PL40 – Living the Hafjell Dream
I am in a bit of a daze and just not because I’m sat opposite a mulleted redneck Aussie on the train. I’ve just returned from spending the weekend with 10 good mates literally living the dream. Our mutual friend and benefactor, the reet honourable Piers , turned 40 earlier this year and, as part of his continuing celebrations, he took us all away to a Norwegian paradise for a long weekend. Months in planning, with much hard work from many people, we have just experienced the perfect biking weekend.
We rendezvoused at Heathrow terminal 5 blisteringly early on Thursday morning, bags packed with helmets, body armour and radness. Piers, the Godfather and looking much more 30 than 40 , headed us up and his PA Lynne Stott had been responsible for much of the organisation. Dirt’s Southern correspondent, Rod ‘Radstick’ Fountain, is the glue that holds us together. A long time friend and riding partner of Piers he is the connection between us all: Ragger incarnate and a ginger energiser bunny. Ed Cooke: bike communism advocate, perpetual cycle hoarder and pinner best served drunk; was responsible for the inception of the bumming woods the SE Raggers (RIP) celestial home. Ed’s brother Alex the Saville Row tailor had the glint in his eye of his first uplifted riding weekend, no pedalling, all raggin, he was ready to put his skills to the test. Dirt’s designer, Jon Gregory: pinned with style for miles and wings to help him fly higher and longer than anyone else; looked relaxed and ready after a weekend of loving in Ibiza. The two meter Penis, Denis Cumming: my travelling partner down from Sheff’, is the manualling Don, a sender on his day and looks much better sporting a mullet. Grant Robinson: Dirt ‘Tog, Snus packing shouty Cannuc with blurry eyes and an acid wit was our fixer. He’s shot many times in Hafjell and knows the main man Snorre Pedersen very well. Snorre hooked us up with everything you need to polish paradise and is also responsible for the whole biking scene in Hafjell. Our videographer for the weekend, Noel Hines, is better known as ‘Rip Cock’ for his adventures in Brighton. He’s a sender supreme on jumps a pro would think twice about. Edd ‘double DD’ Grant is a recent full bounce convert and handles a bike beautifully from years of hard tail apprenticeship, cutting his teeth in Morzine last year he couldn’t wait to get on a DH rig. Finally, Srdjan Bakovic: Rakija wheedling Serbian cyclist, drunken philosopher and tyre choice fanatic was primed and ready for another chapter in the Book of Radness. And so the journey began.
We took the two hour flight over to Oslo where we were met by a nice man with a Van who drove us the two hours north to Hafjell. Passing through the Norwegian country side we saw scenes seemingly from Life Cycles and spent the majority of the time alongside Norways biggest lake Mjøsa. 5 hours after leaving Heathrow, we were ready to rag. Our wooden palace for the weekend was Lodgen, a huge Chalet on the hill just above the main lift station, we were literally living like kings. Beautifully and luxuriously appointed it sleeps 31 people meaning the 11 of us had plenty of room. Upstairs was a huge living area with theatrical kitchen, slate fireplace, couches for lounging and a media centre for DirtTV, World Cup and the days photo viewing. From the balcony the view down the valley was breathtaking and the tranquillity of Norwegian life only had a temporary effect. Downstairs housed most of the bedrooms but also a huge sauna and showers to soothe weary bodies at the end of a day’s riding. The place was about as pimp as it gets, but then Piers pimped it further. Lars was our chef for the weekend, a local legend and head chef at Lodgen, words cannot really do this man justice. His measured tone and pacing when speaking kept us captivated and hanging on his every word. In parting we said “See you next year”, his response, “Yes… if I am still alive”. Our princely living was enhanced by his delicious cooking, Steak, Salmon and then reindeer on the last night. Magnificent tasting, beautifully presented and with a serious helping of Norwegian flair.
As soon as we’d taken in the splendour of our surroundings and stopped jumping up and down in excitement we remembered why we were there and reappeared 10 minutes later with body armour attached and full faces in hand. These were immediately customised with gold PL40 stickers to indelibly mark the occasion. Down at the bike shop our steeds awaited, Scott Gambler’s pre-tuned to weight and brake preference. Many of us had never ridden a full DH bike before so it was with some trepidation we peddled out of the shop and over to the lift. Grant was acting as our guide and assured us that the first blue run down would have us smiling from ear to ear; he wasn’t wrong. Probably our most ridden track of the weekend, ‘Parkløypa’ has some of the finest berms I’ve ever had the pleasure of railing and the sections link together beautifully. Snorre and his crew really know how to build a bike park. We spent our first afternoon warming up and getting used to the new bikes staying on the lower side of the mountain. The 11 of us rode together, often tyre to tyre, looking for the inside line when it became available. Giggling like school kids and with grins from ear to ear our eyes became opened to this Nordic paradise. Grant has promised us heaven on a bike and Piers had delivered it.
