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It’s also, well, risky. On the steepest portion of our ascent the snowcat gets mired briefly and the driver reverses—backing downhill to where I stand, attached to the rope and unable to flee. Waiting to be tenderized by the churning treads, I finally don’t look like an American tourist. Rather, I resemble Edvard Munch’s "The Scream."

No damage is done—except, perhaps, to my ego. The skiers in the cage laugh at my fright as the driver jams the cat into lower gear and charges up to the ridgeline. From there, we tuck into swooping giant-slalom turns. The slopes look as if they’ll tumble into the fjord below, which shines as bright as a one-krone coin. We’re only a few thousand feet above sea level, with that cartoon sun working hard above, but the Arctic-refrigerated powder remains cold and light, bow-waving over boot tops.

When he catches up to us, the snowcat driver doesn’t need to understand any English to know what we want. He spins the cat around, tosses out the ropes, and readies the rig for another haul.

Our last day in Norway, we disembark the final ferry and drive to the port of Narvik, the scene of a ferocious World War II naval battle, where ships are still being discovered in the depths. In a fjord called Skjomen we pile our skis onto a loving replica of a knarr, or sturdy Viking cargo ship. We’ve arranged to ride the boat up the fjord to ski. For a while we take the oars like galley slaves in some white-collar man-of-war. The novelty quickly wears off as we tire and go in circles. Saving us from ourselves, the captain fires up the purring Volvo engine somewhere below deck.

That afternoon, after some off-piste skiing on Frostisen glacier near the fjord’s head, we try sailing the knarr using the classic Viking sail—hoisting it on its wooden pulleys, tacking back and forth—and toss the fish we’ve caught to entice the sea eagles that spiral lazily above.

Nobody seems to mind that we are worse sailors than we are rowers, and we make little progress. Uncrowded, uncollared, and with the freedom to hunt down adventure wherever the wind blows—the day is a perfect metaphor for a Norway trip. And the boat, then, is a bit like the country itself: respectfully in touch with the old ways, but with a modern engine running on oil, moving it forward.

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