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Waffles, Gentle Slopes and Cloudberries In all places: Skiing in Sälen, Sweden


Negative 24 degrees Celsius will not be as bad because it sounds.

That’s what I tell my children once we board a picket sled attached to a snowmobile and wrap ourselves in reindeer skins. It’s actually only negative 11 Fahrenheit! If my kids hear me, they offer no indication. They’re buried in layers of long underwear, wool, down, more wool, probably some Gore-Tex, those foot heater things and whatever balaclavas are product of. I can’t even see their faces. The 2 huddled bodies opposite me on the sled may not even be my children for all I do know.

My husband, kids and I are on our way, improbably, to get supposedly the perfect waffles in your entire country of Sweden. But first you’ve got to get there.

The waffle promised land — Hemfjällsstugan — is about three miles from the closest road in Sälen, a town on Sweden’s western flank about five hours by automotive from Stockholm.

A couple of days earlier, a girl named Cissi Bjuredahl had warned me by email that Hemfjällsstugan, which lacks electricity and water, wasn’t exactly a restaurant. “We only serve soups, waffles & fika,” she wrote. Ms. Bjuredahl also told me the one solution to get there was by snowmobile or cross country skis. “But remember you might be within the mountains, so if the weather is bad, don’t go if you happen to haven’t tried skis before,” she’d warned. After which, perhaps walking back the very Swedish honesty: “Welcome!”

Ergo, the snowmobile. As Felix, our teenage driver, guided our sled toward Hemfjällsstugan,we zoomed right into a snow squall, shapes and shadows faded into nothingness. It was like watching a painting in reverse: from depth and perspective to a seamless white void until the landscape was simply erased and also you couldn’t tell the difference between earth and sky.

It’s a bit of troubling to not know where the bottom is. After about 20 minutes, my son peeked out of his scarf long enough to inform me he was scared, and will we please return? But then, suddenly, we had arrived at Hemfjällsstugan: a modest log cabin with a 30-foot pole with the flag of Sweden whipping around it within the icy wind — every thing but Mrs. Claus opening the front door wiping her hands on her apron.

On the within, Hemfjällsstugan is lit entirely by candles and oil lamps. The dining area is a series of picket tables and benches, a counter and a small chalkboard menu: waffles with homemade strawberry jam, waffles with homemade blueberry jam, and waffles with homemade cloudberry jam. I feel there was a soup, too.

The fires blazing in every wood stove were soon crowded with arriving skiers and snowmobilers, shedding layers, waiting to regain sensation of their extremities. Soon enough, that little cabin in the course of the snowy woods — stuffed with people clicking off their helmets, helping themselves to homemade kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon and cardamom rolls) and robust coffee — swelled with the amount of glad Nordic people.

“This have to be the coziest restaurant on this planet,” said my daughter, a connoisseur of these items.

Broadly speaking, Hemfjällsstugan is within the town of Sälen. I actually have Swedish cousins who come here every yr to ski, and this yr we’d come to hitch them for a couple of days. The town of Sälen will not be well-known outside Sweden. It’s not like flying to Europe to ski in Courchevel or Gstaad. However, it’s only a couple of hours from Stockholm, Gothenberg, or within the case of my family, Jönköping — which suggests the place is Swedish through and thru.

The entire area is known as “Sälenfjällen” (which suggests “Sälen mountains”). There are about half a dozen ski resorts in Sälenfjällen — Stöten, Hundfjället and Lindvallen are those we visited. Swedes call the entire place “Sälen,” for brief, the best way that Californians say “Tahoe” although there are a dozen mountains there.

The mountains aren’t intimidating; they’re what you’d get if you happen to sanded the highest of the Alps all the way down to smooth, countless hills. At the underside they’re blanketed in forest, but there are not any trees on the summit, so you possibly can ski down in almost every direction. The slopes are mostly gentle, and there are trails for each level skier, cross-country skier and snowboarder.

Possibly the perfect reason to get to the highest of the mountains is to eat. There’s almost all the time a sit-down restaurant at the height, with menus which might be local, seasonal and ready by French-trained chefs.

“Whenever you’re skiing all day, you wish plenty of good food,” said Daniel Ahlen, the pinnacle chef and owner of several restaurants in the world, including Lyktan, which sits atop Hundfjället, and Fompes Grill, which sits at the underside of the identical mountain and serves local sausages, vegan burgers and salty fries.

