FOR many Brits, the annual skiing trip means six days of bombing down pistes at one of the alpine mega resorts, often along with some fairly hedonistic partying.

But in Norway, the cradle of cross-country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing, langlauf or langrenn in Norwegian), a different experience awaits: one that is altogether quieter and closer to nature.

For many alpine skiers, their experience of cross-country skiing is often limited to the occasional sighting of a forlorn cross-country enthusiast doing laps in a field at the foot of the lift system.

Loading article content

While most of the big resorts in the Alps make an attempt to offer some token cross-country skiing, the routes are often limited and uninteresting and take up is consequently poor.

Conversely, in Scandinavia cross-country skiing is more popular than alpine skiing – and not just in rural areas. In the Norwegian capital Oslo, for example, office workers commute into the city centre from the suburbs on cross-country skis.

There are of course historic, cultural, practical and topographic reasons why cross-country skiing is more popular in Scandinavia.

The absence, in Scandinavia, of the high-sided valleys commonly found in the Alps and the more rolling landscape of the north lends itself to cross-country skiing.

In fact, the best cross-country skiing in Norway is rarely found in downhill resorts but on high-altitude plateaux often accessed from purpose-built høyfjellshotell – literally high fell hotels, often dramatically situated in the mountains or on the edges of national parks.

My most recent cross-country skiing holiday was to Kamben in central Norway, which sits on an undulating plateau around 950 metres above the market town of Gol.

From our base at the comfortable Kamben Høyfjellshotell there are over 200 kilometres of track (or løype, as the tracks are called in Norwegian) that are easily accessible.

Some of the routes follow undemanding low-level tracks through peaceful birch and pine forests, along the side of the Tisleifjord, the Tislei river or over frozen lakes.

More demanding routes above the tree line criss-cross the nearby Golsfjellet mountain range, from the top of which there are seemingly endless views to the north over the dome-shaped white fells of the Jotunheimen and the Hardangervidda national parks.

One of the first things that alpine skiers will welcome about cross-country skiing is that the gear is wonderfully light.

The skis are long and thin and can be easily slung over one’s shoulders while the footwear is soft, light and flexible.

Unlike the clunking, heavy and unyielding plastic boots used for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing boots are only connected to the ski at the toe – leaving the heel free to push the ski forward.

Because cross-country skiing is more strenuous, the clothing is more lightweight than downhill gear consisting of several layers of ‘wicking’ thermal wool and body-hugging lycra.

Unlike downhill skiing, cross-country skiing involves using the top half of the body as much as the lower half as the arms are used to pole forwards.

As the terrain often involves sections of propelling oneself uphill it is better for fitness than downhill skiing, which is entirely reliant on gravity to go downwards.

There are two styles of cross-country skiing. The first technique that beginners are taught is the so-called classic style, which involves kicking your skis forward so that the skis glide forward in pre-cut tram lines.

The second slightly harder style is skating which, as the name suggests, involves a motion that resembles ice-skating, where your body weight is alternately transferred from one ski to the other and the skis move forward in a V-shape.

For skating, the parallel tracks are not used and shorter skis (without grip wax on the central zone) and longer poles are used.

All the tracks (prepared by special piste bashers, similar to those used for preparing downhill runs) are made up of three sections: a set of cut tram lines for classic-style skiers heading uphill, a central section for skaters (also used for overtaking) and a second set of tram lines for descending skiers.

Another technique is double-poling which is commonly used on flat trails where gliding is difficult. This involves pushing with both poles at the same time while keeping the skis together while occasionally introducing a kick into the motion to keep up the momentum.

For uphill sections, a technique called herring-boning is used, which is similar to speed skating.

As with downhill skiing, cross-country skiing tracks are, in descending order of difficulty, graded black, red, blue and green. Of course, there is also the option of going off piste and cutting your own tracks through virgin snow.

Actually my first love was cross-country skiing and, unusually for a Brit, I only ventured into downhill skiing after a few seasons of cross-country.

I still prefer it and not just because of the expense of downhill skiing and the absence of queues and lifts.

Compared with downhill skiing, there really is nothing to beat the heady euphoria of spending a day in the fresh air gliding through a valley of frosted birch trees bathed in slanted light. Or alongside a river, the silence broken only by the quiet left-right swish of skis on the track. Or being entranced by the icy, monochrome beauty of the Norwegian mountains and having the whole place to yourself.

How to get there

Exodus offers one-week trips to Kamben from £1,299, including flights from London with add-on fares for connecting flights from Scottish airports available. This option includes all meals, ski hire and five days of guided cross-country skiing as well as the transfer from Oslo to Kamben. exodus.co.uk

Anyone travelling from the central belt of Scotland might prefer to buy a £1129 package from Exodus which excludes flights and instead make use of Norwegian Air Shuttle’s flights between Edinburgh and Oslo Gardermoen airport. From £40.60 one-way. Visit Norwegian.com/uk or dial 0330 8280854.

From Oslo airport, you would then have the option of joining a bus transfer to Kamben or, alternatively, travelling by train to Gol, which is only a short distance from Kamben and on the spectacular Oslo to Bergen railway line. Timetable and tickets are on the Norwegian state railways website: nsb.no.

Some of the weeks are designated as suitable for “improver” skiers (those who have done at least a week at beginner level) while others are reserved for “intermediate” cross-country skiers looking to ski up to 25km on full day expeditions. Exodus also holds cross-country weeks for beginners at various locations in Scandinavia and the Alps.

Where to stay

The public rooms and some of the bedrooms at the Kamben Høyfjellshotell are built from wood in the traditional Norwegian style and feature original paintings, antique grandfather clocks and the occasional wood carving of the folkloric and ubiquitous troll. Most of the hotels bedrooms are in a more recent extension, furnished in modern Scandinavian style.

The sumptuous Norwegian buffet breakfasts include a smörgåsbord of salmon, herring, charcuterie and waffles. For a picnic lunch help yourself to anything from the buffet as the price is included in the price of the hotel accommodation. kamben.no

Four things to do around Kamben

Visit the fjords by train

Go on a day excursion to the world’s steepest standard-gauge railway followed by a fjord cruise. The Flåmsbana railway, a branch of the Oslo to Bergen main line, is one of the most dramatic in the world as it descends 863 metres from Myrdal station, passing underneath waterfalls and precipitous cliffs as it swoops down through 20 tunnels to Flåm on the beautiful Arlandsfjord. visitflam.com/en/flamsbana/

Stave church

Visit the traditional wooden stave church at Oset – a 15-minute drive from Kamben. Alternatively ski there along a cross-country skiing piste in around an hour and enjoy a hot chocolate or a spot of lunch at the nearby café.

Downhill skiing

Go downhill skiing at the nearby resorts of Storefjell (a 20-minute drive from Kamben) or – for a wider choice of runs – Geilo, one of Norway’s oldest and most famous resorts, a 45-minute drive from Kamben.

Experience a genuine Scandinavian sauna

The average sauna in the UK is often nothing more than an overly hot and dry wooden box, which is often neither relaxing nor cleansing. The secret to a real sauna is finding the ideal balance between heat and humidity, controlled by dropping water (often scented with pine or juniper berry oil) onto the stove. After a day out in the cold, it is the perfect antidote for aching limbs. The hotel sauna at Kamben has separate sessions for men and women as well as mixed sessions.