|61.65633°N / 10.11817°E
|Nov 30, 0000
(Nordic skiing. AKA Langlauf skiing, Cross country skiing. Telemark skiing is usually considered to combine elements of both Alpine and Nordic skiing)
I've heard it said that "The destination is not important, it's the journey that counts." I imagine that quote is something we can all identify with, not only in our mountaineering activities but in our wider lives too. For me, my interest in Nordic skiing has waxed and waned over a long period of time and whilst it could be said that I haven’t actually “travelled” very far, in terms of expertise, it has been an interest that has taken me to many places and through some great experiences – places and experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I have gone from short, flat circuits in ski resorts to traversing lonely hills in the wilderness. I think that those experiences display an imaginary “distance travelled” in a more significant way than trying to measure my skiing abilities would and I am excited by the thought that these experiences may continue.
Growing up in England, skiing was something that “foreigners” did!
Alpine skiing, (downhill skiing as it’s often called in the UK) had appeared on tv in films, documentaries and sports programs for many years but my first memory of seeing a man using skis to cross a barren, snowy landscape was probably during the 1960s in the film “Heroes of Telemark”.
A Second World War film set in Norway and based on a true story; I remember wondering why I hadn’t heard more about this type of travel in snowy landscapes. It looked more exciting to me than just going up and down the same mountain slopes all the time but I never imagined then that I might get to try it someday. Even the thought of being in such a hostile environment, seemed to be something I was unlikely ever to experience. I had no practical experience of mountains and living in the flat, south east of England, I was a long way from any.
(How I came to be interested in mountaineering, I recorded on SP in an article “Scotland… the first time”.)
As time passed, I tried to expand my mountaineering experience by attending various courses in the UK and Europe. Occasionally, I tried some Alpine skiing on artificial dry slopes, I did ok with the basics but didn’t try to progress any further.
In 1984 I joined my local mountaineering club in Maidstone, Kent. Here, I found lots of people interested in all sorts of mountain sports but one that I was surprised to find was popular was Nordic skiing. Most of my new friends already had a few years’ experience in this and they practiced the sport in Austria, Italy, Scotland (the Cairngorms) and occasionally Scandinavia.
I would have liked to have become involved with their trips but in the end, I decided to focus my time and money on improving my abilities in mountaineering and rock climbing and the thoughts of taking up Nordic skiing passed.
Having said that, I loved to see their photographs of the snowy wastes of Europe and Scandinavia and hear about their trips when we all got together. I think I harboured a “romantic” (perhaps over romantic?) vision of how adventurous it would feel, exploring the frozen wastes, miles from civilization in a cold, hostile environment. I suppose I filed Nordic skiing in the back of my mind as just one of those things I wouldn’t ever get to do.
In the years between the mid-1980s and 2011, I had learned the basics of Alpine skiing and skied Blue, Green and a few Red runs in the resorts I visited but found the slopes too crowded to be enjoyable. Also, I disliked the enforced apres ski activities which took up most of the time!
In 1996, I spent New year in Bolzano, Italy with some of my Maidstone friends, one of whom was living in the town. We had a great time and I tried “Cross country skiing” on a mountain circuit near the Alpe de Suisi. All I remember was that it was much harder than Alpine skiing and I fell over a lot! I managed to stay on my feet whilst in the “tracks” (Loipe) but otherwise I was pretty hopeless. I got the feeling there was a lot I needed to learn.
The other thing I remember from skiing on this trip was from when we tried some of the Alpine routes above Selva. I hadn’t really enjoyed the circuit through the woods of Alpe de Suisi but I particularly remember enjoying an Alpine route beneath the huge face of the Sassolungo. The route traversed the slopes beneath the mountain then became roughly parallel to the road and with fantastic views of the Sella massif. It was easy going until we had to descend into Selva when it got steeper but I loved the idea of travelling easily across the snow with lovely views of superb mountains all around.
“How do you feel about going away to Austria for Christmas?” Marie asked me.
It was 2011 and we were planning what to do as an alternative to staying in the damp, cold of England at Christmas.
“Do you mean go skiing?” I asked. I was surprised as Marie had expressed no interest in getting involved in the glitzy world of ski resorts.