The lower mountain has some wide open and lose fire roads which were brilliant with a big group. Who could go in fastest and brake the latest but still make it around the corner without washing out. Every time we rode that section we got faster and faster and most spilled at least once. Following your mates down when there were fist sized boulders being thrown around kept things interesting and where the trails petered out to cross narrow gates there were inevitably some exciting coming togethers. After the final bit of fire road you peel right in to the last set of corners, 5 minutes of unforgettable berms which reward getting the bike airborn and flicking it over a bit early. As the weekend wore on these turns got smashed to pieces with rear wheels drifting out from our over confident entry speed. The final few corners were separated by a series of tables tops, small doubles and a fade away. This sent you in to a series of whoops which teased you in to staying off the brakes and sucking or doubling them up. Serious grin time.
At the end of the first afternoon we were all still in one piece and the words Rad, Stoked and ‘Fucking Amazing’ were tripping off everyone’s tongues. We’d only ridden a small section of the trails but it was obvious that this place was made with fun in mind and perfect for our purposes. We washed our steeds, tucked them up in the shop and reassembled in the bar. I bought the first round, I thought I’d better get it over with and was prepared for the worst. 11 pints set me back 80 quid… Boom! Somewhere more expensive than the Lescar, wow. However, this was about the only time I had to put my hand in my pocket the whole weekend so I have no complaints. With not much sleep, little food and a body full of adrenaline that first pint went straight to our heads. Our already giddy state was amplified back to a teenage state and the second pint sealed our fate. Grant and I took a walk over to the supermarket to buy a load of beers for later. In our absence apparently things got a little rowdy. By little, I mean Rod sized. When we arrived back at the Chalet from the shopping Den was fuming “That little twat Fontaine, he’s been throwing my pads on the roof of the bar, little shit, I’ll show him”. For the next few hours we showered, sauna’d and drank. Proper first night over excitement. At about 8 Lars turned with our first dinner. As a true raconteur he entertained us while he served out the food recounting tails of living with his dogs and his women. Hilarious, informative and dry as a bone, Rod had his first gay crush of the weekend.
After dinner, watching the sunset over the mountains and some more spirits things started turning a bit lord of the flies. In brief Den and I had hatched a plan to give Rod a mullet. Den had already hidden all of this clothes and possessions around the house so he was reduced to wearing his only T-Shirt and shorts as he got out of the Sauna. Things calmed down a little after that and we watched bike movies and more World Cup coverage on the projector.
After consuming a lovely breakfast laid out by Lars and enough coffee to give us the required kick start we retrieved our steeds in dribs and drabs. Fontaine and Srdj didn’t actually manage to make it on to the mountain until after lunch and were in a pretty sorry state even when they did. We explored the rest of the mountain taking the second lift, a 2 man chair, to the upper trails. Here we found more bermed and tabled blues, other richly featured trails with a mixture of jumps and rocky corners and a couple of blacks loaded up with roots and rocks. In other words, paradise. After a full day’s raggin the hangovers out of our systems we all met at the top of the second lift at 4. Grant had packed his camera gear and Noel had brought his video camera, the session was on. We’d played on the berms earlier in the day so this later session was all about a dodgy little sender in to a wall ride. Brilliant fun and a great way to end the day, everyone hanging out cheering and having a go, progressing in confidence and sending things just a little bit further. As we rolled down the mountain Grant spotted various corners and rough, rooty sections he thought would look good in blur factor 5 so we played around and pushed up. It’s not every day you get to be immortalised by a photographer of Mr Shouties calibre.
That evening was a more sedate affair with with everyone enjoying the healing effects of the sauna. However, our eyes suffered badly and needed to be bleached from viewing some of the sights it presented. It turns out Grant has spent a lot of time in Saunas, he didn’t elaborate why, but seemed to know the best way to get it as warm as the sun. The rest of us delighted in pouring as much water as possible on to the rocks to make it as uncomfortable as possible to sit on the top shelf. The rest of the evening was spent reviewing the day’s footage and photos on the huge flat screen TV. After more bike movies and other inspirational offerings everyone steadily retired to bed to rest and be on point for the next days raggin.
