If you are a cross-country skier looking for a relatively easy tour in the Norwegian mountains, one area worth considering is the hill-country to the west of Espedalen, which is a long valley situated about 70km to the northwest of the town of Lillehammer.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Espedalen was a very busy place, for it was then the world’s largest centre for nickel mining, and hundreds of men worked there. But today few signs of that activity remain, and the valley is peaceful and empty.
You can reach it by taking a morning train from Oslo airport to Lillehammer and then the afternoon bus to Espedalen. The bus drops off at each of the three hotels in the valley. For logistical reasons, it’s best to arrange to spend both the first and last nights of your holiday at one of these hotels, because you will almost certainly want to use their transport at the end of the tour, as we will see. (You might also want to use their transport at the start of the tour, perhaps to shorten the first day.)
After the first night in your hotel you can set off on your tour, each night staying in cabins managed by DNT, the Norwegian Mountain Trekking Association. All except one of the cabins in this area are un-staffed, but they are well equipped with food, cooking equipment and firewood and they have bunks with bedding. The un-staffed cabins are locked, but you can borrow a key from DNT (after first becoming a member of that organisation).
Generally speaking, during the period between mid-February and Easter the routes between the huts are marked by canes placed into the snow at regular intervals. But you still need to be able to navigate, just in case you stray away from the canes in bad weather.
There are several possible tour itineraries, but the following version is fairly standard. As you will see, the tour is a short one. However, many skiers spend more than one night at each hut, and take the opportunity to do day-tours with light packs.
Stage 1 takes you to Storholiseter cabin, a distance of 15 to 20km, depending on your starting point. The route goes mainly through forests of birch and spruce, until you come out of the trees a couple of kilometres before reaching Storholiseter, which is a cluster of cabins that formerly served as an upland farm. The DNT accommodation is spread between two of the cabins: in total there are 18 beds.
Stage 2 takes you to Storkvelvbu cabin, a distance of about 12km. On the way you climb gradually to a height of 1200m and you should have a fine view of the Jotunheim Mountains, Norway’s highest, off to your right.
Stage 3 goes to Haldorbu, a 16-bed cabin situated at 1025m above sea level. The distance is about 14km.
Stage 4 goes to Liomseter (915m), which is a staffed cabin. (Or, at any rate, it is staffed during the busiest part of the touring season, normally the two weeks running up to Easter. For the rest of the winter a small part of it, with just 10 beds, can be used on an un-staffed basis.) The distance from Haldorbu to Liomseter is about 16km and on the way you lose about 100m in altitude and come down below the treeline. Liomseter is a fairly large building and when staffed it has a total of 40 beds, some in small bunk-rooms, some in a larger dormitory. When staffed it serves meals and you can also enjoy the luxury of a hot shower.
Stage 5 To end your tour you will ski down to an isolated spot called Synsgardsætra, little more than a car park at the end of a minor road, about 15km from Liomseter. Your best option then is to return to the hotel where you spent the first night. By prior arrangement the hotelier will come and collect you from Synsgardsætra and drive you back to the hotel. Early next morning you can take the bus back to Lillehammer and from there a train to Oslo airport.