Jostedalsbreen glacier is Europe's largest glacier

Jostedalsbreen glacier

Previously an icy highway for isolated fjord dwellers, Europe's biggest glacier is now a skiers paradise.

Imagine dressing up and packing your bag for a dance at the neighboring village. Then, because there are no roads, you put on your skis, and go up a glacier and then down again on its other side.

Jostedalsbreen Glacier is Europe’s largest glacier. The entire glacial area totals about 497 square miles: A main glacier of about 311 square miles, plus surrounding glaciers and glacier arms. Although it is now a major skiing center, the glacier has played an important historical role for people in the local fjords.

The glacier was a major regional transport route in the times before roads had been built across western Norway. Skiing across Jostedalsbreen was the easiest path for getting between isolated fjord settlements in the Nordfjord and Sogn districts. The only alternative the residents had was traveling by water, which involved the far more taxing task of rowing a boat in and out of the very long arms of the fjord.

In 1788, Ole Bøsasva was the first person to walk the length of Jostedalsbreen. Today, glacier walkers can choose a number of shorter or longer routes. For skiers, May is a good month to visit the glacier. Several popular ski runs are arranged annually, such as the Josten end-to-end, the Olden circular, and the Loen circular.

Jostedalsbreen spans the municipalities of Luster, Sogndal, Jølster, and Stryn. Briksdalsbreen, one of its glacier arms, also reaches Olden at the head of Nordfjord.

After advancing and destroying large stretches of cultivated land in the 18th century, the glacier shrank markedly until the 1960s. It began expanding again at the end of the 1990s, as winter snowfall increased. Recently, the glacier has shrunk again, due to the combination of drier winters and hotter summers.

There are three museums/glacier centers in Jostedalsbreen: Breheimsenteret in Jostedalen, Norsk Bremuseum in Fjærland, and Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalparksenter in Stryn.