The start of the hotel
The Finse mountain lodge was ready when the Bergen line opened in 1909. It was originally conceived to serve as a combination of safety and tourism. Many believed it was an insane idea to run trains over the mountains, since the risk of getting stuck in snow was big. Therefore, a places of refuge was believed to be necessary and Finse was constructed. Someone also saw the potential of the growing tourism in Norway and believed that restaurant carriages on the trains as well as a hotel along the way was a great idea. The Finse mountain lodge was officially opened by Minister Kristoffer Lehmkuhl during Easter of 1909. It was the state owned Railways of Norway that stood as the owner of the property located 1222 meters above sea level.
1900 and the years after
It was only a few months later that the place was taken over by the productive hostess, Alice Lister Fangen. She was a mother of five and had been the hostess at Finse since 1903, when she established a precursor to the mountain lodge. She went into partnership with Joseph Klem who ran the Finse shop. Together they quickly developed a place with a large new bedroom wing. In 1914 the world’s first indoor skating hall opened.
In 1915, the two co-founded a Norwegian hotel company called Norsk Hotelcompagnie AS and Finse Hotel was added together with Haugastøl Hotell and Dr. Holms in Geilo. Joseph Klem moved to Geilo and Alice ran the place for another year before she handed over the position to Joseph’s brother Andrew. He developed the place further for 17 years. At this point in time Finse was a very modern place with many prominent guests and cigar smokers. Sonja Henie used Finse as a training place before major championships. Polar hero Ernest Shackleton trained at Finse before he set out on his Imperial Trans – Antarctic Expedition. The guest list from this era also contain famous names such as King Haakon, Fridtjof Nansen, Karen Blixen, the Prince of Wales and polar explorer and pilot Trygve Gran.
In 1930, the Norwegian hotel company had taken ownership of Fred Olsen and Bergen Dampskipsselskab. This made them a major force in the Norwegian hotel industry. Under the leadership of Axel Lund, more hotels were incorporated into the company. The guests of Finse were very faithful, as in the summer they vacationed at Fevik Beach in the Southern Norway. They celebrated Christmas at Dr. Holms and Easter at Finse.
World War II
During World War II, Finse Hotel was requisitioned by the Germans. The Germans wanted to establish an airstrip on Hardangerjøkulen and test aviation under “arctic conditions”. They established large barracks and other constructions, these were given to the Tourist Association after the war. It is today known as Finsehytta. Interestingly, the Germans never got to use the airstrip on the glacier – one flight landed, but never lifted again. The airstrip had to be dismantled and sent home to Germany by train. After the war, Finse Hotel had a new resurgence – “posh people” returned and adopted the place as theirs.
In 1961, the hotel was expanded, as several new rooms and suites were added to the west side of the hotel facing the water. Larger common areas were also new additions at this time. However, the cottage boom which came in the late ’60s led to that many of the guests stopped coming. Hotelier Jorund Helleland from Hardanger took over as director in 1972. He later took over ownership of the hotel for only one Norwegian kroner a couple of years later, when the Norwegian hotel company ceased to exist.
1980 and the years after
In 1980, Tron Bach bought half of the hotel and built it into a sportier establishment, a concept aimed at younger people who loved nature. Helleland himself built the Western part of the hotel into a smaller Finse Hotel. After a few futile attempts as two hotels side by side, they merged back together again in 1986, creating Finse 1222 and Apartment 1222 respectively. A rebuilt old medical train carriage from the days of the war was lifted into place as a “skyway” between the two sides to emphasize the reunification.
In 1987, the brothers Trygve, Knut and Nikolai Norman stood as owners. After a time as partners with Tron, they took over the brand in 1995 and has operated it since. Arne Storhaug became at the age of 28 hotel manager and heralded the “new age”. He showed that even a hotel at 1222 meters could make money. Since then, teams of young but enterprising mountain and hotel people have brought the centenarian story on further.