I know. Unusual title isn’t it? But it’s where this story wanted to go.
The most famous waterfall in Norway is Vøringsfossen. Or is it Vøringfossen, without the “s” as it’s also spelled?
The word, presumably with either spelling, means “the respected one.” Fair enough. Vøringsfossen thunders 182 metres down over the edge of a canyon with a free-fall plunge of 145 metres.
Lonely Planet says Vøringsfossen in 2018 “was the most visited natural attraction in Norway.” Forbes says top place goes to Pulpit Rock; Trip Advisor says it’s Geirangerfjord—and Vøringsfossen doesn’t appear on either list.
A vast amount of water from the falls is siphoned off for power generation but in tourist season, the flow is increased for visitors, who number 650,000 annually. Or is it 300,000 annually as a conflicting source states?
Travellers have been attracted to Vøringsfossen since the nineteenth century. In 1872 a path with was built so tourists could ride horseback from Måbødalen valley and then walk 1,500 stairs to the waterfall. Less than twenty years later a road was tunnelled through the mountains and the Fossli Hotel opened near the falls. Less than ten years after that, cruise-ship passengers from Eidfjord began arriving.
Like us, some of these travellers had to decide: are we satisfied with seeing the falls from the top without hiking into the canyon for different vantage points and close-up views?
Over the course of about three hours on a Saturday morning in early September, there were twenty other hikers who made the same decision as us to take the “moderately challenging” trail. Half of the trail is easy but my diary reads, “Longest 0.9 km of my life,” referring to navigating chunky boulders jumbled together, slippery with the misty spray from Vøringsfossen.
According to the Norwegian government, improvements at the falls were “desperately needed to make the attraction safer to visit, as a number of people had died in previous years.” We saw the Phase One improvements, which included viewing platforms, stairs and fences. Two years later, the second addition to the attraction opened—to mixed reviews.
A remarkable steel bridge spanning 45 metres (or is it 47?) with 99 stairs now allows visitors to cover a difference in height of 16.5 meters from one edge of the gorge to the other. The bridge’s unusual X shape makes it accessible from two points on safe paths along the edge of the canyon.
Is it a “spectacular bridge over the falls!?” as Norway’s Tourist Board exclaims?
Or a “circus in the mountains?” as one headline read.
Are we better off with or without it?
Norwegian author, photographer and mountain climber Stein P. Aasheim says,
It is a rape of one of Norway's most beautiful natural attractions. The worst treatment of a Norwegian nature icon ever.Anyone who wants to develop a tourism based on sustainability and nature-friendly adventure tours—and not cruise-based gondola tourism or strange steel constructions—falls into the "sees problems" category.
Or is it a good improvement as journalist Kai Olsen writes?
…the idea of untouched nature is not sustainable. Facilitation is absolutely necessary.We can also question whether "unspoiled nature" is what sells best.The tourist bridge over Vøringsfossen will become an attraction in itself, and is also necessary to handle the large number of visitors.If we make a living from building cruise ships, we must also accept that they visit Norwegian fjords.It is easy to believe that tourism related to mountain hiking is nature-friendly and based on sustainability. It literally isn't.Tens of thousands of feet have removed the vegetation in many places, and the rain takes away what remains. That problem can be solved with more facilities, such as footpaths and stairs…Hiking is a great activity, and absolutely sustainable if you go for a walk away from home. But even if the tourists walk the 11 kilometers over the egg, they may have traveled 1,000 kilometers by car for the experience.The demand for sustainability is therefore extremely complicated, and perhaps not entirely feasible in an economy like ours.I can guarantee that as long as you avoid a few well-known attractions, you will surely feel solitude in large parts of the Norwegian mountain world.
Or do we take the (satirical?) approach like Mikkel Bolstad’s response to Kai, written under a title that translates to “Selfish Adventurers”?
Aasheim has lived from his experiences in untouched nature long enough.“When we can obviously no longer live by pumping oil out of the North Sea, we must have something else to live by. Then maybe tourism is a good alternative?” writes turbo writer Kai A. Olsen on 10 October, referring to the cruise industry.What is more natural than replacing one environmentally hostile industry with another environmentally hostile industry?Olsen has several good points: "If we make a living from building cruise ships, we must also accept that they visit Norwegian fjords." And if we have cruise ships, we must have gondolas. Or the cruise ships won't come. Or something like that.Busy tourists don't have time to keep up with his old-fashioned stuff anyway.Soon the hybrid ships that sail on frying oil will arrive from the galley, and if that is not enough, we always have electricity. Well then, maybe there will be competition for electricity in the future, but then we get to build a few more wind turbine parks.In any case, we have enough mountains that we still cannot make money from.When we first have to secure Vøringsfossen, it should be the most natural thing in the world to build a steel bridge reminiscent of a collapsed scaffolding across Norway's most visited natural attraction.Natural beauty, you say? What romantic nonsense. Let's make her up hard and sell her to the highest bidder. Should only line dancers have the pleasure of experiencing the waterfall from the middle of Måbødalen?
What do you think?
Not just about this bridge but about the facilities we’ve built here in Canada, like the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, or three gondolas being proposed: from Banff‘s townsite to the base of Norquay; from Silvertip Resort to the summit of Mount Lady MacDonald; and across the North Saskatchewan River between downtown Edmonton at end Whyte Avenue?
Let’s make it easy and cheap, so that many people can come and see what is great and beautiful in our country.
Said Thomas Heftye.
When he founded the Norwegian Tourist Association.
Aasheim, Stein P. “Tivoli i fjellheimen.” NRK. Sept 26, 2020.
Bolstad, Mikkel Soya. “Egoistiske eventyrere.” Dagsavisen. October 20, 2020.
“Carl-Viggo Holmebakk designs new pedestrian bridge over the Vøringsfossen waterfall in Norway.” FloorNature Architecture & Surfaces. September 29, 2020.
Koenig, Alexander. “New attraction in Norway: the stair bridge over the Vøringsfossen waterfall.” First Class & More. August 23, 2020.
Nikel, David. “How To See Norway’s Epic Waterfall Vøringsfossen.” Forbes. Jan 3, 2022.
Nikel, David. “Norway’s Newest Roadside Attraction Divides Opinion.” Forbes. Sept 28, 2020.
Olsen, Kai I. “Vill natur er oppskrytt.” NRK. Oct 10, 2020.