Time to try new winter sports experiences for silver travellers
Whether you’re a seasoned downhill skier or a curious novice who likes trying out new winter sports activities, Headwater has the perfect solution.
Recognising that not everyone wants to hurtle downhill for 6 days on a typical European skiing holiday, and that not everyone wants to have a whole week of cross country skiing or snow shoeing when they haven’t tried it before, they have created a multi-activity package allowing you to try out a perfect blend of what you fancy and what you already enjoy.
We went to Norway and enjoyed safe and relatively relaxing activities including an introduction to downhill skiing and cross-country skiing, as well as novelties like husky sledge driving, snow shoeing and kick sledge driving.
Arriving in the resort of Geilo we had first sight of a picturesque but frozen wonderland. Spread out near the lake, Geilo (pronounced yay lo) is a premier resort for not only Norwegians but also their Scandinavian neighbours in Sweden and Denmark.
Based at the Dr Holms Hotel in the centre of town and right next to the small railway station on the line linking Oslo and Bergen, you can easily access the activities and the town’s restaurants and shopping. However transport from the hotel to the nearby activities is included in most cases.
The activities schedule itself can be as energetic or adventurous as you desire. The programme starts by getting you up and moving around on cross country skis. With excellent tuition from Geilo Holiday trainers our group was soon moving along the marked trails enjoying the views around the lake and you could imagine going several miles along the paths for an adventure without endangering yourself.
Cross country skis are how the locals get around and you’ll see numerous children aged 2 or 3 skating around on their skis. So once you have your skis and know how to use them, Headwater cleverly let you hang on to these all week so that, if you chose, you can also ski around town.
In fact the paths near to the town and around the sports stadium are floodlit so you can go cross country skiing until 9.30pm every evening either for exercise or in place of a walk. No lycra is required, just normal ski trousers if that’s all you have, although you’ll see plenty of very athletic types speeding past.
This is the home and training ground of the recent Norwegian Biathlon and freestyle World Champion Vetle Sjastad Christiansen, so many athletes come here to train. It’s great to watch this as you slowly shuffle around getting the feel of your skis.
Our instructors, who both spoke perfect English of course, started very gently and depending on how we got on split us into two groups, learning first how to move on the flat, then how to get up gentle slopes before telling us how to slow down on descents and to get up if we fell over. The technique they teach you is something anyone can do and is so obvious once you know.
If you don’t fancy venturing out alone and feel you can go a bit further, there are two guided tours offered each day, provided by the same instructors. Chatting with them about the surrounding area and their life there is really interesting. Many younger people from Scandinavia come to Geilo to work in the tourism industry and never go home. It’s that sort of place.
There is also floodlit downhill skiing in two locations. The downhill is really very modest and quite gentle compared to what you’d find in a top Austrian or French resort but that is not the point of this holiday. Far from being a drawback, for those wanting to try out skiing for the first time, or like me, just slowing down and enjoying a sport for a morning or two, the well-kept slopes offer a benign environment in which to relax or to learn.
On the other hand very few people can say they have tried husky driving. For me the highlight of the trip was being dragged along at 15-20 miles an hours across a frozen lake and surroundings by 6 large husky dogs bred for the task. Some of the dogs were off to compete in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a biennial 500-km race along the Hudson Bay in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada.
Again with tuition you were taught how to put the brakes on and to hold on tight as you were driving. It was one of the most exhilarating things I have done but not dangerous; a really unusual and enjoyable event.
The organisers told me that a grandfather had celebrated his 70th birthday there the week before, taking his grandchildren and children on a short ride. In fact this activity is suitable for anyone except those with very delicate backs and especially the less physically able because the dogs do all of the work.
The holiday includes a 20-km ride through beautiful scenery and if you like dogs, which are really very friendly and only interested in pulling your sledge as fast as possible, then you can also help un-hook them at the end of the ride.
There are also snow-shoe walks included and for more experienced skiers an optional short ski-safari tour of between 20-km to 30-km once a month which allows you reach more remote areas.
Alternatively there are beginner’s weeks each month. The good thing I found was that everyone felt comfortable and that the instructors and Headwater staff were very careful to assess each person’s level and to adjust their advice and hep accordingly.
We left wanting more and having experienced several new things. Everyone came back in one piece and yet we’d stretched ourselves and tried something new. I can’t wait to do more.