Our whole time in Hafjell was pretty wet, it rained a bit most days and chucked down most nights. It didn’t spoil anything though, the bike park tracks drained well and just got grippier while the rocky sections seemed to still agree with the tyre selection. Roots, were well, wet roots and tons of fun. Saturday was particularly wet though, it rained on and off all day and the cloud came down low. It didn’t really phase us and we sessioned track after track ticking them off the list. Everyone got faster and more confident, exploring the speed and poise a bike with that much travel can offer. We all came off at some point but as my favourite saying goes: if you’re not falling, you’re not trying. At one point on the upper mountain we came across what looked like a snow park: 4 massive doubles in a forested section which, on closer inspection, had a well constructed start ramp. It turned out to be the start of next year’s World cup track. It’s hard to describe the scale of these jumps, the middle two looked fine, long and low. However the last one was the size of a house. Slightly hipped and stepped down, the gap measures a whale swallowing 31 metres. Not feet, metres. Its huge. Speaking to one of the mechanics that came out riding with us it’s a lovely jump. Perfectly built and not requiring much pop; if you get the first three right the big one just flows. Its a good job the World Cup riders can jump. The rest of the track is a real mix of what the mountain has to offer. Long, tech, rooty and rocky sections mixed with some beautiful berms and a 50m rock garden. This rock garden is populated with boulders the size of your head and will to be amazing to watch destroyed at World Cup speeds. With some of the open fireroad sections included it has all the makings of a classic WC venue. We’ve already booked the lodge for the relevant week next year and intend to make full use of it, watch this space for details.
Riding in a small splinter group in the afternoon Piers, Grant, Greggers, Rod and I ascended to the top of the mountain for another run down. Piers and Rodders hadn’t yet hit the NC trail, a black down from the top which has been used as the Norway national track on many occasions. There’s a couple of long drops to hit up at the start then a massive table before the going gets single track and rocks, roots and drops come flying at you. It was on just one of these drops that our patron came slightly a cropper. Riding it blind but unphased as usual, Piers rolled where he should have sent and his front wheel came down hard on to a large stump. Landing awkwardly everything seemed fine and he wasn’t hurt but something didn’t seem quite right with the bike, the handle bars were twisted. However, we were rocking direct mounts so there is no twisting. He’d snapped the forks, Shearing straight through the crown of the Boxxers, a new one on all of us. A quick ride down to the bottom and the cover-all insurance he’d thoughtfully purchased came in to its own. We were back out on the hill.
Saturday night was again Party night. After a rain affected photo session we started in the local, taking it over and demanding Freecaster 4X coverage on the TV. Piers sponsors on of the riders, Tom Dowie, so has a vested interest. With everyone pledging to buy one round a piece over the course of the weekend we still had a lot to get through. Waiting for 4X to start we watched Bmx Supercross and were taken aback by the size of the jumps which put the world cup jumps to in perspective and left us with a nasty taste of man up. We then jeered and screamed at 4X until dinner time willing on more crashes and feeling guilty when they went down. Back at the lodge, in belated celebrations of Piers’ 40th birthday; cards, presents and song were all rolled out. Several bottles of Champagne, some single malt, and of course a bit of Rum were all enjoyed with our usual finesse. Tonight we were eating reindeer in Lars’ take on a classic Nordic stew, Finnbiff. After toasts, laughs and gloats we feasted on his cake baked for Piers, served with sparklers and panache. As gracious as ever Piers rebuffed our calls of thanks and praise for his incredible generosity stating that he was in fact “being totally selfish” and “doing exactly what he wanted to do”. None of us subscribed to his definition. The rest of the evening fuelled by our dwindling supplies of Ass, the local brew, returned to form with much mischief and merriment. Denis topped the nights entertainment with a self cut mullet session, appearing from downstairs with plenty of Party still at the back. For some reason, probably out of guilt, he let us all have a go at trimming what was left. Big mistake. The evening culminated in an enforced midnight sauna session with a twist, the thermostat was set to max and full faces were mandatory. Time spent on the top shelf was rewarded and fireballs were created when rum came in to contact with the hot coals, very exciting in a small wooden room.
Our last day was a short one, we were being picked up at 4 ready for our flight and there was the small matter of the last world cup of the year. We were up early and waiting for the first lift again despite our heads. The day’s sessions took in all our favourite trails on the mountain, linking them together at speeds incomprehensible on the first day. The Gamblers were doing what they were designed to do and compensating for our lack of skill, allowing us to get dangerously fast and saving our mistakes. Everyone was riding the now familiar trails beyond anything they had before and the compliments were coming thing and fast. Our ears were all joined by masses of teeth and stretched lips with our throats filled with joyous reverberations. It was with great sadness that we admitted it was our last run and ran back up the hill for the final time to catch the top twenty men in Val Di Sole. What a race, the most exciting of the year and a perfect conclusion to our weekend. Starting with seeing Jack come down after his best ever qualification but fall as soon as the coverage caught him. Leading to a standing ovation for Danny Hart for another miracle run pulled out of some supernatural pot of talent. Finishing with a disgruntled and emotionless crescendo as Aaron set about destroying the field with a perfectly executed Gwinning run.
A short minibus ride and flight later we were back where it had all begun, Terminal 5. We all walked away from our weekend in one piece; better riders, friends and, with Piers as our example, people. Hafjell is a great place to ride and progress, Norwegians are generous, beautiful and exceptionally cool and the country itself has a huge amount to offer if you can afford to explore it. It is with a great debt to Piers that we were able to all share this weekend, a debt I look forward to repaying in kind over the years to come.
All Photos By Grant ‘Blurry’ Robinson