Colin May wraps up warm for a feast of ice music in Norway

It is past midnight and we are looking at the specially created igloo-like stage at the edge of a frozen lake in the charming Norwegian village of Geilo, population: 2,400.

Slowly an eerie sound emerges from the speakers relayed from a microphone under the ice. 

We are at the midnight concert, the high point of the annual Ice Music Festival which has been timed to coincide with the first full moon of the year
When the crowd claps, which is often, applause is muffled because everyone is wearing thick gloves as it is -22C. Cold, yes, but it is close to the ideal temperature for ice music.

“When it is -15C the ice really sings,” explains festival co-founder Terje Isungset.

Then as the concert ends, the new moon with perfect timing comes out from behind the clouds, bathing the scene in a magical ethereal light. 

It was hearing the special sound of Terje Insungset aka The Ice Man, playing his ice music in Cogges Farm Barn, Witney, in 2013, that sparked the idea of going to the festival in Geilo – where nearly every instrument played, and both arenas, are created from ice. In Geilo centre in the run up to the festival’s start, it was fascinating to pass by and see the ice instruments, such as a trumpet, giant tuba and percussion, being carved, and the main arena being constructed. 

There was plenty of variety over the festival’s four days and seven concerts from Terje’s own ice music to jazz artists, to the winner of the Norwegian version of The Voice.

Trumpeter and improviser Arve Henriksen with vocal group Trio Mediaeval, who have played together in Oxford, performed two concerts. Balafon player Mamadou Diabate arrived from Burkina Faso to put on a richly entertaining family concert where there was also an orchestra of skis strung with wire being plucked and bowed.

On another cold night, soul and R&B singer Miss Tati, from Angola via Portugal, warmed us up by getting us out of our ice seats and dancing. It was fun, and a unique adventure in gig-going. 

Geilo, halfway between Oslo and Bergen, also proved to be a rarity among ski resorts as it was able to satisfy both a downhill skier and a cross country aficionado. With 550 kilometres of prepared tracks with free access, there were hours and hours of cross country skiing through two national parks.

Downhill skiers have 39 pistes totalling about 34 km (21 miles) with the longest being 2 km. They are spread across four areas, three of which are linked, and there is a free ski bus – though it is rather infrequent.

Geilo markets itself as a family-friendly ski resort and the mostly blue and reds runs are ideal for improving beginners and intermediates, though there are a few black runs and some snow parks for an increased adrenalin rush.

While not doorstep skiing, it was only an eight- to 10-minute walk from our hotel to the nearest of the ski area, from where you could ski back almost to the hotel front door. 

On one day we took the train up to Finse, population 10 rising to 30 in the season, which at 1,222 metres is the highest station on the Oslo-Bergen line, only reachable by train, and a location for the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back.

We were totally alone when skiing over its frozen lake to the base of the Hardangerjőkulen. 

Compared to Geilo with its woods and houses, Finse is a starkly beautiful moonscape, and seemed even colder with the wind gusting across the empty expanse.

There’s a memorial to Captain Scott and his colleagues who trained here for their ill-fated Antarctic expedition, because it was thought similar to the ice cap. 

The whole area is perfect country for the wolves and trolls of Norse mythology, and is very atmospheric. Yes, we would go again.

Even with an improved exchange rate of £1 to 12NOK, what made the week affordable for us, was finding a last-minute, half-board ski holiday package from Crystal Ski.

From our hotel, the Usdalen, it was a 10-minute downhill walk to the village centre along a well-lit road.

The hotel was comfortable and warm, with friendly helpful staff, a sauna and swimming pool.

The plentiful breakfast and dinner buffets were heaven for lovers of crayfish, salmon and varieties of pickled herring. Reindeer might also appear on the menu.

With the price of alcohol being high we found it easy to stick to one drink a day. We were told some Norwegians brew their own.
You could travel independently by taking budget airline Norwegian Air from Gatwick to Oslo or Bergen, and then making the scenic train journey to Geilo.

Our package went from Gatwick to tiny Fareges airport, from which it was a two-hour coach transfer in the dark along small, snow-covered roads edged with clumps of pine trees.
What it costs:

  • Six to eight-day lift pass for adult: NOK 1790*
  • Seniors (62+) and children/ youths: NOK 1405
  • 550 km cross country courses: free 
  • Cappuccino: NOK 30-40
  • Beer in bar: NOK 70
  • Beer in shop: NOK 25-26
  • Bottle of house wine in restaurant: NOK 400
  • Takeaway Pizza: NOK 150
  • We paid: £370 pp last minute for flight, transfer and half board with Crystal Ski

* Exchange rate £1=12 NOK approx.


  • The Ice Music Festival 2017 takes place from February 9-12, and coincides with the second new moon of the year. A music festival season pass for adults costs NOK 1100
  • Individual concerts cost about NOK 250-350 
  • For updates and further information, go to
  • For Terje Isungset’s schedule of ice music performances see
  • Arve Henriksen returns to play with a new band at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, on May 11. See