit every spare minute (and dollar) to maintain the ‘habit’, and to be honest the bug didn’t bite.

    Long story short it cured rock-all, but it was great fun. Happily my first three jumps were captured on a helmet-cam so I can always look back fondly at what now looks like extreme folly. Still can’t step on a chair without blanching.

  7. Yes, Louise, it must surely be hereditary – since mild vertigo runs through three generations of my family.

    Fear of a terrifying downward plunge often peaks for me during April, not just because we go ski-ing then, but rather because of the approach to the end of the Premiership season – virtually guaranteed to be a tense time for any West Ham supporter. But if the Hammers lose against Charlton this weekend, that struggle will already be all but over for 2007 at least.

    I’m very impressed by your sky-diving exploits, Sweder. It’s a fine idea, but I just never had the bottle. A friend of mine at university was President of the Parachute Club, and even he gave up eventually, telling me that it was the slow but relentless attrition of his best friends that finally put him off. Enough said.

    Strangely enough, vertigo doesn’t usually affect me when I’m ski-ing. Presumably then, with a couple of planks strapped to my feet, I could actually have conquered Holmenkollen or even a kilometre lancé with no problems. Or maybe not.

    So far, though, I haven’t experimented with wearing my skis whilst listening to Radio 5 Live at home on Saturday afternoons or on my infrequent trips to Upton Park. But you know what – I think perhaps it’s more than high time I did …

  8. It’s all too terrifying for me to contemplate. Snow, snow, snow…I have only ever appreciated snow on Christmas Eve while huddled before a roaring fire…at any other time I find it uncomfortable, restrictive and monotonous.

    I’ve been skiing once and that was enough. It hurts🙂

    I enjoy watching others do it though – I used to love Ski Sunday when I was young. Some people are just so brave (or is that ‘foohardy’?)
    Roll on summer…

  9. Ah, Gigi – Ski Sunday.

    Even now, hearing that theme tune makes my pulse run faster.

    David Vine and his sheepskin coat offered the commentary to many an enthralled weekend afternoon. And this post is exactly the result of that, no doubt about it.

    Best of all was Franz Klammer’s run to downhill gold in Innsbruck, 1976. Simply astonishing. Too bad that one’s not on YouTube, not yet.

  10. Oh Roads, that’s brilliant! Thank you. For a minute there, I was back in the sitting room waiting for Sunday tea (or had I had it already? I can’t remember what time it was on) and wishing I didn’t have to go to school the next day. So many memories!

    Of course, the Winter Olympics were held here in 1968. Grenoble is wasted on me, isn’t it? I don’t really deserve to live here…:-)

  11. Snow is only nasty when you live down in the valley, Gigi, and it quickly turns into brown slush and total chaos as the council can’t deal with it!

    When it isn’t snowing in the mountains (okay, this year is terrible) we have sun every day – no grey, grim and drizzly days for us up here in the mountains during the winter! You can eat out every day at lunchtime!

    Living in the mountains, you adapt to the climate which is cold and dry and dress accordingly! However when I go back to the South of France, I forget how warm it is there and turn up with boots, ski jacket and thermals and then have to rush out and buy a couple of tee-shirts!

  12. PS Have just seen that you have found the title music to ‘Ski Sunday’, Roads! Memories, memories!

  13. Absolutely awesome blog and posts. As I sit here in Houston, Texas, I can not fathom the temperatures and conditions you are experiencing. If you get a chance, please visit my running web site, Faithful Soles, which has a categorized and searchable Running Blog Database. I know that the members on my site would find it fascinating reading just as I did. I also have my own blog, but most of my information is on the main web site. Thanks and continued good luck in your training.

  14. I was just looking at your blog, Roads, and suddenly ‘saw’ the first photo. If you take out the department store on the left of the photo, doesn’t it look like a 19th century painting?

  15. I see what you mean, Louise. It looks like a painting by Gustave Caillebotte, don’t you think?

  16. Yes, I have a Pisarro print here on my wall entitled “Morning snow showers on Avenue de l’Opéra”. The feel is slightly different (the weather is not quite so white), but the sentiment is much the same.

    Oslo really does have some wonderful architecture, and I love the slightly old west frontier feel of the place. There are some less distinguished modern buildings, too, but that goes for just about anywhere.

    The centres of Paris and Vienna are architectural theme parks and other great cities have not been treated quite so well by the planners’ eye. But sometimes the mix of old and new can be even more arresting.

  17. How I envy you your travels, Roads! But I’m lacing up my walking shoes, and I’ll be venturing forth myself, soon enough…

  18. You do get around, Roads. Even though this entry was about Norway, it gave me an odd hankering to try reading the Russians again. Then I remember the last time I tried to finish “The Brothers Karamazov” …

  19. Finally found some time to read this all the way through, coincidentally because I’m snowed in at the moment.

    Norway is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit but probably never will so I really enjoyed this post. That crazy ski run looks like something out of Dr. Seuss.

  20. Shut your eyes and think of somewhere
    Somewhere cold and caked in snow

    All of winter, and all in one song.

    Just a note that I’ve added a link at the top of this post to that track,
    Shut Your Eyes, by Snow Patrol.

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