by Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, CEO
I have just returned from my Easter break in Norway and would like to share some stories from my hometown. Easter is eagerly awaited by Norwegian, not only as a religious celebration, but also celebrates the arrival of spring after the long, dark winter, and more importantly it is also a strange Norwegian tradition to follow the winter into the mountains, moving the whole family up to our mountain cabin for a good 10 days; so you could say Easter is also saying goodbye to king winter. This Easter, I travelled more than 10,000 miles to be with my family.
When I was younger, I remember Easter celebration as a family gathering filled with family activities; sharing jokes, stories and experiences, especially at the dining table. We had family meals at the mountain cabin and after the meals, everybody took turns clearing the dishes. There were togetherness in the things we did as a family; we went for cross country skiing almost every day during the break. When the weather was good, in our skiing trips with our parents, we would bring along food and collected firewood and make a small fireplace in the snow, under the sun. We enjoyed the weather, the company, grilled sausages and had oranges for desert. Simple food, made interesting because of each other’s company and the picturesque view of the mountains.
I was born in a small village called Miland, 10 km outside the small industrial town of Rjukan. Rjukan is located in a narrow valley called Vestfjorddalen, just under Gaustatoppen, one of Norway’s highest mountains.
110 years ago Rjukan was not even on the map! The valley only had a few farms and a small population of about 200 – 300 people.
In the 19th century, Norway was one of the most underdeveloped countries in Europe. Many had left the country to look for opportunities elsewhere. In the early 1900s, the idea of creating a sustainable society for the future of Norway and the Norwegian people was foremost in the minds of the Government and the people. A sense of need to transform gripped the country.
The transformation to the Vestfjorddalen valley came in the form of ”the Smoking Waterfall”. Rjukanfossen, translated as “the Smoking Waterfall”, was one of the largest waterfalls in the central highlands of Norway. This waterfall became the site for the world’s largest hydropower station in 1911 generating 60MW of electricity.
The electricity generated from Rjukanfossen was enough to power industries, schools and hospitals and other amenities and gave birth to the town of Rjukan, with a population that grew tremendously to 10,000 people by 1915.
This massive transformation also laid the foundation for a modern tourism industry at Rjukan with cross country skiing, downhill skiing, ice climbing, mountain trekking and climbing, creating demands for hotels, restaurants and job opportunities.
Since then, Rjukan has contributed significantly to Norway’s economy earlier as a vital industrial center and later transformed into one of Norway’s tourism hub. Without the industrial development of Rjukan, the area would not have the infrastructures that strategically connect it to the rest of the country and the world.
Before, very few visitors would have been able to venture to this beautiful mountainous country. What was once an isolated area accessible only by horses and boats is now reachable within two hours by road from the capital Oslo.
Thanks to hydropower and multiple spinoff industries, Rjukan, my hometown, is now on the map of Norway and famous for its scenic country side and beautiful mountains. I am proud to tell the story of my hometown, a success story driven by hydropower!