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As if to test the point, we drop off Roaldshorne’s backside and lay down loopy parabolas through untouched powder, then corn snow. In Colorado, we’d arrive in a mining town; in the Alps, an achingly quaint farming village. Here, we run out of snow in a farmer’s field a hefty snowball’s toss from the fjord. White homes on the shore stand as crisp and restrained as a set in an Ibsen play.

After a day of skiing at Stryn Skisenter, another Silverton, Colorado–like locals’ hill with a few lifts strung up in the wild, we head to sea for a day aboard the Kong Harald. Amazingly, after we cross Arctic Circle, nearly half of Norway still lies ahead. Even going as far as our destination of Narvik, nearly 150 miles north of this cold dotted line, we’ll glimpse just a snatch of it.

It’s a shame; the Arctic helps define this country. The near blackout of a northern winter (about eight weeks in a high-latitude city like Tromsø) blends with deep isolation to help create that stereotypically dour Norwegian character. That’s why the houses start appearing in garish, characteristically Norwegian colors like Kodachrome yellows and barn reds: to stave off the "dark-sickness" brought on by December’s gloom.

At Glomfjord, in Meløy, the country has made still another scene change. Lone peaks knuckle up beside tight fjords. The Arctic sun shines cartoonishly yellow overhead, fat spokes raying out from its yolk. It’s a staggering setting, which makes Glomfjord town doubly discordant. It’s a gray mini-Murmansk anchored by a sprawling industrial plant whose banging busyness ricochets off the fjord walls. At the edge of this company town also lies a hill, home to Norway’s only commercial snowcat skiing operation.

The bull wheels of the all-volunteer lift stop spinning as soon as we reach the top of the hill. (The liftie, apparently, has to go back to work.) No matter, we’ve got the speedy snowcat to whisk us higher to the ridgeline! Then the cat appears. It’s a 35-year-old German Kässbohrer, a true relic, with no cabin for passengers. Another smiling Norwegian volunteer knots a ratty rope around some steel, then ties off bights for seven handholds. I grab one, intending to get hauled about 1,500 feet to the top. Several more skiers pile into a cage directly behind the cat. A little leery of the arrangements, I give a halfhearted thumbs-up to the rope-tier, a rare non-English speaker. He grins and climbs into the driver’s seat.

Norwegians may seem reserved and straitlaced, but when they get out of doors, another side emerges, one that is freer and more self-reliant. Instead of doing what is appropriate, you do what works—like grabbing a fraying rope and hitching a ride behind an antique snowcat. Coming from the U.S., which can feel straitjacketed by the fear of lawsuits, this mindset is a breath of fresh mountain air.

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