Preparation, as any holidaymaker knows, is key. So after deciding to head as far north as possible for the best snow, and choosing the family-friendly ski resort of Vemdalen, Sweden, there was much research to be done. There were at least two seasons of Wallander hadn’t seen, as well as the last of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy to catch up on.
It’s not exactly a romanticised vision of the country, I know, but all those Scandi noir dramas and the still-booming popularity of Swedish culture had made me unfeasibly excited about seeing those snowy, tree-lined vistas for real.
I was itching to enter a country that, according to popular television, was a dichotomy of psychotic plotters and ruddy-faced health nuts, gliding along cross-country paths with Abba in their ears. I wanted mystery, I wanted derring-do, I wanted drama, I wanted meatballs and lingonberries. What else had I heard about Sweden? Oh, that it’s a little on the expensive side.
EasyJet has helped a bit with the last point. The budget airline began flights to a small airport in Ostersund in December 2016, so skiing in Vemdalen and the more glitzy resort of Are are suddenly more accessible and affordable, as well as snow-sure in the late season. Figures released last year from Skistar, a listed Swedish ski company, showed the number of UK bookings to Are and Vemdalen increased by 35 per cent as a result of the new flights.
The two-hour drive from Ostersund airport to Vemdalen took us through vast snow-covered plains, past icy spumes on the shores of a frozen lake and wooden cottages miles from anywhere, all under moody, grey skies. I was sure there were dead bodies hidden nearby. No question.
We stayed at the four star Fallmoran apartments in Vemdalsskalet, a short walk from the ski lifts. The village is small, but has everything you need. There was a ski rental shop, a couple of bars, a few £2-a-go pool tables, one of those shops selling beautiful designer furniture (and those reindeer antler lampshades that look like a good idea in Sweden but are just plain weird back in your own home) and a few restaurants, including a good pizza outlet and an excellent Thai kitchen.
The slopes themselves were fine, mostly intermediate level and perfectly suited for a family day out. At Vemdalen there were wide, groomed pistes separated by pine trees and the type of snow park that’s pure catnip to teenage skiers out to kill both themselves and their parents. It’s small enough that you can never get too lost, and the few restaurants there serve hearty fare like gulasch. The Swedes, who are big fans of picnicking, have also built a few huts for families to eat their lunches in. It was common to see groups barbecuing their sausages at the giant firepits at the side of one slope.
On our first day, we ate lunch with a guide, whose recommendation of smoked reindeer salad and deer burger were first-class. And it was lucky our local Wallander was on hand to sort out who had mistakenly taken my wife’s skis from outside the restaurant. A few calls revealed they had been grabbed in error by a woman who had hired similar skis from the rental shop. Swedish mystery? Tick.
We then toured the other ski fields of Storhogna and Bjornrike, each totally different from the other. Bjornrike offers long, sweeping runs while Storhogna includes a long, scenic t-bar ride – past all those Swedes out on their cross-country hikes – to a good selection of steep black runs. It is also home to the Storhogna Hogfjallshotell & Spa, a stylish hotel complete with vast atrium and trout stream running through it, swimming pool, spa and, as it turned out, an 8km cross country race the next day.
“You must come and take part,” said the hotel manager, who appeared a picture of health after her daily 20km ice skate. How could I resist, especially when she revealed that the 2,000-strong race, sponsored by VW, had a car up for grabs in a lottery for all contestants?
So it was that myself and my son Jake, after some very basic lessons from an Olympic cross-country skier, found ourselves barrelling around the tracks, being overtaken by seventy-something-year-old men and women pulling their babies in carts, and worrying we would career into small toddlers on the last downhill leg.
Needless to say, we won neither the race nor the car. But we rewarded ourselves for the adventure with a few beers, surrounded by ruddy-faced Swedes in a tent, with the band pounding out Abba.
The full-strength beers were all the more welcome, I should add, as Swedish supermarkets do not sell alcohol over 3.5 per cent by volume. Faced with an alcohol problem last century, the government decreed higher ABV drinks can only be bought from special stores – in the case of Vemdalen about 60 miles away. Apparently it can be ordered online and picked up from a local sports shop, but, for a week’s skiing, duty free from Gatwick is a good idea.
After a week of skiing, we returned feeling refreshed and with that healthy glow the Swedes have from all those hours in the snowy outdoors. Back home, it was back to the box sets with a fresh eye for Nordic Noir, looking to see if any of the alpine murder spots looked familiar. Not so much a case of whodunnit, but wheredunnit.
Vemdalen prices start from £3,020 for a family of four (based on 2 adults and 2 children under 12) for a 7 night stay at the four-star Fallmoran apartments.
Price includes flights from Gatwick to Östersund and resort transfers. Prices based on 21 December 2017.
For 2018 Easter departures the price for a family of four is £3,740 on 1 April.
For more visit skisafari.com/sweden/vemdalen