“Not exactly.” She replied.
Marie had found a holiday package to the mountain resort of St Wolfgang in Austria, a place she had visited before during the summer. Part of the package included a day’s introduction to what was described as “Cross country skiing”. My dreams of traversing across white, snow blown landscapes returned.
St Wolfgang is quite a low resort but even so, there was plenty of snow for our week.
For our first half day session, a quite large group of us were taken out onto a snow-covered football pitch and showed various exercises. Then, we put the skis on and took them off. Eventually, we actually got to ski in a loipe for a short distance in a straight line but there was a lot of stopping and talking about it although, we weren’t shown how to stop properly, we just ground to a halt.
The following day we had our second session. Only 6 of us returned for this session and we were driven up to the Postalm a skiing resort above the town.
Our guide took us to an easy loipe circuit. Again, there was lots of talk and after a while, the guide suggested we all go for a coffee!
Thankfully, everyone declined the coffee so he had to return to the skiing option! Marie and I were doing well and we soon skied off on our own to try our new skills.
Later, the guide took us to the longer, 5km circuit, it was much more exciting and we all enjoyed it. I think we all fell over at least once but this was the sort of thing we had been wanting to do.
It was a new experience for us and one that I felt we had been quite successful at. I would have liked to do more but the week passed very quickly and we were soon back home.
At Christmas in 2012, we returned to St Wolfgang. We wanted to practice and improve our Nordic skiing after a year’s break. We found ourselves once again at the Postalm in good weather but with obviously less snow than the previous year. Nevertheless, after a bit of a practice, we set out on the 5km circuit, there were very few people around, despite the sunny weather.
We soon found that we were struggling to ski the same circuit where we had been fine the previous year. We carried on but both fell where the loipe dissolved into an icy mess. Eventually, we cut across some deep snow to reach the loipe lower down and took a faltering descent route back to the start. We were disappointed at our efforts but whilst having a consoling beer and chips, we watched a German couple we had earlier met, have similar difficulties. Then, an English couple who had told us they were very experienced, took two big falls with the man scratching his face on the ice and drawing blood.
After that, we called a halt to our efforts and with warmer weather and rain later in the week, we didn’t get out on the loipe’s again.
Our first session had just been a “try out” session, we needed more instruction in order to master the basics properly. With hindsight, there was a reason that there were few people out that day – the conditions were very poor. We just didn’t have the experience to realise it!
We booked ourselves onto a series of 5 half day sessions as a beginners course in the resort. Our group consisted of 15 people split into 2 smaller groups and once again, started with the basics. We had a head start over most of our compatriots as we had previous experience and we did well. We started skiing on the Blue routes (Easy) then tried some sections of the Red routes (Intermediate) to test ourselves but stayed clear of the harder Black routes!
Marie and I practiced on the circuit around the golf course near the railway station in the afternoons which was really useful, especially at the start of the week.
(The last time we were in Seefeld we were dismayed to find the Golf course was closed as they were building flats on it, so I assume, that opportunity has now gone!)
By day 2, the group was smaller as we had lost a number of people who had had enough on day 1! Finally, we learned how to stop! I already knew how to snow plough from my earler experiences but it was more difficult in the narrow, flimsy Nordic skis. However, to improve, it was good trying to ski for longer periods on the routes through the woodlands although, the loipe were often quite broken.
Each day we learned new techniques, snow plough turns, herring – bone ascents, skiing with one ski out of the loipe but had little time to consolidate these new skills. Each day, the group got smaller as more people dropped out. It was fine if you could master the new techniques quite quickly but if not, it was hard luck. Usually, the people who couldn’t master things quickly were the ones who dropped out.
By Thursday, the group which had originally been 15 strong, had been reduced to 6 of us. Marie had caught a cold during the previous few days and sat out the Thursday session making it a group of 5. I really enjoyed a tour of the routes starting from the Seekirchl in the glorious weather we were having but felt it was quite crowded with all the other skiers out for the day. I dreamed of skiing across open, snowy alps or maybe ascending a rounded mountain but most of the routes went in between the houses and nearby villages.
