Hidden in the heart of Norway, the small skiers’ village of Hemsedal reigns as one of Norway’s most visited winter destinations. Here winter comes early, and snow tends to embrace the valley from mid-November until early May, allowing for a full six-month ski season. For an alpinist three days is hardly enough.
At around three hours away from Oslo or four hours from Bergen, it’s a journey to get to Hemsedal, but the scenic views of Norway’s stunning landscape make any trip here worthwhile. People have inhabited this small piece of Scandinavia for more than 5,000 years, with some relics dating back to the Stone Age, although skiing may well be a more recent method of navigating the snow. Today, Hemsedal is one of the largest ski resorts in Norway.
The first thing that greets visitors to the village is a parade of snow-fringed sportswear shops, cafes and the white, wooden village church. Hemsedal is not a big village, however, it is clear that this is a village for people who prefer to spend their time outdoors, with nature lovers and adrenaline junkies making up the town’s main clientele. Indeed, during ski season, it is not unusual to see people doing their grocery shopping in ski boots.
On the Slopes
The locals in Hemsedal share the same passion for the great outdoors and skiing as the rest of Norway. But here, alpine skiing reigns supreme. The ski centre that opened in 1961 now hosts 21 lifts and 53 slopes, having completely transformed the village’s economy and lifestyle. Famous Norwegian World Cup alpinists Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud recently purchased their own cabins in the town due to their love for the Hemsedal Mountains and its skiing opportunities.
Whether you are an advanced skier who prefers powder, ski touring and off-piste, or a novice favouring a more laid-back and relaxing green or blue slope, Hemsedal has a multitude of options. Beginners tend to find the Turistløypa slope more inviting. The ski resort’s children’s ski area is one of the largest in Norway, and you are able to take ski or snowboard lessons with qualified instructors regardless of your age and ability here. However, more experienced skiers are likely to gravitate towards the Hemsedalsløypa (blue), Tindenløypa (red) or Såhaugen (black) slopes. And nothing beats ski touring under the alpine sun, where you can enlist the services of an experienced touring guide to take you to the valley’s best spots.
A visit to Norway is hardly complete without cross-country skiing. After all, it is Norway’s national sport, and the country’s proudest event during the Winter Olympics. Hemsedal boasts an impressive 220km of prepared cross-country tracks. The ski arena Gravset in Ulsåk in Hemsedal is great for exercise, offering 2km, 3km, 5km and 7km tracks, and it is also lit during the night, with a new clubhouse offering hot drinks and snacks when you come in out of the cold.
For those in search of a more ‘natural’ skiing experience, the tracks into Holdeskaret, being above the tree limit, have some of the most scenic views for cross-country skiers. Most routes have various campsites along their course, where you can stop to have a cup of coffee or roast some hot dogs over a fire. Or, do as the Norwegians do and stop at one of the mountain cabins for a well-deserved waffle with jam and sour cream. Most apartments, cabins and hotels have direct access to these trails.
If you think you’ve peaked and want to try something that doesn’t require leg power (at least your own), Hemsedal Huskies offer a unique way of experiencing the mountains. Your chauffer won’t be the conventional type, but rather furry, big-eyed and soft pawed. Energy is high when the huskies let loose, so make sure you hold on to your sleigh. Dog sledding remains a proud part of Norwegian history, and is what secured Norway the title of the world’s first polar explorers, after Norwegian polar heroes Fridtjof Nansen explored the North Pole in 1893-96 and Roald Amundsen beat the English explorer Robert F. Scott to be the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911, favouring the use of dogsleds over horses.
You don’t have to own your own winter sport equipment when you visit Hemsedal as there are plenty of rental shops spread across town. You can rent cross country gear fairly cheap at Skirental Hemsedal Alpin at the bottom of the children’s slope in the Hemsedal Ski Centre, as well as alpine gear and snowboards, which can also be rented at MOH or Tunet Sport in Hemsedal town centre. MOH is also the best place to rent more expert ski touring gear (touring skis and skins).
