First published as an LMC trip report
“Norway. If you want to get into cross-country skiing, I hear Norway’s the place to go. There was a talk on it at the Deveraux the other day, I think there’s going to be a trip there.” I stopped faffing with the rope and looked at Paul. “Do you know any more about it?” I asked. “Not really, but I think it’ll be on the meets list soon” he replied. Back home in London later that evening, post tea-shower-dinner essentials, I checked the LMC website and lo, there was indeed a skiing meet to Lillehammer in January. I quickly rattled off an email to Esben, the organiser, crossing my fingers that there were some places left. And as quick as you could say snøplog, I had put down a deposit and started looking for merino base layers.
January finally rolled around, and although the flight departed from Heathrow a mere fortnight after the end of the Christmas break, I was very ready for a holiday. Arriving at Oslo airport, our minibus (incongruously bedecked with colour-changing lights on the ceiling) whisked the fourteen of us up to our cosy apartment in Nordseter in a couple of hours. The next morning, after a very comprehensive discussion in the girls’ bedroom about what to wear, we shuffled though the ski shop getting kitted out with soft ankle boots, tall poles, and long, thin, light skis. The skis required waxing in order to be able to grip uphill, and the choice of wax was dizzying, not to mention the best way to apply it. Green wax, we were told, was the best choice for today.
Attaching the new equipment to the relevant limbs, I tottered out onto the beginner’s slope outside to begin my first approximation of skiing. My first lap primarily consisted of falling downhill, followed by walking slowly and awkwardly uphill; the second lap was very similar, except with more falling over as I tried to work out what would stick. My fellow LMCers were making similar progress, but after a few more laps we’d pretty much mastered the basics of moving (trudging), stopping (snowplough or crash, as appropriate) and getting in and out of the groomed ski tracks (always aim for the right one first). This was apparently all that was necessary for us to be unleashed onto an unsuspecting Norway. Esben led the charge and we moved as one - albeit a rather slow, uncoordinated one - beyond the comfort zone of our practise slope and out into the wild. And by wild I mean, in a short loop up a hill and back. And by hill I mean, a small slope where my herringbone skills were shown to be somewhat lacking (although my swearing skills came in handy). Arriving back at the apartment worn out and just in time for lunch, we replenished our energy levels and waxing levels before setting out for the afternoon. Back up the same hill, although this time I managed to stay a bit more upright and curse a bit less, we trekked across the barren wilderness to arrive at our afternoon’s destination: the supermarket in Sjusjoen, where we picked up some supplies for dinner and knocked back a quick hot chocolate, before dashing home before it got dark.
The next couple of days were spent exploring the area: up hill and down dale, around lakes and summitting peaks. The prisine whiteness was astonishing, and the beauty of the bleak open spaces is difficult to describe, or even photograph. Most of all, the space and the emptiness, far from being oppressive, was liberating; the silence when I stopped brought a smile to my face. This was most apparent on the evening we decided to go out for a night ski: whipping through the dark a person could almost imagine they were the last person on earth. Or at least, until a crash caused a pile up, or we passed one of the lycra-clad professionals coming the other way.
After four good days on the piste I was thrilled - as we all were, I suspect - to find that I’d progressed from my first ungainly movements towards something that looked a little more like actual skiing. True, there was still the odd moment when a small child would zoom past me, but on occasion I would actually overtake someone, although this was usually followed by a faceplant. On one particularly long day, a breakaway group even attempted a red run and a jump (much to the delight of the snowboarders waiting at the top of the slope) but it was unclear whether this was intentional or possibly due to misnavigation at high speed.
On our last day I ventured out alone early morning to have a bit of time to myself. The temperature was hovering around -15C, which in practical terms meant that slogging uphill in the sunshine I was plenty warm enough, but cruising downhill in the shade got very cold very quickly. Despite being on pisted slopes, I saw almost no-one and the feeling of remoteness was tangible.
Counting up on the last night, we’d covered about 100km in four days. Granted, the world-class athletes can do this in four hours, but they also have professional waxers, which is almost certainly the difference between us. And so we returned home via a train, a plane, a tube and some taxis, a little achey but exhaustedly content, already dreaming about next year’s trip.