Most Norwegians have a deep and abiding love of the great outdoors. They enjoy many kinds of sports – from dog-sledging and downhill skiing in winter, through to mountaineering, angling and whitewater rafting in the summer – but the two most popular activities are hiking and skiing.
Norway boasts some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world, its soaring peaks accentuated by icy glaciers, rocky spires and deep green fjords.
Great chunks of this wild terrain have been incorporated into a string of national parks, 41 in total with 34 on the mainland and seven in Svalbard. These parks, especially the more accessible, are magnets for hikers in search of everything from easy rambles to full-scale expeditions along clearly marked trails, served by an excellent network of mountain cabins, which provide the most congenial of accommodation (see Mountain huts).
Norway has a strong claim to be regarded as the home of skiing: a 4000-year-old rock carving found in northern Norway is the oldest-known illustration of a person on skis; the first recorded ski competition was held in Norway in 1767; and Norwegians were the first to introduce skis to North America. Furthermore, one of the oldest cross-country ski races in the world, the 55kmBirkebeinerrennet, is held annually in late March, attracting several thousand skiers to participate in the dash between Rena and Lillehammer. The race follows the route taken by Norwegian mountain-men in 1206 when they rescued the two-year-old Prince Håkon. The rescuers wore birch-bark leggings known as Birkebeiners, hence the name of the race.