One afternoon, on a bus trip, we discovered the nearby Leutasch valley which we had read about and found it was beautiful in the snowy conditions. There were plenty of wide open loipes here in the sunny valley and I hoped we would get back to try them out but for one reason or other, it didn’t happen.
Marie was suffering with her cold and aching from the week’s exertions, she wasn’t sure that Nordic skiing was giving her the same level of enjoyment that hiking in the mountains did.
In my diary at the end of the week, I wrote “Goodbye to cross country skiing.” I didn’t think we would continue with it.
Two years had passed since our last excursion into the world of Nordic skiing. We had tried to have a go when we visited both Seefeld and Ellmau in Austria at Christmas but on both occasions, there was virtually no snow! We realised we needed to go somewhere a bit more reliable and Marie had been investigating the possibilities of visiting Norway. These trips all seemed quite expensive but by chance she found a holiday package that included a week in a mountain lodge with some more Nordic skiing instruction.
“This would be a chance to ski in the place where it all began!” She said.
I didn’t need any persuading, I was already imagining the wide, open spaces and feeling the cold air on my face.
Venabu is on a mountain plateau set at about 900m above sea level. We stayed at a lodge set amongst a few holiday cabins and a wild and open landscape. We arrived on a cold, sunny afternoon and it was spectacular!
It was clear from the start that this was going to be a bit different from skiing in Austria. They didn’t grade the routes (Blue/Red/Black) they were all the same – some with flat bits and some with steep bits! We were given boots that were more akin to winter walking boots than the flimsy silver boots we had used before. Then, we were taught how to wax our skis! We hadn’t needed to do this before and it was a surprise to find there are so many different types of wax for different conditions! Nevertheless, we got the hang of it and our group was split into two smaller groups – beginners and intermediates.
I chose to go into the intermediate group while Marie preferred the beginners. Straight away, I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew! First of all, there were only 3 of us with our female guide.
“We are going to do a tour and see how you get on.” She said.
No warm ups or seeing how good we are, straight off!
For the first 30 mins I did my best to impress our guide with snow ploughs, and my abilities at controlling my speed. She said that my skiing technique was good and I tried not to look too smug about it!
Just as well as she then announced that “we are going to ski off track.”
I was puzzled, I thought the whole idea was to stay in the tracks? Apparently, that was not the case.
We set off across what looked like a snow covered, frozen lake. This was much harder.
In our small group of 3, one was very good and she skied off confidently with the guide. The other member and I did our best to keep up. I realised we were about the same level of ability but I think my high fitness level came to my rescue here. As the morning passed, I started to improve and felt glad to have taken a chance to push myself a bit. It was a cold, grey day but I still enjoyed skiing around the routes near the lodge, passing by dog sled teams and few people.
We attended a lecture in the evening by the original owner of the lodge when it had been a farm.
“When I was a boy,” he said. “There was no Nordic skiing or Telemark skiing, no Alpine skiing. If I wanted to go to school or needed to get to the shops for food, there was no tarmac roads. I had to put on my skis to get through the snow, it was just skiing. It was part of my life.”
Next day was a much sunnier day. After we had waxed our skies and met our new guide for the day, we found our group had grown by 5, skiers who had found the beginners group too easy.
We all set of, heading north and parallel to the only road that passes across the plateau. Soon, we crossed over the road and headed east, up a small hill on a loipe.
At the crest of the hill, we descended the other side and was immediately cut off from the road and all signs of civilization. This was what I had always dreamed of! As far as the eye could see was a snow covered, landscape of hills with the black silhouettes of trees to break up the glaring white under the blue, sunny skies.
This time, we were venturing out into the wilderness. Soon, we left the loipe, it was difficult to see what we were heading towards in the unfamiliar terrain. Our guide knew where she was going and suddenly, we came upon a wide, 4 tracked loipe.
“This is the track for the long distance Troll ski marathon.” She told us, the Trolløypa. A race that runs between Venabu and Lillehammer. We soon crossed it and off track again, headed towards a narrow gorge. We followed what she said were Lemming tracks and later, the much larger tracks of a Wolverine.
This was the terrain I had dreamed about, a place I had never been to before. It seemed remote and adventurous and away from the world; I could hardly believe it was so good.
