After our small foray into nordic skiing in the Black Forest, we decided that we wanted to give it a real shot. Make the most of skiing in the northern winter.
The only problem was that the UK didn’t have a lot of snow, or a lot of facilities for it either. We enlisted into the London Rollerski Club for some instruction. As we found out, we had been using the skate style in Germany, but for longer distance affairs, we would need to learn the Classic style – striding out with ski’s parallel. There were actually a lot of variations of techniques we ended up needing to learn; the diagonal stride, the double pole action (always a crowd favourite), the kick double pole and to navigate difficult obstacles – the telemark.
After about 5 sessions with the club, we learned most of the basics so we would get by on snow without embarrassing ourselves too much. Being early on a Winter Saturday Morning at Hyde Park, there were a few mornings hungover and freezing, being pushed along by the wind and battling it on return. However, despite our terrible coordination, we were able to come away from each session somewhat better.
Now was time to put it to the test. We had booked a long weekend to Oslo, starting with an early flight out. True to form, Mitch went out and had a few beers with a mate and stumbled home past midnight, in time for the 4:30 taxi to Gatwick. He then managed to sleep in the cab, at the airport, on the plane, standing up through customs, on the train, then on the tram to our Oslo accommodation. Most of what he missed was the snow. Heaps of it. Piled over fields, houses and forests – it did little to deter the Norwegian locals from getting out and enjoying the open air.
Getting off the tram at Voksenkollen and walking to our reasonably priced accommodation with our trundle bags ploughing through the snow, we got a good dusting of snowflakes settling on our jackets, on our hair and in our shoes. We were too early for check in, so left the luggage and walked up the hill to the Oslo Vinterpark for hire.
We were greeted by a friendly chatty Canadian who sized us up and dished out matching pairs of blue carbon fibre ski’s. Cross country ski’s are significantly lighter and have more flex than the downhill skis we were used to. As a consequence they were a lot easier for travelling, but harder to turn, especially at speed. The shoes hinge at the toe and are also significantly lighter for travelling, making them perfect for general “apres” wear as well.
This first small run on ski’s didn’t last as long as originally hoped. It was just past midday and Mitch was nursing a pounding headache. We were running over a few drills to get us into the flow and he took a bit of a tumble. Not the happiest customer…
As we seemed to be lost and off trail early on, we opted to go back to our accommodation. We didn’t know it at the time, but if we had of gone a further hundred metres, we would have met up with the Marka trals, the largest collection of groomed ski tracks through the forest. Right now, all Mitch needed was a bit more sleep. After some cheese and crackers for dinner (in our typical thrifty Norwegian fashion) and a movie about sled dogs, we were early in bed – well before normal.
The following day was to be more promising. Mitch had done some more research on ski trails and now we knew where to go. Tam also watched a Canadian video “How to go aboot skiing” as it was very different to what we had practiced on wheels. At least falling on snow didn’t hurt.
We chowed down as much of the breakfast buffet as we could manage before heading down the line to the last stop at Frognerseteren.
Once off the platform, we had to dodge a few children with their toboggans and sleighs, rushing to the start of the track – the tram serves as a ski lift once they get to the bottom.
Clipping in our toes, we set off. Quickly getting lost in the woods and in snow several feet deep. The tracks, with their floodlit lamps, all well groomed for the mornings skiers are known as lysløype. As we had enough light in March, it was relatively easy to navigate our way around asking a few locals for directions.
Going down hills on a pair of classic skis can be a bit of a harrowing experience. It’s like going from ice-block sticks to toothpicks. The most popular method of slowing down was to do the snow plough. Mitch being a relative beginner at downhill found this a lot easier, while Tam trying the power-turn ended up going straight off the track and face first into several feet of snow on one occasion. Mitch was quite chuffed with himself being the faster one on skis for a change.
