In later years, Norway's Fridtjof Nansen would gain fame as a polar explorer and as the winner, in 1922, of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the winter of 1884, when he was 22 years old, he got a foretaste of treks to come. He decided to enter the annual Huseby Hill ski jump. There was one hitch—Huseby Hill was in Oslo (then Christiania), and Nansen was in Bergen, 215 miles away.
From the sour descriptions penned in his diary, winter in Bergen can be mighty disagreeable. On the day Nansen read of plans for the Huseby Hill meet in his newspaper, Bergen was lashed by heavy rains, which, he wrote, achieved a "violence unusual even in this rain-ridden town." That was Saturday, the 26th of January. On Sunday the wind and rain intensified. As Nansen looked out at the swamped, dreary streets, he imagined the "pine forest...white beneath its mantle of snow, the countryside...glittering in the sun."
The jump at Huseby Hill was scheduled for Feb. 4, eight days away. Impetuously, Nansen decided to go, and to travel the only way he could on such short notice, mostly by ski.
He took a leave of absence from the National Museum of Bergen, where he was a natural-history curator, and left Monday morning on the 6:30 train. The tracks went no farther than Voss, only 50 miles distant. As the crow flies, Oslo and Huseby Hill still were 165 miles away.
Nansen intended to follow the crow's flight, due east from Voss across the high Hardanger glacier to Hol at the head of the Hallingdal Valley. But he was dissuaded by those he consulted; they insisted it was folly to cross the Hardanger in winter.
Instead, he detoured north. He didn't find snow firm enough to ski on, so he hiked along a post road, accepted a lift aboard a horse-drawn sleigh and stayed over in Vinje, 10 miles from Voss.
That night it snowed, and the next morning he set off in high spirits. 'This was real winter," he wrote, "winter in all its glory." For company he had his dog, an Irish setter named Flink—in Norwegian, the word means "clever." But he complained about not meeting other skiers out on such an excellent morning and concluded that the region's inhabitants must be an indolent sort, content to sleep away the winter.
Clipping off the miles and feeling fine, Nansen slowed his pace to try a practice jump. He climbed above the lip of a hillside and swooped down. "That did one good." he thought. "It made one feel a bit nearer heaven." He shucked his rucksack, climbed higher and made a longer, loftier flight. A few farmers appeared to watch the tall, blond skier perform. He cadged a drink of milk and asked them how far it was to Gudvangen.
"Going over the mountains, then!" one farmer said, but he seemed more impressed by Nansen's fine skis than by the length of his journey.
Across the mountains it was, to the steep plunge below Stalheim. Waterfalls spilled over the edge of the gorge, and the road angled down the side of the mountain in a series of cramped curves and switchbacks. Nansen pushed off and reached an exciting speed, skirting the brinks and braking before each curve. Halfway down he passed a farmer who flattened himself against the hill as Nansen swept by, closely followed by a brown ball of fur also speeding downhill.