Driving a reindeer sleigh

Driving Reindeer Sleighs in Norway. Photo credit: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingMom

There’s a classic holiday song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”  As a Grandmom, I’ve always found it slightly offensive until I was nearly run over by a reindeer. It happened during my first visit to Norway’s Rørosmartnan and my first attempt at driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway.


My destination was Røros where I would be attending the ancient festival, Rørosmartnan.  In February 1854, the King of Norway proclaimed, “From 1854 onwards a yearly market shall be held in Røros.”  Traders from all over Norway harnessed their horses to sleighs and traveled across frozen lakes and rivers through snow blanketed forests to Røros. They brought with them products indigenous to their regions to trade with their countrymen. Rørosmartnan was born.

Driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway

Teams traveling to Rørosmartnan. Photo credit: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingMom


Rørosmartnan continues today and except for the addition of electricity and cell phones, not much has changed. For many Norwegians, the journey to Rørosmartnan is still made by horse and sleigh with some traveling up to 11 days sleeping in farmhouses along the way. The tradition isn’t just for the old-timers, it is a multi-generational adventure with travelers ranging in age from 1 to 87.

Opening day at Rørosmartnan is a bit like time travel.  The horse and sleigh teams glide into town wearing traditional Norwegian dress bundled up in reindeer furs.   Strolling amid the charming 17th century wooden houses – many of which still retain their dark pitch-log facades – while listening to the clanging of the bells from the parade of horses and sleighs was a magical moment…even if it was 10 degrees!

Entertaining Reindeer

With the opening ceremonies concluded, I walked with my friend, Gunhild, to a frozen lake just outside the town center.   In a scene straight from the North Pole, reindeer walked a path around the frozen lake pulling wooden sleds filled with excited children.

It was late afternoon and the reindeer wanted to nap.  They tend to be a bit lazy. But I had been promised the chance to drive a reindeer sled so I was welcomed…at least by the people.

driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway

Terri Marshall driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway. Photo credit: Gunhild Sun Bellsli

Driving a Reindeer Sleigh

Gunhild grew up in Norway and was right at home with the animals. She hopped onto the back of the sled and waited for me to sit at the front to drive. I stepped in between the wooden bars that attached the sled to a member of Santa’s team…we’ll call him Blitzen.

Blitzen was tired, grumpy and impatient.   When I stepped in front of the sled he bolted and I flew backwards off the sled into a blanket of snow.  I scrambled to my feet and brushed the snow off my jeans.  That’s when I heard the noise behind me.  It seems Donner was watching the incident with Blitzen and was completely amused. His mouth was open in a big reindeer smile.  He actually laughed at me.

Driving a reindeer sleigh in Norway

The picturesque town of Roros. Photo credit: Terri Marshall / Globetrotting TravelingMom

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, after all they did laugh at poor Rudolph.  I’m sure Grandmom flying through the air and landing with a thud in the snow was much more amusing than a red-nosed reindeer.

Once Blitzen was subdued, I climbed back on the sled to drive the beast.  Reindeer is a popular dish in Norway and I reminded Blitzen of this while I drove him around the lake. He straightened up and let me enjoy my ride.

I’m still not a fan of the “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” song, but now I understand it.

Are you intrigued by the idea of a visit to Norway? Check out this Adventures by Disney “Frozen” tour of Norway, just don’t go there looking for Anna or Elsa. Or read this for ideas of what to see and do in Oslo, the beautiful capital city of Norway.