The rough with the smooth; a short trip to Hafjell
Recently a surprise window opened in what’s been a ridiculously busy work schedule, offering the tempting view of a last-minute getaway. Having not ridden the DH sled for a while and having the National Champs looming large on the horizon, it had to be a bike trip (although a non-bike trip is extremely rare as many of you will understand), and what with an Alpine journey already on the cards later this year a different tack was required. A web clip of airborne antics served as a reminder of positive stories about a (previously) little known World Cup venue from last year, and with minimal planning and a few pennies in the bank, the plane, train and automobile were seemingly well-aligned for the journey to Hafjell, some 180km north of Oslo, to sample the delights of “the most progressive bikepark in Norway”. Quite a claim, although I think it’s actually the ONLY bikepark in Norway?
My blissful, ready-to-travel mindset took it’s first hit at Heathrow, the flight being delayed for an hour, although British Airways free on-board booze helped calm the first signs of that storm. However, the knock-on effect was twofold-I missed the (very smart, efficient, clean, fast, great-view having, excellently free WiFi’d) train to Lillehammer, and therefore the last (fast, clean, efficient) Sunday bus up toHafjell. No problem, just get a taxi for the 15 minute journey into town. However the clouds were gathering again, as the driver pointed out (as we started driving up a dirt road after the trip through Hafjell itself) a sign that Read ‘Hornsjo16km’, and despite the amazing high country scenery we were driving through my heart sank as I realised that the location of the hotel I’d hastily booked and it’s supposed location from Google Maps were very, very different. Once we arrived at the faraway hideout, the brilliant gray haired, cabin-fever frazzled proprietor informed me that we were “only 12km from the top lift”. What a treat for the holidaying downhiller! Discussions occurred, Internets were searched, phonecallsmade, taxi fares converted into pounds, minor heart attacks suffered, sob stories offered, taxi meters switched off, and with much relief at everyone’s efficiency and positive attitudes in short order I was back in Hafjell town, drinking a well-needed £8 pint (ok, half litre) and getting my shit together for 4 days of whatever the Haf had to offer. Bring it on!
After scoping out the dirt jump area, which is well built and probably a lot more fun on something with less than 200mm of travel, my lift pass was secured from the (clean, efficient, friendly) bike shop at the foot of the (clean, efficient—seeing a pattern yet?) bottom lift, then it was bike in the gondola for the trip up to the Mosertoppen and see what’s what. The top half of the hill is where most of the trails are, and the traverse to the chairlift that winds you up to the very top of the hill (theMidtstjonen) comes in three styles-simple fireroad graded Green, a man made, bermed, typical park trail graded Blue, or a fun as heck, rough, rooty, natural tech Black trail. Straight in! So with bag deposited at the Midtstjonen lift (obviously clean and efficient, with non broken tools, a good pump, spare tubes that can be paid for later at the bike shop, and 15megWiFi so you can still BookFace your TwitGramVine), it’sonto the chairlift and up top for fun and frolics.
Now I could give you a trail-by-trail breakdown, but really, that’d be f-in boring. Simply put, in Hafjell you either get pretty smooth, wide, man and machine made trails with plenty of differing size berms, drops and jumps to keep you happy-and at least one of these drops ranks as one of the scariest things I’ve ever done on my own-or gnarly, rough techsingletrack that’ll test your fitness, skills and setup to the maximum.
The park-type tracks each have their own character, with no big sudden ridiculous surprises although the options are there if you’ve got the eye for lines and the will to attempt them. The jumps are really well built for the most part (the oddovershooter notwithstanding), and of course you get the Rollercoaster run which is basically downhill bmx trails scaled up for big bikes, nearly 50 senders in a row and they’re building more as I type. Waaay too much fun, and it’s a bit of an effort to drag yourself away from!
But awesome as it is to be floating through the air and basically dreaming your way down the mountainside, there are a load of singletracks to be explored and entirely different skillsets to be tested. Did I mention roughness? Some of the track surfaces closely resemble inverted inbred redneck teeth interspersed with broken tombstones, but luckily there are plenty of tough mountain trees to stop you being fully swallowed by the threshing jaws of hell. Obviously the faster you go the smoother things get, but a keen eye and some knowledge of suspension setup is definitely a bonus, as are higher tyre pressures and rims that dent easily. Loads more fun, but of a more serious, specific kind than the park trails kind-a reasonable comparison could be in the difference between a drunken Friday night bunk-up with a familiar face, and a full-on Saturday overnighter at Miss Wreckyou and her Three Sisters Dungeon of Agony and Ecstasy (members only). You know?
