The Finse Skøitehallen

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

"I spent unforgettable vacations at Finse. It is wonderful on this earth to find places where everything tastes good, everything smells good, everyone seems young, and everyone young seems witty and wise. Ponce de Leon may or may not have discovered springs in Florida, but I am one of thousands who discovered Finse." - Florence Jaffray Harriman, "Mission To The North", 1941

Surrounded by glaciers and snow-covered slopes, Finse was largely uninhabited until the late nineteenth century. Its barren land was used solely by hunters and farmers. Due to its altitude - some four thousand feet above sea level in the mountains of Hordaland, Norway - it was winter there for almost ten months of the year.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

Finse became a popular winter sports destination for British and Russian tourists when a mountain lodge style hotel was opened in the spring of 1909 after the Bergen Railway was completed. The hotel had 'all the modern conveniences' - central heating, electric lights, a billiard room and baths. As was the local custom, guests sliced their own Fjellbrød and served themselves salt-cured meat and fish, coffee and beer. Laps often passed the hotel's front doors while driving herds of reindeer. The hotel played host to many distinguished guests, among them King Haakon, Ernest Shackleton, Fridtjof Nansen and Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke. When they stayed at the hotel, Sir Francis Lindley taught the Prince Of Wales how to ski. The hotel was right by a lake, but as temperatures often dipped as low as minus thirty five degrees Celsius, owners Alice Lister Fangen and Joseph Klem came up with the idea of constructing an indoor rink in the hotel out of sensibility for the hotel's guests.

Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket

The Finse Skøitehallen was a one thousand and thirty six square meter ice rink with no columns and windows on all three sides. Wood stoves heated the building and two hundred bulbs installed in the ceiling provided ample lighting at night for skaters. Though originally used only for recreational skating by the hotel's guests, the nearly year-round soon drew in Norway's top curlers, speed and figure skaters. Prior to his 1916 trip to America, famed speed skater Oscar Mathisen practiced in Finse. Less than four years later, Norway's 1920 Summer Olympic figure skating team - Ingrid Guldbrandsen, Margot Moe, Andreas Krogh, Martin Stixrud and Alexia and Yngvar Bryn - took up residence there before heading to Antwerp to compete.

Sonja Henie at the Finse Skøitehallen. Screenshots courtesy video from Nasjonalbiblioteket.

As a fifteen year old preparing for the 1928 Winter Olympic Games, Sonja Henie trained with Martin Stixrud at the Finse Skøitehallen during the off-season when there wasn't ice at the Frogner Stadion. Her family had a hunting lodge less than fifty kilometers away in Geilo, so it was familiar territory. Footage of her training in Finse was used in the Swedish film "Sju Dagar For Elizabeth". In her book "Wings On My Feet", Henie recalled, "Finse had become our private training place to a large extent, since I used the ice most and more seriously than anyone else in the good spot... The ice was excellent early in the fall, making it quite unnecessary to go abroad, and father was sticking to his wise principle that it is good to train away from one's rivals... I put on small exhibitions of the most informal sort, and interested people of the neighbourhood turned out in large numbers to watch them. Sometimes people came all the way from Geilo for these homespun performances, though all we had to offer were nearly impromptu improvisations with father in charge of the music and that often amounting to no more than a gramophone."

Andreas and Joseph Klem on the ice at the Finse Skøitehallen. Photo courtesy Nasjonalbiblioteket.

Not all visitors were impressed with the Finse Skøitehallen's facilities. In 1912, H.K. Daniel lamented, "If this venture is to be pursued on the same scale as in Switzerland, then Swiss methods must also be adopted... Public moneys must be forthcoming for the acquisition and upkeep of the necessary... skating terrenes."

Photo courtesy Universitetsbiblioteket, Universitetet i Bergen

During World War II, Finse was occupied by Nazi forces, who planned to build an airport on the Hardangerjøkulen glacier. Only one plane landed there and the project was scrapped. In 1940, the Finse Skøitehallen was hit by an Allied bomb and badly damaged. Tourism at Finse's hotel slowed after the War and the local population, which relied largely on tourism, diminished greatly. The Finse Skøitehallen was quietly demolished in 1973, its glory days as one of Norway's first indoor ice rinks all but forgotten.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":