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    High Camp – Norway’s Original Ski Touring Festival

    Tom Hill
    Tom Hill

    Freelance writer, Tom Hill, discovers what makes High Camp – a ski touring festival held in the mountains of Norway – so uniquely special. Sponsors, Norrøna and GORE-TEX Brand, organisers Fri Flyt and a few friends along the way share why they think Norway’s original ski touring festival is still going strong after twenty years.

    “So you’ve been to High Camp before?” I ask, as I follow in Ragnar’s skin tracks. “Oh, yeah. Virtually all of them!” Here’s the thing though. Ragnar Tøndel wasn’t originally going to be in this story. The fact that he is, is partly down to coincidence and partly a testament to the small, supportive, community within Norwegian ski-touring. In just a few weeks I have begun to understand some of what makes High Camp so special; but maybe I am jumping ahead of myself a little…

    The world’s first ski touring festival?

    © Martin I. Dalen & Brynjar Tvedt

    It’s mid-March, and I’m waiting for a Zoom call to connect to Oslo based Inge Sander – responsible for Gore’s account marketing in Scandinavia – who fills me in the background. As a Brit who has never ski-toured, I haven’t heard of High Camp, despite the fact that it is Norway and probably the world’s oldest ski-touring festival.

    “High Camp has been running for over twenty years now. It really brings together the ski touring community in Norway. During the day there are guided ski-tours, skills classes and coaching, the opportunity to test equipment and clothing, or just go do your own thing. Then in the evening there’s films, talks, music. And there’s such a mix of people there. You can be shoulder-to-shoulder between complete beginners and professional super-stars.” As our chat draws to a close, I mention that coincidentally I’m heading to Norway in a couple of days for my first experience of ski-touring, staying with some Norwegian friends.

    “Oh, you know Ragnar? In that case you are in great hands! He’s a good friend of mine!” It’s a small world sometimes… Before I fly out for my personal hands-on ski-touring education, Inge puts me in touch with two other people with a deep connection to High Camp.

    Lisa Kvålshaugen Bjærum is in the Fri Flyt office when we speak. The company is a magazine and book publisher, media house and organiser of High Camp. And much of that responsibility for organising the event sits with Lisa. In fact, there is now more than one High Camp a year, and she is putting the finishing touches to the first festival of 2022 and the first since Covid.

    “Yeah, so High Camp Turtagrø is the original festival. We run that in early May and it has been going since 2001. There is so much demand for it though, and it’s not possible to grow it any larger, so we often run other High Camp festivals in different locations. Vatnahalsen is a new location for us. It is a small mountain resort that’s only accessible by train, so it will bring a really different feel.”

    Something special

    © Martin I. Dalen & Brynjar Tvedt

    “Regardless of the location, I think the thing that makes High Camp so special is the vibe there,” says Lisa. “It’s so friendly. There’s only one small hotel in Turtagrø, so most people camp. We have a large festival tent at the centre which becomes a hub for the weekend. People meet and eat there, then party later.”

    Both Lisa and Inge tell me that the spectrum of attendees at High Camp has changed a little over the years, with more relative beginners now attending than back in the day. Lisa thinks this reflects the growth in popularity of ski-touring in general in Norway. Even in a country that feels purpose made for exploring the mountains, there can be a steep learning curve to the sport. The workshops and guided sessions that High Camp offers are the perfect tool to build knowledge in a safe way, within a supportive environment.

    Hands on demos

    Knowledge doesn’t just apply to technique, or mountain safety though. It applies to your gear and clothing. As a beginner, the breadth of choice can feel baffling and overwhelming. For someone more experienced, questions still remain… is the latest upgrade worthwhile, what are the advantages of X over Y?

    The last person I speak to is Fredrik Lundberg, the Director of Research, Development and Design at Norrøna. The Norwegian outdoors brand has sponsored High Camp for years, but it’s a relationship that goes far beyond having their logo on the website or on flags dotted around the festival.

    “One of the great things about High Camp is attendees can borrow gear and demo it in the environment for which it was designed. Instead of reading about product features on our website, or on the tags in shops, people can speak to someone who knows the product inside out, then experience it for themselves.”

    Inge agrees. “Sometimes it’s difficult for a customer to differentiate between products when they are on the hanger. People really appreciate the opportunity to find out more about GORE-TEX Products and discover which fabrics are optimal for various conditions. And nothing beats having those conversations face-to-face.”

    The best products, designed for everyone

    © Martin I. Dalen & Brynjar Tvedt

    Fredrik is a keen ski-tourer himself, racking up thousands of metres of ascent and descent each year. “I tend to ski near home in Oslo after work and aim to get a thousand metres of climbing in before I go home.” It’s the kind of passion – and hands on experience – that cannot help but bleed through into the day job. Design isn’t just done at the desk and even then, Fredrik recognises the job isn’t done once a product is released.

    “I spend much of my time thinking about several product cycles ahead. High Camp is a brilliant opportunity for me to hear feedback from our customers in the moment. More than that, I love being able to observe hundreds of skiers in the same place. I like to look out for trends – both in equipment and clothing – and really study what is popular right now. It’s an invaluable part of the process for me. We work with some of the best skiers in the world as we develop our products, but we design for everyone; from the pros to those who ski a few weekends a year. To be able to talk – and listen – to all those people in the same place is great. It enables me to ensure that we continue to develop the best possible products for ski touring, regardless of your level.”

    A warm welcome

    © Martin I. Dalen & Brynjar Tvedt

    Ragnar waits for me at the top of the peak, smiling, as I execute an inelegant kick turn. Ice crystals form on his long beard. He has already pulled on a shell layer to protect against the chilling wind and snow flurries at the summit. I pull on my several-seasons old jacket, only slightly envious of his Norrøna kit. We take in the views before descending pristine powder. Just a couple of weeks after I first found out about High Camp, I still have a lot to learn about ski-touring technique, but I have been made to feel like part of a warm and welcoming community. I feel drawn into a new way of exploring the mountains and already crave more. More snow, and more kit… eyeing the new and better. I make note to look out for the High Camp 2023 dates, keen to immerse myself in the experience fully, learn more and demo some products before I buy. High Camp Turtagrø 2022 takes place between 5 and 8 May, and is already sold out for this year. More details are available on the High Camp website (Norwegian).

    Tom Hill Tom Hill

    Tom Hill

    Tom Hill is a freelance outdoors writer and a Contributing Editor for Sidetracked Magazine. When not at his desk, you will find him out in his local Pennine hills, or mountains further afield. He has been a magazine product tester for over ten years and his personal gear cupboard is stuffed to the gills with kit for biking, running, climbing and skiing.

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