We returned to the lodge for a late lunch, Marie’s group were practicing their techniques in the afternoon so I decided I would have a rest but the sunshine and blue skies changed my mind so, I headed out on my own.
Soon, I was away from the lodge and completely alone, there were no other skiers around. The afternoon had passed, the sun was lower and just above the hills, the breeze had strengthened and was now chilly. I took a loipe with my back to the wind and felt it push me along. Putting my arms out as though I was gliding, the wind increased my speed across the flat ground, it was a great feeling.
Next day, we set out for an ascent of the Svartfjell (the black mountain). It was cold and clear again and the loipe’s were icier than on previous days.
This was the hardest thing I had done up to that point. There were plenty of steep uphill parts where my herring – bone climbing technique was tested. We all had times where we had to take the ski’s off and walk rather than risk slipping back downhill!
Gradually, as we climbed higher, we gained views northwards to the mountains of the Rondane National park. These mountains were much higher than we were and looked spectacular in the clear, winter sunlight.
When we reached the high point of the loipe, not far from the summit at 1154m, it was already lunchtime. This was supposed to be a “long half day” but had already taken up that much time.
“Descending from here on ski’s will be too steep for you guys.” Our guide told us.
I had already been worrying about that as I looked down the steep loipe. We all walked part of the way until one of our Norwegian members put her skis on and tried skiing down and across the slope on the softer, non pisted snow. I copied her and at first all was ok. Then, I realised that not only was I picking up speed but rather than skiing over the surface of the snow, my skis were cutting downwards into the snow and collecting it! I couldn’t snow plough to slow down and after a second or two of panic, I managed to lift a foot out of the snow and stop myself!
After that, I walked a little further down the loipe then as the steep descent lessened, we all returned to our ski’s.
We descended and skied cross country back to the lodge for a 2.30pm lunch!
A tiring but exciting tour.
We had a couple of bad weather days where we did a snowshoe walk and then back on the skis for a long and tiring but not very inspiring tour, much of it “off track” which seemed to be something the guides liked to take everyone on. Also, I realised how much energy this type of activity requires. I was having a large breakfast, lunch and dinner just to keep going!
One evening, we had a buffet meal of local delicacies. It was great to get the chance to eat Rakefisk (fermented Trout), marinated Whale meat, Elghakk (Moose casserole), and Reindeer sausage – not food you often get in the UK!
The last day was also grey and after some overnight snow, the loipe’s on our proposed route were blocked. Marie and I had decided to go out on our own for the day, so we tried to find a route that we both felt happy with.
I was used to finding my way around the mountains, even in places where the footpaths may be non-existent but heading out into this sub arctic wilderness seemed a little daunting.
However, we found our way ok and had a great day. Marie’s technique had also improved during the week and she felt a lot more confident. We explored some new tracks and went over other areas we thought were good.
With hindsight, we wished we had spent more time just on our own but it had been a great week in a fantastic place. We both enjoyed the skiing and after a few days rest, we would have loved to have done more!
Back in the UK, it was nearly Spring and soon the idea of skiing across frozen wastes became a happy memory.
I had wanted to return to Venabu but Marie always likes to try somewhere new so, we settled on the (much cheaper) resort of Beitostolen set to the south west of Venabu.
The resort was described as primarily a Nordic skiing area “good for beginners and intermediates” which we thought would be good for us to try on our own.
We had studiously avoided going during the (English) school half term week. So, we were a little dismayed to find it was the Norwegian half term week!
Our hotel was ok but the resort was packed and the small Alpine skiing areas seemed desperately over populated which meant some of the families migrated to the loipes (wearing their Alpine skis) cutting up the tracks and causing more overcrowding.
I thought fondly of the wide open spaces of Venabu while we tried to find a quiet patch of snow in between houses to practice our basic skills. We soon got fed up with this and decided to just ski. I found a Green run (I assumed Blue/Green were easy routes) and we set off on an icy loipe. Suddenly, it dropped steeply and at the bottom I could see it was cut up by another track crossing it. I managed to snow plough to a stop but Marie was taken by surprise and fell awkwardly, hurting her hand.
We got up and found a different Green route. Again, this seemed much harder than we were expecting. It was a while before we realised than the area had its own grading system!