Descending the hill down to Tryvannsstua, we met up with a large gathering of skiers taking their dogs out for a run. Skijoring is the practice of tethering a dog in a harness and letting them pull you along the snow. They all really got into it in leaps and bounds, some dogs with little fluoro booties. We had descended some way and the rest of the track was going to be undulating past Skjennungstua. Here Tam seemed to have little trouble springing up the slopes, while Mitch found he would slide back and sometimes face plant. This was where the herringbone technique came in handy – although we looked like idiots, we eventually made it up the steepest of inclines despite gravity.
Turning south from Ullevålseter we had only a short amount of time to get to Sognsvann before the youth race started. We were advised to be well clear. Coming out of the woods at the Oslo University Hospital, we found the tram back up to the top of the hill. We were a bit sweaty, a bit cold and a bit exhausted.
Getting a chair on the tram was a bit of a challenge however, with large crowds going up the hill. Turns out all the commotion was over the IBU World Biathlon Championships at to Holmenkollen. Biathlon can be summed up as extreme cross-country skiing combined with target shooting. Skiing generates high heart rates while shooting typically requires the opposite for accuracy. Hence, the difficulty of the sport.
After dropping off our skis, we made a beeline back down the hill to Holmenkollen. The massive Olso ski jump – Holmenkollbakken you could see from where we were staying and over the day you could hear the roar of the crowds.
In Norway, skiing is the number 1 sport. It would be on a similar level to rugby in New Zealand. The darling poster child of the Norwegian sport was Tiril Eckhoff and as we arrived to the grounds, she was smashing the field to a gold victory over the 7.5km.
The whole place was nuts. There were thousands of Scandinavians all cheering around small campfires in the snow watching the athletes speed around the course.
At the afterparty, we made our way into a tent with a live band, belting out the power ballads of the 80’s. The crowd was even more entertainment. The guys were large and sleazy and the girls had their hair done in exactly the same fashion as if it was 1988. This was their party, just 30 years on and they were killing it. One lady in a white sweater tried to get on the stage to plant a kiss on the singer, tripped and fell backwards onto the dance floor.
We, however, were a bit too young and prudish – queuing for drinks. After about 15 minutes of lining up, we ordered a pint of beer and an Irish Coffee. 180 Kroner (£15, NZD$32)! and after we handed over the 200 NOK note, the guy had the cheek to ask for the rest as a tip! We weren’t going to get drunk in Oslo any time soon…
Better rested and prepared for the final days skiing we again settled for a dinner of cheese, crackers and a few apples, scavenged from the breakfast buffet.
The next day we were even more resourceful in the buffet – we weren’t about to let an expensive country blow our budget. Eating to the point of bloat and packing enough bread, cheese and fruit to last us the rest of the day. The staff didn’t seem to mind, we think they understood and probably snuck every chance they got to pocket a few oranges to feed themselves.
Again, we set off early from Frognerseteren, at about double pace of the day before. Our legs gained a new lease of life as we found our fearless technique had improved that much. we skied across frozen lakes and over technical courses, the only difference was this time, we had to ski back up to the hire shop.
That took a bit of time, but left us with just enough to get back to our room before check out and into Oslo for a few Sunday tourist activities.
Oslo town in winter is a labyrinth of heated buildings. Once outside, you just want to get back in. Tam scoped out the peninsula with all the museums and we set out on the bus to spend the next few hours learning all about polar exploration at the Fram Museum. Norwegians have long been pioneers of the frozen world, overland and through the sea. A couple of icebreaker ships, namely the Fram, which took Amundsen to the South Pole first were on display and you could walk in and around them. The Viking Boat museum down the road had a couple of ships from a much more ancient era. We only managed to see the one that you could view from the queue for tickets – making that kroner go further!
After three discount price pølsers (hotdogs) at the convenience store and a cup of coffee, we were ready to head back. Our thighs and groins searing with pain so much we couldn’t walk more than a few steps. Really enjoyed our small adventure nordic skiing and no doubt will give it another go in the future. We love how the Scandinavians really embrace winter and incorporate it into their active lives.