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The night didn’t look promising. In fact, it looked about as unpromising as two nights before, when I’d called to reschedule my evening snowshoeing trip after arriving in Tromsø in blizzard conditions. Tromsø Villmarkssenter had been very understanding, agreeing that snowshoeing in gale force winds wouldn’t be a lot of fun, and I had been lucky enough to have another free night to which I could reschedule the trip. It was just unfortunate that the snow and wind hadn’t really abated since then.
A minor miracle happened on the 30-minute drive from the center of Tromsø to the Villmarkssenter on Kvaløya Island. The snow gradually slowed and the winds died down, so even though we were much higher in elevation, we were greeted by a pleasant (and only somewhat snowy) night with clouds that were doing their best to clear.
My tour was to be a self-guided one; once I was fitted out with bigger boots, my snowshoes, and some walking poles I had the world at my feet. I could head out anywhere I wanted, but preferably away from the bright lights of Tromsø on the horizon. All I needed to know was how to get back (which isn’t hard when there’s only one set of tracks in the snow behind you) and when to get back (ten minutes before 10pm, when the bus was leaving).
While I was prepared to go on my own, when the only other people signed up for snowshoeing — a couple from Britain — offered for me to go with them I was happy to say yes. This way, the Villmarkssenter was able to keep track of all of us with one walkie-talkie and I had someone to talk to in case the still-cloudy sky didn’t light up.
For the next two hours or so, we wandered. After passing through the massive husky kennels, we quickly turned off the sled path onto previously undisturbed snow. As we chatted about Norway, the UK, and everything in between, we quickly learned why the guides at the front desk told us that we wouldn’t need the thick Arctic suits. My fairly unfit legs were soon burning with the effort needed to pick up not only my boots, but the snowshoes and all of the snow they had picked up as I sunk into the snow.
We kept a pretty slow pace, often stopping to inspect the skies and look at the horizon to see if we’d left the city lights behind. As the clouds began to clear, the stars began to appear — familiar constellations plus the millions of other stars that only those outside of cities are lucky enough to see.
I could quickly pick Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, drawing pictures with my finger as I tried to point them out to my fellow snowshoers. The appearance of Ursa Minor confirmed our suspicions about where north actually was, which meant we spent a lot more time squinting in that direction trying to convince ourselves that clouds were acting strangely and were therefore the northern lights instead. Whether we actually saw them or not we’ll never know.
All of us happily kept walking, always saying, “Just over this one hill. Maybe up to that next crest. What about behind those trees over there?” By this point, we had turned off our headlights and had let our eyes adjust to the darkness, navigating only by the faint light from the city behind us.
Trying to find the darkest place on the hill was almost like a treasure hunt, and it was actually quite a rewarding one. The landscape subtly changed as we moved further from the Villmarkssenter, with a few trees appearing perched on outcrops and the hills becoming slightly steeper. We set our sights on one such hill, but it never seemed to get any closer as we slowly realised it was much taller than we thought and perhaps a bit too much to tackle before 10pm…especially since our brief glimpse of the stars had now been covered by orange-tinged clouds.
With that goal placed squarely in the too hard basket, we let our tracks, often three-wide across the otherwise pristine landscape, guide us back towards the center. The lights that we’d been trying to avoid sat squarely in front of us and I sorely wished I had a tripod to capture the beauty of the city and the mountains surrounding us. Then again, I’m glad I didn’t take it since it may have disappeared into the snow had I tried to set it up!
It was on our way back that I realised that, at some point during the night, I’d broken one of my snowshoes. Luckily it was one of quite a few harnesses keeping my boot in the shoe because walking back through snow that thick would not have been fun!
On our return to the Villmarkssenter, the guide that greeted us was quite surprised that we’d been gone for so long. Apparently on cloudy nights most people return a lot more quickly than we did!
To reward ourselves for our hardiness, we each helped ourselves to a hearty plate of reindeer stew and a big cup of tea in the very warm and welcoming lavvu tent. It was a great way to wind down from an exercise-filled evening, and by the time we left I think all of our eyelids were drooping.
So, while the big drawcard of the evening didn’t show, the night was still a roaring success. We had good views, got plenty of exercise trying out a new sport, and had great company. What more did we need than that?
I went snowshoeing as a guest of Tromsø Villmarkssenter, but all opinions stated here are my own.
Tromsø Villmarkssenter offers many winter activities daily, with buses leaving from the Radisson Blu at 9.45am and 6.15pm. Snowshoeing treks cost 790kr.