Hotels and cabins
Accommodation in Hemsedal ranges from rustic cabins to ultra-modern chalets and luxurious hotel rooms with views of the slopes. Most accommodations in Hemsedal offer a ski-in/ski-out set-up, and all the hotels offer a good breakfast with a Norwegian twist. Self-catering cabins hold from four people up to those that can host as many as 36.
Some of Hemsedal’s most sought-after beds can be found in the Fyri Resort (Totteskogen 55), which opened in December 2019. Fyri is centrally located in Hemsedal with ski-in/ski-out facilities. Highlights include the square-kilometre Spa Club (open in June 2020), with pools, a bar and the á la carte restaurant Liv Bistro.
The panoramic views from Hemsedal’s boutique hotel, Skarsnuten Hotel (3560 Hemsedal) are the best in town. The hotel’s restaurant is popular, not only for their wonderful stone-baked pizzas, but also for their delicious á la carte menu offering Norwegian delicacies such as venison and Arctic char from Lofoten, and the Saturday après ski is normally more bubbles than beer. Skarsnuten also has outdoor Jacuzzis, which is perfect if you wish to unwind after a long day on the slopes or spend a romantic night stargazing with your significant other.
Hemsedal Ski Lodge (3560 Hemsedal) is situated at the bottom of the ski slopes with direct access to the children’s area, making it a great family-friendly accommodation offering both hotel rooms and private chalets. The apartments are tastefully decorated, and the hotel features ski storage facilities and a 14-metre-high climbing wall. Many restaurants are within walking distance.
Restaurants and cafés
Hemsedal is a haven for lovers of high-quality Scandinavian cuisine. The restaurants in town put a big emphasis on locally sourced produce, such as venison, reindeer and lamb, and locally made cheeses, vegetables and cloudberries.
Harahorn Hotel’s excellent restaurant (Hydalsvegen 322) is among the best for dishes using local produce. Master chef Jørgen Kolderup runs the kitchen and is known for his emphasis on natural flavours from the mountains in his cooking; reindeer, fresh mountain trout from the lakes and handpicked cloudberries, cranberries, crowberries and moss. But be sure to check their availability as they are often booked out in advance for private parties and weddings.
In Hemsedal town centre you will find Kjøkken Kroken (Hemsedalsvegen 2980), a charming restaurant that remains a favourite among the locals. Their menu changes with the seasons, occasionally including favourites such as pork ribs and sausages from local business, Tamt & Vilt, as well as a range of hearty burgers served in the bar and bistro section.
Hemsedal Café (Rv52 640) is a local institution and has been for thirty years. It initially became famous for its après ski, and today is better-known for its cuisine, serving dishes that primarily utilise local products. Ski down the slope to the village and have lunch or enjoy an evening meal daily.
Après ski & nightlife
Après ski in Hemsedal attracts thousands of ski bums, young and old, every year. Though it has a distinctly more club and party feel than its Austrian counterparts, après ski in Hemsedal is a great time (although your wallet might feel as damaged as your head the day after).
The owners of Stavkroa (Skiheisvegen 30C) are currently working towards turning their establishment into one of the biggest après ski centres in Europe. This is where all the young party-animals get together, and during New Years and Easter this is the place to be seen. Stavkroa offers both après ski and clubbing, occasionally hosting artists and DJs such as Matoma, CLMD, Karpe Diem and Salvatore Ganacci.
During the Easter holidays Skistua (Hemsedal Skisenter), located near the main chairlift in Hemsedal Ski Centre, takes centre-stage. Easter in Norway is a big holiday where most of the country’s inhabitants flock to the mountains to ski, get a tan, eat Kvikk Lunch chocolate and party hard. Be warned though, Norwegians go wild at this outdoor party bonanza. Just remember to bring sunscreen and a pair of ski goggles! Inside tip: it is traditional to wear your oldest 80s ski clothes when you go to après ski during Easter. The tackier the better.
O’Leary’s (Hemsedal Skisenter) might not sound all that traditional, but when it comes to refuelling on comfort food and pints of beer after a day on the slopes, there is nothing better. You can also watch live sports on the ubiquitous big screens positioned throughout the bar, while getting off your own feet for a while. A range of spirits and coffees is also available.