By Frode Halse

Imagine yourself glued to a greyish cloud base, 1800 meters above a desolate, treeless mountain terrain. Groundspeed is perfect due to a tailwind and the thin air. Clearly visible as they cross the glacier, a herd of reindeer come to your attention. The first living creatures you have seen in hours.  Leaning back, you stretch your cold feet, and once again marvel at the beauty of the scenery. Time for some refreshment ? Trying to drink  from your water bottle you discover that it is frozen solid. Driven by hunger you reach for a chocolate bar but it has to wait, you are suddenly caught in a violent 8 m/s up. Threatening to tilt you over, the thermal calls for a lot of effort, sapping even more energy out of your aching arms. Some kind of vacation! Welcome to Norway……    


Yet another article bragging about one`s home turf? Why should XC in Norway be something special? Mountains dominate this longstretched Scandinavian country, as with many other countries, however, the kind of mountain it has to offer is different. Many of the Central-European mountain ranges resemble saw blades, with their tooth sharp summits, long winding  ridges and abyss deep valleys. Flying XC in such an environment forces one`s mind to focus on safety, constantly being on the look out for lee sides, landing possibilities and road access. This wild Scandinavian country also has its share of this scenery, but in addition, it has huge mountain plateau’s, situated in the central Southern part, within easy reach of several main roads. This region has two main valleys, Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen, necessary routes to follow during spring and early summer, when the surrounding plateaus are still covered with snowclad plains. 
usually plays the role of end station for flights from the Western to the Eastern region. Most XC’s are done in connection with the Gudbrandsdalen valley ( North to South) and in and  between the Jotunheimen, Rondane and the Dovre mountain ranges.  

Rondane mountains. Photo: Frode Halse

Cruising at 35OO M.A.S., passing Rondane Mountains on a 
crossing between Gudbrandsdalen Valley and Østerdalen Valley.

The plateaus offer safe and interesting ”flatland” crossings from valley to valley. Some of the crossings have been conquered successfully, but they are outnumbered by the ones never achieved, or even attempted. Many of them eagerly talked about in front of  an open fire in the comfort of a log cabin or in the local clubhouse. Knowing that you are a potential pioneer gives an extra thrill to the experience, the only obvious risk being a very long walk if you stretch your luck too far. Landing far from the nearest road is not so bad if you fly a paraglider, but slightly trickier with a hangglider! Streams are plentiful, so drinking water is never a problem, and the high mountain wild life is fascinating, although the swarms of mosquitos may be rather aggressive! If landing on the Dovrefjell plateau, look out for musk oxen! Mobile telephones are not to be relied on once you are out of range of valleys and main roads.


In the heart of this area (310 km from Oslo), the National Centre for Hang- and Paragliding is situated in Vågåmo (“Vågå”), a small community in the Ottadalen valley, a side branch to the Gudbrandsdalen valley. The centre is open from the beginning of May through to the end of August, offering information about flying sites, local weather conditions, local rules and regulations. In the centre you will find a pilots gadget shop, snack kiosk, living rooms, showers and saunas. This is the place to collect information and team up with other XC fanatics revelling in both sports. The main launch site Vole, is close to the centre, having a height difference of  700 meters between take-off and landing on a well groomed lawn outside the centre. This is an ideal launch site for both local and XC flying for pilots of all categories.


Taking off  in Bøverdalen valley (50 min. drive from Centre) you are on the threshold of first
class alpine flying. Thermalling over the naked snowpatched terrain, topping out at 2600-3100 meters you will view Norway’s highest peak Galdhøpiggen (2469 m.a.s.l.). 

Thermalling close to the rock face in Bøverdalen. Photo: Frode Halse

Effortlessly gliding over glaciers and ravines, wingtips close  
to a vertical cliff, your pulse accelerates and your mind is in overdrive. 

These surroundings might etch a long lasting impression on you, they have on me! (Cross Country no 34 “Getting High in Norway” and no 52 “Trapped” ) Height difference between the highest launch (1850 m.a.s.l.) and the lowest landing field is 1400 meters. 
In Heidalen valley at Espesetra (40 min. drive) thermals are very consistent and at times quite strong, easily pushing you up to XC level. For the less experienced, flying here during peak hours could be scary. The resemblance to a washing machine followed by a tumble dryer has often been mentioned!

 The best launch site for record attempting flights is probably at Bismo (1 hr. drive). A novice pilot once asked one of the XC-Hot Shots where he could land close to Bismo. –We never land here, we only start here-, was the arrogant reply. Well, it’s not completely true, there is actually a landing field for the unlucky few that bomb out!  


The best XC conditions are from mid May to early August. Thermal activity is normally manageable, but during peak season some generators produce columns that  will hit you with 7-14 m/s.  Paragliders are grounded some days due to strong winds. In the middle of summer it never gets really dark and you may fly all around the clock! ”Magic air” conditions sometimes last close to midnight.   


Norway has some reasonably good pilots, but until now most of the elite (especially the paraglider pilots) have been heavily engaged in competitions at home and abroad, and therefore lacking time for serious XC. The 1999 season introduces a new system, incorporating XC-league flights into the national pilot ranking system. (Have a look at The Norwegian Paragliding XC League)
This will inspire top pilots to spend more time on XC flights thus raising the level and interest for Norwegian XC.

The current Norwegian free distance record is 123,9 km for a paraglider, set by Per Arne Soldal in 1995. For a hangglider 189,9 km was set by Werner Johannessen in 1996.  Both records were achieved by starting at Bismo and crossing several mountain plateaus.   


In case the weather conditions do not favour flying, there is no reason to sit and gather dust. The Otta valley is well suited for activities such as mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, wind-surfing (a 35 km lake) and of course trekking. There are even a couple of well-known and excellent summer ski resorts not far from the Centre. Organised rafting is performed on the Sjoa river in the parallel Heidalen valley. 

Dalsnibba,Geiranger. Foto: Frode halse
The Geiranger fjord is the fjord closest to the Centre. The spectacular view of the fjord from Dalssnibba is a treat for sore eyes and also, if you have got the stomach for it, a hair-raising launch site for a memorable 1476 meters descent amongst majestic mountains down to the Geiranger community.   


If you prefer over-crowded launches, gaggles and landing fields, you will get bored in Norway. Also, if heavily restricted air-space is to your liking, you will not feel comfortable here!  On the other hand, if you feel this pull towards harsh mountains and fancy flying through huge areas of untouched wilderness, when will I see you around ?


This article focuses on the very best XC area in Norway. In addition you can have both challenging and pure leisure flying in all parts of Norway. For further details:

The National Center for Hang- and Paragliding in Vågå.
Telephone + 47 61 23 21 00
Telefax     + 47 61 23 20 75.

The Norwegian Aero Klubb (NAK)
Telephone + 47 23 10 29 40
Telefax     + 47 23 10 29 01                     
The NAK web site is

(Previously published in Cross Country no 63 in 1999)


(Revised 2005-08-18)


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