Travel

Norway’s Flame Burns Bright

  • Endless Vacation
  • |
  • January 24, 1991

by Karen Feld

Keeper of the Olympic torch in 1994, the small town of Lillehammer braces for a flurry of world attention.

By Karen Feld

Welcome to Lillehammer, the little Norwegian city that was once a logging center and is on the brink of becoming world famous. Located in the heart of southern Norway, at the gateway to scenic Gudbrandsdal Valley, Lillehammer has been chosen to host the XVII Olympic Winter Games in 1994.

There’ll be no Olympic problems with snow in these parts; it’s estimated that the annual snowfall has never been less than 50 inches. Ski trails start at the doorstep of every hotel and inn. The average temperature in this part of Norway in February and March is 21 F. During those months, the sun shines for 11 hours, beginning at 6 a.m.

Three hours by train (less when the new tracks are completed) or two hours by car north of Oslo, the Norwegian capital, and a couple of hours from the two international airports at Fornebu and Gardermoen, Lillehammer is the winter-sports resort of choice for some 65,000 Scandinavians. The season stretches from October to the end of April. Eight lifts take skiers up White Mountain, and 18 runs bring them down a crystalline white blanket. The winter setting seems to explain why many letters addressed each year to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” find their way to Lillehammer’s post office.

Obviously, the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes know something that has eluded most Americans. This will change, though, in February 1994, when winter sports enthusiasts from around the world are expected in this somewhat-sleepy alpine town of 22,000.

Lillehammer’s newfound fame is already attracting initiates to its winter fantasy-land. They cannot yet find the physical plant, which will be ready for pre-Olympic testing in the winter of 1992-93. But they are finding all the basics for winter sports, including cozy, candle-lit apres- ski facilities and ski runs that are protected from the wind by snow-laden forests and blessed by a warm daytime sun, perfect for telemarking and snowboarding.

Construction of a beautiful new ice hall and national alpine center at Hafjell, about 10 miles north of the city, has already begun, and both will be ready for Olympic competition.

Visitors can now find a vast network of well-marked, well-prepared tracks for cross-country skiing over the wide snow-covered moors and through sheltered groves. Six tracks close to the city are floodlighted for night skiing, and alpine installations and ski schools are spread throughout the area.

For nonskiers, there are ice fishing and romantic rides by torchlight in horse-drawn sleighs; the more adventurous can mush at 15 miles per hour behind teams of well- trained Greenlander dogs and huskies, which rent for $15 a half hour. The annual snow- and ice-sculpture festival is held during the last week of February.

Those who wish to explore the surrounding area will find two other major attractions in both winter and summer: Espedal, some 43 miles from Lillehammer, has four small, cozy hotels and a wide range of well-marked and prepared trails for cross-country and long-distance skiing. Skei, about a mile and a half from Lillehammer, offers two mountain hotels, as well as rental apartments.

Visitors less given to winter sports, but appreciative nonetheless of a winter paradise with a long and interesting tradition, will discover attractions galore, many of which are available year-round. Maihaugen, Norway’s largest open-air museum, provides a cultural and historic experience for the entire family. It contains more than 120 buildings, many tracing back to the ear1y days of life in the Gudbrandsdal Valley and including the workshops of craftsmen and early glass- blowers. A sleigh ride takes visitors to a farm where traditional Norwegian delicacies are served, including cloudberry mousse and glogg, a heated blend of wines, whiskey or brandy garnished with almonds, raisins or orange peel.

Lillehammer’s selection for the 1994 winter games is a recognition of its natural attributes, which provide a compact venue for the competitions at altitudes low enough that acclimatization is not a problem. The area is easily accessible by plane, railroad, automobile or dogsled.

Though nature has contributed these attributes gratis, the Norwegian government is spending more than $370 million to prepare the site and stage the games, developing Lillehammer into a complete Olympic city. Of this total, $63 million will be spent on the sports facilities and $30 million to build an Olympic village for athletes and coaches. A media village to house the thousands of reporters and broadcasters expected for the games will cost $53 million. Another $8 million will be spent for a press center by the lake, later to serve as a conference center, and $22 million is budgeted for a radio and television center, to be equipped with the latest in communications technology. The Norwegians are spending $22 million just to upgrade roads and an additional $83 million for telecommunications.

“We have an unlimited Norwegian state guarantee.” says Erik Jakobsen, spokesman for the Lillehammer Olympic committee. Most of the $300 million that CBS-TV is paying for the Olympic broadcast rights will help cover the costs.

Several arenas will be within walking distance from the center of the city and the Olympic Village. The main alpine center lies nine miles out, and the men’s downhill competition will be 30 miles north of Lillehammer. The main arena for the games, Lillehammer Stadium, is less than a mile from the Olympic Village and about four-tenths of a mile from the center of Lillehammer, where the Olympic flame is scheduled to burn.

Skiers accustomed to the high winds that often assail the slopes elsewhere will be pleased to learn that 90 percent of the alpine tracks in the Lilleharnmer complex are sheltered from the wind by heavy forests. Ski-jumping events will be held just northeast of the Olympic Village, where there is already a 9O-meter ski jump with an in-run designed by nature. Several major international events, including the World Cup, have already been held at this particular jump.

The town fathers who campaigned for several years to bring the Winter Olympics back to the birthplace of modern skiing (rock carvings show that Norsemen skied in these parts 4,000 years ago) like to point out that the country’s winter sports tradition and experience have given Norway an advantage in international competitions. This edge is reflected in Olympic winter-games results since 1924; Norway and the Soviet Union have taken many of the honors.

Pride in Norway’s past as a winter sports center, combined with a determination that the facilities for the ’94 games be the best ever, is inspiring the builders of the new facilities to go all out as they labor to complete the complex. For example, there will be not one but four ice halls for hockey and figure skating, with the main hall having a capacity of 10,000. The Norwegian people would like to see figure skating regain the popularity it once enjoyed during Sonja Henie’s glory during the 1920s and ’30s.

The watchword seems to be “multiply,” with nothing too grand when Norway hosts the Winter Olympics.

 

TRAVELER’S ADVISORY

Here’s where to stay when visiting Lillehammer, for the Olympics or otherwise:

In the Gudbrandsdal Valley:

Lillehammer Hotel, N-2601 Lillehammer; (47) (62) 54-S00. The hotel will be enlarged for the Olympics. It’s located about one-third mile from Lillehammer Stadium.

Austlid Mountain Lodge, N-2622 Svingvoll; (47) (62) 2S-513. A traditional mountain lodge with cabins or rooms, 14 miles from Lillehammer.

Gausdal Hoifjellshotell, N-2622 Gausa; (47) (62) 28-500. A traditional mountain hotel, 26 miles from Lillehammer.

Skeikampen Hoifjellshotell, N-2622 Skeikampen; (47) (62) 28-505. This hotel is situated at the foot of Skeikampen Peak, not far from Lillehammer.

In Oslo:

Bristol Hotel, Kristian 4’s Gate 7, Oslo; (47) (2) 415-840. On a quaint street near sophisticated shops, this small hotel has been family-run for generations.

Hotel Continental, Stortingsgaten 24-26, Oslo; (47) (2) 419-060. Once a baronial mansion, the hotel overlooks the Palace Park and is opposite the National Theatre.

Holmenkollen Park Hotel, Kongeveien 26, Oslo; (47) (2) 146-090. An enchanting mountain inn, eight miles from Oslo’s center, it is the site of the annual world ski-jump championships. It has rustic cozy rooms.