Mr. Ahlen centers his menus on Swedish comfort food. “I feel people would get really mad if we removed the goulash from our menu,” he said. “In Dalarna, we’ve got our own way of doing things. Our tradition here of hunting and fishing and outdoor life are things we would like to maintain and show to the remainder of Sweden.” On his list: “the elk, the birds, the fish, the berries within the woods.”

About those berries. Every menu, every drinks list, every candy store (and there are plenty of them) has cloudberry something. I asked Mr. Ahlen why cloudberries have celebrity status here, and he explained that they’re the pride of the forest, the rare Arctic berry. “When you serve waffles to a Swedish one who is a grown up, you should serve it with cloudberry jam,” said Mr. Ahlen, who also owns Våffelstugen Hundfjället, a close-by cabin that makes a speciality of waffles.

A couple of days after our own waffle adventure, we spent a day skiing at Lindvallen, a couple of miles away. Within the afternoon, because the sun was setting, we decided to finish the day at a restaurant called Sälen Original, a log house with a high-pitched roof tucked on the side of the mountain.

From the skin, I noticed, it looked just like the gingerbread house my Swedish mother used to make, all the time coated in a generous layer of white icing because the crowning glory. But as thick white clumps of snow dumped and dumped on us, it was obvious my mother’s gingerbread house, with its artful icing accents and dripping icicles, was not nearly frosted enough to be from this a part of Sweden.

The connection between dark and light-weight starts to play tricks on you on this a part of Sweden, where the sun goes down around 3 p.m. in December. Long, menacing shadows begin to follow you around by lunchtime, reminding you that your ski day is on a clock (although many slopes have lights). The sky swims between dusty pink, faded yellow and icy blue.

Sälen Original takes après ski to a complete latest and very Swedish level. Once we walked in at around 2:45, it was silent and almost empty. A person on a plain wood stage was tuning his guitar. Then, at precisely 3 p.m., with theatrical precision, the door was thrown open and Swedes clomped in with their ski boots, tables filled up and the guitarist began.

People ordered schnapps with whipped cream, shots of Jägermeister, giant steins of beer in addition to burgers, pretzels, mountains of fries and, naturally, waffles. Because the guy with the guitar began singing American rock songs and Swedish folk songs, the entire place got here to life. It’s an element of Swedish culture that I actually have all the time loved: the mandate that if you happen to’re eating and drinking with other people, there have to be singing.

People ate and drank, clapped and sang along, and ordered more rounds of glögg (spiced mulled wine); kids climbed the steps, dangling their feet off the balcony, while waiters carried skis — holes drilled to carry shots of schnapps — in every direction.

By the point we left, it was pitch black and completely silent outside. Possibly Sälen, I had began to think, claims more magic than other places. The kindly red farmhouses, the paths of chimney smoke curling upward from every village, the smart, countless forests with their precious berries, their creatures, their secrets. The nice and cozy cabins and homemade waffles hiding deep inside these woods. The entire place patrolled by elk, reindeer, the very real possibility of gnomes. There’s such a sweetness to Sälen, like you’ve got been transported right into a snowy, benevolent Swedish fairy tale.

Our last night, we went to dinner at Gammelgården, a restaurant just outside of town. Gammelgården might be essentially the most traditional Swedish restaurant in the world, but at over 400 years old, “traditional” takes on a complete latest meaning. Reindeer, elk, lingonberries: The menu makes you’re feeling like a Viking. With its blazing fire, low picket ceilings and an abundance of candles and bearded tomten — squat little gnomes with big noses and long hats, — on every surface, Gammelgården set off a familial debate on whether it would usurp Hemfjällsstugan because the world’s coziest restaurant. Between courses, my son ran outside to coax four-foot-long icicles off the roof, and my daughter, on the opposite side of a mountain of mashed potatoes, grew sleepy.

We walked outside into the cold, snowy night. It had been an extended day and a warm, abundant dinner. It was so dark outside, it felt just like the sky had descended onto the land. We climbed into the automotive, sure for home, perhaps a fireplace, and bed. It was 7 p.m.

Danielle Pergament is a frequent contributor to Times Travel.

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