Oslo offers plenty of snow from January and city life all year
It sometimes seems as if the world is divided into those who ski and those who don't. What if you don't like winter sports so much but have an obsessive boarder in the family? Or maybe you like skiing, but not every day of the holiday? Then try Oslo, a set of ski slopes with a capital city attached.
At less than two hours' flying time from Heathrow, it's also good for a short break. Just don't expect any snow before Christmas. You need to wait for January for reliable skiing.
By chance, we land in time for the first good snow of the year. Arriving on a Friday night, we all make straight for the slopes and have a short class under the floodlights. Predictably, small children are soon zooming past us, so we take refuge in a Sami-style reindeer-hide tent called a lavvo, chatting with a couple of ski instructors while warming our hands on the stove. Most have excellent English and the instruction is similarly good.
Oslo has a population of more than half a million and on Saturday morning we are jammed on the train with most of them and their skipoles.
The only other place in the world I've seen people make for the slopes fully togged up like this is Tokyo, but there the slopes are much further away from the city centre. The Oslo metro up to the Tryvann ski area is as efficient and swift as the express that runs between the airport and the city centre, so we are soon up in the hills and out in the sunshine.
First we scare ourselves with a visit to the Holmenkollen Olympic ski jump, and then take in some of Norway's history at the ski museum that's tucked underneath.
As well as skis from 600AD, and pictures of the late King Olaf buying his train ticket to the slopes and ski-jumping, we see displays about some of Norway's great explorers.
There was Nansen, who spent almost a year stuck in the ice on his way to the North Pole, then tried to make it on skis, sustained only by dead polar bear and Norwegian chocolate.
And Amundsen, who beat Scott to the South Pole by 33 days. Oslo is also home to a museum dedicated to the Fram, the ship that carried both Amundsen and Nansen, and the Kontiki Museum, which holds the raft Thor Heyerdahl used to cross the Pacific.
The Saturday slopes are, of course, heaving, but it is great to take part just like a citizen of Oslo, and in any case peace and quiet is not far away. A few of us decide to take a first faltering slither into cross-country skiing and find deep, unbroken snow covering a frozen lake near the intermediate station at Frognerseteren.
Both the downhill and some of the cross-country runs are illuminated until late at night, but I gave up as the short, northern day began to fade, enjoying the sky blue-pink light over the forest with a cup of hot chocolate at the ski service shop at Voksenkollen.
Ski Oslo has a variety of city skiing holidays: www.skioslo.com. SAS return fares from Heathrow to Oslo start at pound;79 including tax: www.flysas.com