BY MARK LATHAM

“SO, it never flips over right?” I ask as nonchalantly as possible while angling for assurance that the bob raft I'm about to step into is incapable of overturning.

“Rarely, but yes, it does happen occasionally,” comes the matter-of-fact and not entirely welcome reply.

Loading article content

I'm in Lillehammer to try its bobsleigh run, which – since the Norwegian city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1994 – is one a handful of bob runs around the world which are open to the general public.

From the top it takes just 80 seconds to descend the 1400-metre icy track as it drops 114 metres and snakes through 16 switchback curves.

Thankfully, to make it easier for novices, the Olympic Sliding Centre offers rides in what are known as bob rafts: heavily padded and slightly slower versions of an Olympic four-man bobsleigh.

Slightly, in this context, means the difference between hurtling down the track at a top speed of 120km an hour and experiencing 5G of centrifugal force around the turns compared with a relatively sedate, but still terrifying, 90kmh with 3G or 4Gs.

The run starts deceptively slowly, but the acceleration is exponential as the sled, like a runaway train, picks up speed. With neither brakes nor steering mechanism, the driver at the front makes adjustments to the raft's direction using his body weight to lean to one side or the other.

As the noise of the runners on the ice increases, the raft enters each curve at ever-increasing speeds. The aim is to pick up enough speed by the time the first curve is reached, that centrifugal force will push the raft halfway up the ice wall, safely positioning it at the centre of the track rather than shuddering around the bottom.

Those G-forces, equivalent to those experienced by fighter pilots, not only hold the raft in the middle of the track but also pin the limbs of everybody on board to the vehicle's floor.

The pre-ride briefing explained that experiencing 5G – normally achieved by the infamous Turn 13, which loops around a 180-degree bend within milliseconds – means that your body will feel about five times heavier than usual. With that level of pressure on your neck and back, breathing becomes hard and blackouts and even temporary sight loss have occasionally been reported.

For an even bigger endorphin rush you could also choose to descend the track on a luge, a sort of glorified tea tray on runners, or skeleton – the main difference being whether you descend head first and face down or feet first while lying on your back.

However, not everything about Lillehammer is about adrenalin-fuelled madness. The city and its surrounding villages also offer a wide selection of the more usual winter activities from skiing, to snow-shoeing to husky dog tours.

Alpine skiing is on offer at five nearby resorts (Hatfjell, Kvitfjell, Skeikampen, Gålå and Sjusjøen) in the Lillehammer region, all of which are connected by ski bus and share a common lift pass.

Because of its location at the top of a high plateau 1000m above Lillehammer, the hamlet of Nordseter, where I stay in a cosy log cabin at the Lillehammer Fjellstue, is rightly regarded as one of the best places in Norway for cross-country skiing.

Between there and the neighbouring village of Sjusjøen there are over 400km of cross-country skiing track, much of it over frozen lakes or through peaceful birch, larch and pine forest.

Like many Scandinavian hotels, the Fjellstue offers not only hotel accommodation but also has a variety of self-catering wooden huts and apartments dotted around its grounds.

In the nearby lakeside village of Kroksjøen you can try husky dog sledding, with a choice of one- or two-hour trips or, on request, bespoke day-long tours.

Each sledge takes a driver, who stands at the back of the sledge with a foot ready to tap the brake when the dogs get too excited, while the passenger lies down in front.

At first sight the brake appears to be a crude and rudimentary piece of equipment: essentially a few spikes that push down into the snow to slow the sledge down.

Despite my initial doubts, the dogs – teams of four to six huskies or Alaskan malamutes – are surprisingly responsive to requests to slow down. There is also no need to steer, as the dogs are trained to follow the sled ahead of them, with a lead pack in front.

Halfway through the tour you swap positions with your partner on the sledge, so that both get to experience driving.

The Alps tend to be the first choice for Brits going on winter sports holidays. But with good flight connections between Scotland and Norway anyone looking for a Scandinavian alternative this winter could do far worse than plumping for Lillehammer.

Because of the infrastructure the city had to build to host the 1994 Olympics, it has a terrific range of activities on offer: far more than any other winter resort I have been to.

Another plus is that, at just 90 minutes drive north of Oslo’s main airport, Lillehammer is, compared with Norway’s other big winter resorts such as Geilo and Hemsedal, easily the most accessible for anyone travelling from the UK.

TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATION

Norwegian Air Shuttle flies direct to Oslo Gardermoen airport from Edinburgh up to six times per week. From £40.60 one-way. Visit norwegian.com/uk or dial 0330 8280854

From Oslo airport there are direct trains every two hours to Lillehammer (nsb.no) which take 1 hour 40 minutes (600 kroners return). Alternatively hire a car at Oslo airport and head northwards on the E6 motorway.

Given that Lillehammer’s winter sports activities are spread across various locations in the Gudbrandsdal valley, it helps to have a car if you are going to take part in more than one activity – unless you are happy to spend a long time waiting for busses.

Fourteen kilometres east of Lillehammer and perched on a plateau at 1000 metres above the city is the charming hamlet of Nordseter where the Lillehammer Fjellstue offers hotel rooms as well as cosy wooden self-catering huts with their own log fires and saunas.

A five-person hut costs 6300 kroner a week (£587) while a double room in the hotel with half board comes in at 1750 kroners (£163) a day for two people. Apartments with room for up to 8 people are also available. lillehammerfjellstue.no/en

www.visitnorway.com

https://en.lillehammer.com/

SIX THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND LILLEHAMMER

Maihaugen Museum

Visit Norway’s largest outdoor museum outside Oslo to learn about Norwegian country life and folk traditions from the 13th to the 20th centuries. The museum is on the southern outskirts of the city of Lillehammer. https://eng.maihaugen.no

Lillehammer Olympic Sliding Centre

A few miles north of Lillehammer, at Hunderfossen, is the only bobsleigh track in Scandinavia, and one of less than half a dozen in Europe, where you can try bobsleigh, bob raft, luge or skeleton. A descent in a bob raft costs a very reasonable 250 Norwegian kroners (£23), while the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton cost 990 kroner (£93) a go. http://olympiaparken.no/en/

Norwegian Olympic Museum

The Norwegian Olympic Museum in downtown Lillehammer recreates, through interactive installations, multimedia presentations and assorted memorabilia, some of the most exciting moments of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. There is also a permanent exhibition on the history of the Olympic movement worldwide, from antique to modern times. eng.ol.museum.no

Husky dog sledding trips

In the lakeside village of Kroksjøen, east of Lillehammer, you can take a 6km husky dog tour with two people sharing a sledge and pulled by four to six dogs. 600 kroners (£56) for adults, 300 kroners for children while under-seven-year-olds go free. Longer 15-km tours are also available as are all-day 30km tours. Sjusjoenhuskytours.no

Ski-jumping

Extreme winter sports aficionados can have a go at ski-jumping at the Olympic Lysgårdsbakkene Ski-Jumping Arena. Olympiaparken.no

Aurora Borealis

The northern lights are often visible in Lillehammer during the autumn and winter months and there are mobile phone apps which alert you to the days with the highest solar activity, when sightings are most likely.