Text: Eivind Eidslott
Photos: Mattias Fredriksson & Chris Holter
I’m sitting in a Eurocopter 350 B3, 1,100 meters above the waters of Tafjord. The Ytsteheia area is right below me, to the east is Bjorstadnakken, and the mighty mount Mefjellet is just 20 meters to the west. Just below the summit cairn, Armin Beeli from Switzerland and Alex von Mentzer from Sweden stand in their orange and yellow jackets, each clinging to a mountain bike. The backwash from the helicopter’s rotor blades is creating a tornado. Despite that, we can see that both riders are smiling. On board the helicopter, the Cineflex cameraman says he’s ready. The photographer says he’s ready. The pilot is ready. Ready. Set. Go!
It didn’t start like this. Not at all. The saga of Fjørå began, in many ways, 11,000 years ago, back when people were hunter-gatherers. Back when people lived from the mountain. Food from nature in and around Fjørå drew people. The first people wandered in and formed tiny hunting tribes. Later, thousands of years later, people started establishing farms along these fjords. They made farms out of nothing, in apparently impossible places on the steep mountainsides. And they cleared paths from the fjord up to their farms, and from their farms up to mountain pastures. They cleared the trails by hand, one stone at a time, over generations, over centuries. It was a hard life in extremely demanding surroundings. Just listen to what the French writer Jacques-Louis de la Tocnaye wrote after sailing into the Storfjord in 1799: “Every day, I’ve been soaked to the skin, and been in imminent danger of breaking my neck between these high mountains or drowning in the hellish fjords the devil dug between them”.
If you plan to go to Fjørå, you need to know your history. You should know the toil that went into building the trail you’re riding on. And you should know that it was such local heroes as Arild Eidset, Helge Høyvik, Veronica Vikestrand and Bjørnar Strømmen who discovered the mountain biking prospects here in the fjords at the beginning of this millennium. With great enthusiasm, they cleared and repaired overgrown trails and created what we might call “The Fjørå Fairy-tale”. A fairy-tale that has spread well beyond Norway’s borders. A fairy-tale that includes pictures and videos on the “Net”, as well as magazine features, the jungle telegraph, and, not in the least, an entire clothes collection:
Norrøna’s single-track mountain bike line, with the short, fabled name: fjørå.
So here we are, a whole gang out to document the new Fjørå collection in its right element. Here is bike acrobat Beeli, the forestry worker and Norrøna ambassador from the Swiss Alps, the man known for leaving everyone and everything behind on a downhill ride. Here are the Swedish mountain biking buddies von Mentzer and Jon Bokrantz, complete with big, angry mountain bikes and big, enthusiastic smiles. Here are Norrøna Magazine’s photo editor Chris Holter and Norrøna’s team manager Torkel Karoliussen; with the eager trail rider and GoPro professor Are Tallaksrud, and the local guides Vikestrand and Strømmen. And look! There comes a pick-up truck with Swedish license plates, winding up the many tight turns of the Trollstigen road, with a well-used mountain bike on the cargo bed and a ton of photo equipment in the cab. And listen! The Swedish band Johnossis album “Maveriks” is playing at full blast on the stereo, and Mattias Fredriksson is sitting there, behind the wheel.
He is one of the world’s best ski and mountain bike photographers, and he’s humming; he’s put his cap on ; he’s ready for Fjørå!
The whole team gathers at a cabin site in the Valldal valley, right under Fjørå’s biggest cycling attraction, the 1,100 meter tall mountain Mefjellen. I don’t remember exactly who said it, or exactly where it was said – maybe out on the veranda with all the bikes, or inside with all the Macs – but the following expectant words rang out through the relatively crystal clear air of the Møre og Romsdal province:
“This will be epic!”
Little did they know how right they were.
The first day in cycling paradise sees us ride to the highest farm at Fjørå, and farther up the narrow, toll road to Nysetra. Then we push and carry the bikes on to the top of Mefjellet. It takes an hour, but, to put it mildly, it’s worth it. It has created expectations. Great expectations.
