PLANETSKI GOES CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
28th February 2019 | Jane Peel, Hafjell, Norway
Last modified on February 24th, 2020
In the home of cross country PlanetSKI’s Chief Reporter dons some long skinny skis to tackle Norway’s national obsession.
It’s the second time I’ve been to Norway to ski and both times I’ve concentrated on the pistes.
This time I’m determined not to leave without finding out what all the fuss is about.
Especially as it seems the whole country’s attention is on the Nordic World Championships taking place in Austria right now, where the Norwegians are, once again, winning just about everything.
See our editor James Cove’s report from Seefeld:
I should point out that I have once in my life clipped into these strange things.
It was at a biathlon centre in Switzerland a few years ago.
Let’s just say that the shooting bit (didn’t kill anyone, occasionally hit the target) went a whole lot better than the skiing.
I blame the instructor.
He was so miserable and inattentive that he couldn’t even be bothered to tell me how to put the skis on, let alone give me any guidance about technique.
I have tried to excise the experience from my memory but I still recall being on my a**e more than I was upright.
So can Lars Bukkehave, an instructor with the Hafjell Skiskole, convert me?
I first have to get over the disappointment that he’s not Norwegian.
A Danish cross country instructor in Norway!
How on earth do his Norwegian clients react?
“They think it’s unusual because they say the Danes can’t ski,” he tells me.
This one can.
He’s a hardcore fanatic who considers 50km a warm-up.
Fortunately, not today.
First things first… I need to get to grips with the equipment…
Lars has a good way with words when describing how my body needs to feel while cross-country skiing.
“You don’t want to be stiff like Italian spaghetti when it comes out of the pack,” he says.
“You want to be boiled spaghetti…. be loose.”
“You want to be flexible like a gummy bear – and gummy bears are always happy.”
Can I lose the angst caused by my previous experience and be a happy gummy bear? (It’s a bit like a jelly baby, by the way).
The real question should be, can I put one foot in front of the other without mishap?
It seems I can.
I can go uphill.
I even manage to slide downhill and round a corner without so much as a wobble.
Lars passes on some new tips: feel like I am jumping from one stone to another, push the arms forward and high like the Statue of Liberty.
Do the Norwegian salsa.
I get it.
OK, I’m not exactly gliding effortlessly yet.
“Don’t worry,” says Lars, “It’s all about building it up gradually… small building blocks like that famous Danish company, Lego,” he says, clearly keen to bring up something the Danes are famous for.
Cross country is in the Norwegians’ DNA.
Jens Lied from Gjovik tells me he’s being doing it since he could walk and comes out at least once a week throughout the winter just because he enjoys it.
He’s left his children to their race training while he does an ‘easy’ 10km.
Nowadays in Norway cross-country skiing is both a gentle winter pastime and a serious sport.
Families and friends hit the trails together for some social outdoor exercise.
The superfit – and the wannabe superfit – pound the mountains in same way we Brits might go for a run or get on the bike.
A popular ski marathon called Birkebeinerrennet attracts hordes of Norwegians year after year.
It’s a 53km race that’s been going 81 years.
It takes place in March, starting just down the road from here in Lillehammer.
But cross country skiing started out as a way of getting around this frozen, snowy landscape.
It’s the oldest form of skiing.
The word “ski” is actually a Norwegian word, which comes from the Old Norse word “skid”, meaning a split length of wood.
It only began to develop as a competitive sport in the 1840s.
A men’s event was included at the first Winter Olympic Games.
Norway has dominated ever since.
Today, there’s a superstore dedicated to the discipline in the Winter Olympic city of Lillehammer.
Swix is the market leader in all things cross-country.
Its store has everything you could possibly want and more.
I’m not sure I’ll be buying my own kit ….. yet.
But to my shock, at the end of my morning session with Lars, I am sorry it’s over.
I am keen to carry on and nail the technique.
But I have a plane to catch, so it’s time to say takk.
“You did well,” Lars tells me.
“You’re one of the 10 per cent of British people who actually gets it this quickly.”
My reward is a bar of Norway’s favourite chocolate.
It’s called Kvikk Lunjs which, funnily enough, translates as Quick Lunch.
So did I do a good enough impression of a happy gummy bear?
“You were doing even better than that, you were not just smiling, you were laughing,” Lars says.
I am one very happy customer.
And I’m well and truly hooked.