Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Tales of an Incompetent Cross Country Skier in Norway

Our home for the week
Until last week Kathryn and I had never been skiing. So when the opportunity to go to Anthony and Julia's hut in Norway arose, we embraced it with the kind of wanton enthusiasm typical of people who have absolutely no idea what they are letting themselves in for. Afterall, if couldn't be that different from sledging, right?

So it was that we found ourselves in a quaint wooden hut in the Hallingdal region, one week in late March. It was -25oC outside, and the snow was a metre deep. But huddled round the stove, by candlelight, we were very cosy indeed.

By the next morning, the sun had warmed the mountains up to a relatively balmy -8oC and our skiing apprenticeship was about to begin.

Cross Country Skiing Lesson 1: Waxing is a vital pre-ski ritual.
Not your legs. It gets rubbed on the skis to control traction with the snow. Arguing about wax choices appears to be the Norwegian equivalent of pontificating about this afternoon's football matches.  Depending on the air temperature you might want the green wax, the red, the violet, or various combinations of each, but not too much. You need to consider the snow and the expected weather conditions...unless the wind is from the east and it's a full moon on the third Wednesday of the month … or something like that... Got that...?

Waxing complete, we set off beneath azure skies through gorgeous snow-clad rolling mountain scenery. It was not long (a matter of seconds in fact) before I learnt my second lesson.
Cross Country Skiing Lesson 2: Falling over is an effective way of stopping.

Emma demonstrates how to go downhill correctly
It is also a good way of steering, getting in and out of your skis and, occasionally, staying still.
As the day progressed I became slightly less wobbly.  Skiing downhill with any semblance of control remained problematic, however.
Cross Country Skiing Lesson 3: Tandem skiing does not work.
I was effortlessly sliding down a gentle incline, the occasional awkward and unbalanced lurch betraying my inexperience. I was suddenly torn out of my reverie by a cry from behind me, "Faster Edvin, faster!" Kathryn was hurtling down the hill out of control, ski poles flailing. I tried to pole away but my high-speed wife charged into me, and somehow remained clinging there, on top of my skis. A bend in the track hove into view. We remembered Lesson 2. Shortly afterwards we were digging ourselves out of a copious snowdrift next to the track, giggling at our haplessness as some bemused lycra-clad pros glided elegantly past.
Swings buried in the deep snow

The week progressed in a haze of fine skiing and merriment (due in no small part to Anthony’s rather fine homebrew). My snowploughs started to improve. But they didn’t always work…
Cross Country Skiing Lesson 4: Collisions are also a good way of stopping.
Julia had stopped at the bottom of a hill. I attempted to snowplough gracefully down to join her, before realising that I wasn’t actually going to stop at all. "Nooooo", I screamed as I inched inexorably towards her. Time stood still (I really was going that slowly). My skis nudged into her legs which disappeared from beneath her. I found myself obeying Lesson 2 once more and a second later Julia landed on top of me, to the amusement of some passing Norwegians. I keep repeating this over and over in my mind in slow motion, before realising that's the actual speed at which it all happened!

A couple of miscellaneous lessons from the week are now worth mentioning.
Cross Country Skiing Lesson 5: The car journey may be as exciting as the skiing itself.
I should have twigged this earlier in the week when the hire car I was driving first skidded around the snowy hairpins into the mountains. My passengers’ pale faces and white knuckles bore witness to their silent terror! Luckily winter tyres and traction control are remarkably effective.
Cross Country Skiing Lesson 6: For the full skiing experience, a snow bath is essential.
The warped surface of a frozen lake
My holidays often seem to involve long periods of time without washing. I decided to remedy this one afternoon by stripping off my fetid thermals and plunging headlong into a snowdrift (this time deliberately). I’m not sure I got very clean, but the coarse snow crystals certainly had a painful exfoliating effect on my skin!
Our final day of skiing was perhaps the most interesting of all. Our route took us across a frozen lake. Rather than remaining flat, the ice had buckled and warped under pressure, creating a weird volcano effect, with craters and deep cracks everywhere. Observing the local skiers as they deftly wove their way round these obstacles, I came to the conclusion that my technical skiing ability was roughly on a par with that of a Norwegian 4 year-old. I’ll just have to go back again and get better!

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