But today, we have to restrain ourselves. Today, we have to spend filming up here, and discuss what needs to be done to shoot from the helicopter. We ride back and forth along the summit ridge, filming, photographing, walking up again, riding a few meters. We film, photograph, discuss tread patterns, pixels, weather, pizza. The important things.
A weeklong stay in Fjørå isn’t just riding on Mefjellet. You should, as we did, also visit the other magical trails in the area : Lingeåsen hill above Valldal, with the option of driving a car up to the mountain pasture, having someone drive the car down, riding the steep and technical trail down to them, and get a lift back up to top again. Or the trails near the hamlet of Liabygda, the closest you can get to British Columbia in Norway : broad, fast, playful trails that wind through old-growth forests, trails that get everyone to smile and holler, whether you are a world champion mountain biker, a nervous beginner, or somewhere in between. And then there is the imposing trail up from Tafjord to the abandoned farm Muldal, a trail of wide turns up the mountain, switchbacks, sometimes with a steep climb, but you can ride the whole way up to the farm. At Muldal, you can choose between
a narrower trail down to Tafjordsetra, or just kick back to enjoy the view, before thundering down to the fjord on what must be some of the most mountain bike-friendly trails ever built. And these were built without a thought to mountain bikes, for the simple reason that mountain bikes – or the bicycle itself for that matter – had not even been invited at that time.
And we must not forget Ljøbrekka, the trail ride of all trail rides in the Sunnmøre district, right across the fjord. Just load the bikes in the car, take the ferry from Liabygda to Stranda, enjoy the décor of the ferry’s cafeteria, buy a ‘svele’ pancake for 15 kroner at the self-service kiosk, disembark, continue driving toward Hellesylt, and park outside the first tunnel entrance. From here, the trail winds up the hills, with increasingly fascinating, hand-built stone wall curves, before reaching a plateau that offers a ride with memorable flow. Then ride down, down,down, descending until the Geiranger Fjord itself, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, opens up right before your wheels.
“This is good. This is very, very good”, says photographer Fredriksson during our visit to Ljøbrekka.
There is nothing more to say. We trust Fredriksson. He’s been everywhere. And if you do as we did, ride all day long, on all kinds on trails, on all kinds of mountains, above various fjords, you should celebrate the triumphs of the day by having a fine dinner at Kulå bowling, pizza, bar and dancing, with or without kneepads, and preferably with a large Coke. Then I can guarantee an almost perfect day for a mountain biker.
But back to the helicopter. The one hovering over Mefjellet, the one we chartered to record two mountain bikers’ dream ride down to the fjord for perpetuity. We give the “go ahead” to Beeli and von Mentzer through a crackling mobile telephone. They are more than ready. They release the brakes, point their front wheels down at the fjord and start riding the narrow trail at the edge of the precipice. It looks completely insane from our vantage point in the air. Supernatural. As if it was a silly dream. And I think:
This is what biking here is like.
This is Fjørå.
This is almost too good to be true.
You can see the film about riding in Fjørå on www.norrona.com. You will be inspired. We promise.
Welcome to Fjørå, Norway
Travel Fly to Ålesund with the airlines SAS or Norwegian. Rent a car and drive about two hours to Fjørå. Or take the bus to Moa and on to Valldal, which is Fjørå’s neighboring village. Driving from Oslo to Fjørå by car takes about seven hours. During the high season, you can also take the train from Oslo to Åndalsnes (about seven hours) and then a bus to Valldal.
Riding Try the bike trails at Fjørå, Muldal, Valldal, Liabygda and Ljøbrekka at Hellesylt. See the map on following pages for more information.
Activities The area around Fjørå is well-suited to hiking, kayaking, rafting, boating and general sightseeing in a beautiful landscape.
History You should be aware of the Tafjord Disaster. An enormous rockslide the night of April 7, 1934 created a local tsunami which killed 23 people in Tafjord and 17 at Fjørå.