So a couple of days were spent checking the whole place out, and of course the key to the whole Park is in combining the lines to best effect. A couple of regular visitors suggested some combos to me, and both came up trumps with their suggestions, turns out some of the trails run pretty close to others, a fact pretty easily missed at speed. Suddenly a whole new set of possibilities opened up, the sun came out, day 3 flow really kicked in and life was ace! The fact that this good advice was imparted by confident women (we all know a man can’t ask another man for directions) just made the place even better. There were lots of the fairer sex out on their own- and hire bikes (Scott Gamblers no less), little kids were loose and ragging about and basically the whole place felt way different to the wannabe big-timer sausage fests that certain Alpine areas suffer from. It wasn’t ridiculously busy and the more tech stuff wasn’t really getting sessioned, although a couple of times I came across youngers/olders/less experienced/slowerdownhill riders even on the black runs; these Norwegiansain’t scared! But it was all no bother, punctures couldn’t slow me, arm pump couldn’t slow me, leaky brakes literally couldn’t slow me, great times were being had. At the end of the day one of the afore-mentioned buck teeth bit my chain device in two, and a trip to the bikeshop resulted in a replacement at the same price as in the UK (no I didn’t believe it either), and the mechanic Jonas letting me loose in his workshop with power tools, big hammers, and other assorted treats, in order to return my neglected beast back into something resembling a downhill race rig. I should mention that this was no special treatment-Jonas is a helpful dude and utilises a trust system when loaning tools (and expertise), so please respect that and make sure all his tools get returned, and pay for any tubes you’ve had from the Midtstjonen ,because if you don’t then this sadly-rare attitude will only become rarer!
So after another evening BBQ on the terrace, having embraced the pain of the exchange rate and enjoyed the not-quite sunset over the mountains, I awoke the last morning to bright sunshine and a bike which for once was at least looking keen to roll. There’s just something about that layer of dust on the rig that only ragging downhill on dry trails for days on end can bring. Or maybe I just woke up frisky and was transferring affectionate thoughts, but whatever, I was properly keen to get going. Up the hill early, straight down Rollercoaster to warm the soul, then sessioning the combo they call KGB. This is a short blast of a Blue, wide, fast hip-jumped trail that fires you into a rough Red at a speed unobtainable from the Red’s original line, straight into rock strewn singletrack which just gets smoother-and narrower-the faster you hit it. After some minutes you emerge onto an early part of the World Cup downhill track, bigger teeth and roots come out to play and it’s ride light and stay off the brakes all the way back to the chairlift. Easier said than done! A couple hours of that and I was cooked, a brilliant time had been had and it just remained to grab my bag and roll down to the hotel. Picking Rollercoaster as a way off the hill seemed a good choice, and so it was until I had a warp speed washout between jumps 32 and 33, which only resulted in a couple of elbow rashes…it seemed…until I tried to get hold of my bars and realised my thumb was pointing in at least 2 directions, neither of them the correct one. Classic last run scenario! Luckily some German lads were nearby, the ones on bikes rode down to call the medics whilst the others watched me re-style my thumb, and helped with the bike. Vielen Dank boys!Unfortunately I can’t tell you what Norwegian hospitals are like-although I could make an educated guess- because I was so time-limited by then that it was a desperate case of neck loads of painkills, pack bike and kit, get on the bus/train/plane and head back to the UK. Once again BA free booze came into it’s own, aided and abetted in it’s effects by copious amounts of self medication! The joyful staff of the crumblingbritish health establishment confirmed a double dislocationand a Bennett fracture, so it was bye bye National Champs and welcome to Plaster of Paris instead. Gutted, but that’s life on bikes. Strangely this didn’t really repaint my feelings of the trip; I’d had a brilliant time and would definitely recommend a visit. My Hafjell conclusion : Rough with the smooth, on all levels. Go soon!
GRESSLØYPA – The Rough:
ROLLERCOASTER – The Smooth:
Now I know plenty of folk would like a preview of the World Cup track, but it’s not really possible just yet-there are only 2 of the first jumps still standing, fencing stops you ragging straight into the Expressen section, and pretty much the entire second half of the track (second steep wooded rocky part into the grass turns) is all on private land and can’t be sessionedaway from World Cup time. The farmers that own and use the bottom part of the hill are in discussions with the bikepark and town to open up some new tracks on their land, which will really let the park shine as the lower half really has very little variety once past the steep black section called Robolstien. The wild, lip-less road gap/stepdown that only a few people successfully sent in the World Cup has had some work to give you a little more platform off which to huck your meat, and the berm after is also a bit longer and taller so you’ve got somewhere nice and hard to pile into once you go over the bars having come up short. Word is that some changes will be made to the track from last year but the specifics aren’t dialled yet. What is for sure is that the track will be a whole heap of fun!