Green – Forestry track
Blue – Mountain track
Red – High Mountain track.
There were short descriptions of each but it was impossible to know which ones were hard or easy. Also, the best routes seemed to be on the plateau above the town. As we didn’t have a car to drive up to it, we had to ski up to it which took us about an hour. At the end of the session, we then had to descend the steep loipe (along with some Alpine skiers) to get back to the resort.
Next day, Marie’s swollen hand needed an X ray – bruised/sprained but not broken.
The following day, we walked around the town, trying to find the best routes for us but it was hard going. Marie’s hand was not too bad but she didn’t want to risk hurting it again. I went for a few trips on my own while she walked around the roads and read in our room.
It was Thursday before we both went out together again and tried skiing up to the plateau. We made progress but were both overtaken by local skiers, some of whom were much older.
“You are not gliding enough!” A woman said to Marie as she passed her. At first, I thought it was a bit of a cheek for her to be telling us this. I then realised, she was only trying to help us improve and she was correct. We were both putting in a lot of energy into our skiing but not moving very fast. Consequently, others were passing us with a lot less effort. We tried to lengthen each glide and I think we improved a bit.
We weren’t really enjoying our week, we had poor food and were disturbed by loud music at night.
Marie was feeling tired and unenthusiastic and the weather had turned grey and cold. I decided to have a long day out on my own. I skied up to the plateau and tried a few of the short routes but the weather seemed to be deteriorating so I decided to return to the hotel. While I was descending and on a whim, I changed my mind and followed another skier on a route towards nearby Smørkoll, a group of houses around some farm buildings, on an open plain with the Bitihorn as a backdrop. As I crossed the open ground, the wind picked up and blew spindrift across the loipe, obscuring the tracks. I managed to make progress without too much trouble and followed the line of snow stakes in lieu of the loipe. This was the best tour I had of the week. Crossing this wild open landscape reminded me of Venabu and why I enjoy doing this sport. Another skier overtook me, he had his dog pulling him along and this accentuated the “arctic” feel to the whole scene.
Beitostolen didn’t really work for us. I don’t know if it would have been better if it had been less crowded or if it just suffered in comparison to Venabu but I felt we wasted our one winter week away. We didn’t enjoy the routes we did and didn’t like the resort.
For the first time, I didn’t really feel we progressed very much. Having said that, maybe the woman who told us to “glide more” had put a thought into my head for the future.
After the disappointment of the previous year, we decided to return to Venabu. This time, we stayed in the only other hotel in the area and once again, we were on our own. We knew that we needed to practice and improve our basic techniques but decided that “beginners” courses were not going to do this. We needed to improve on our own terms.
I thought about this a lot over the early winter months, then the idea came to me. In my full-time job, I trained people to use computer software, perhaps I could design a basic training programme for us? I knew I wasn’t an expert on Nordic skiing but I had access to people who were, through the internet.
I read every article about basic techniques I could find and watched every video clip shot for beginners. Gradually, I thought I had identified the areas we really needed to practice on and set them out in a reasonable order.
Marie and I went over each exercise and watched each video clip several times on the weekends just before we were going to Norway so that we both knew what we were hoping to achieve.
Back at Venabu on our first day, we found a short stretch of loipe, took out my training sheet and started from the beginning. This time, it all went perfectly.
We tried to increase the length of each glide, we practiced our double poling strokes and uphill diagonal strides and knew we were improving. It was a cold and grey, breezy day with few other skiers around but we made up a tour of the loipe’s near our hotel practicing all of our techniques along the way.
We had paid extra to make up sandwiches during breakfast and we returned to our room to eat them at lunch time whilst sitting on our balcony with a cup of coffee! This proved to be an unexpected boon to us.
After lunch, we returned to our simple circuits to practice some more. As the afternoon wore on, the light became very flat and the loipe was harder to see as snow had been blown across the tracks. However, we were very happy with our first day and we felt a lot more confident being back on the snow.
Over the next few days, it was more of the same. We did longer tours of the loipe’s and we practiced our snow plough techniques on an open slope in the sunshine.
On Thursday, we awoke to clear skies and a good weather forecast for the day. We had decided to head out east towards Mykroken then, continue into the wilderness beyond, an area new to Marie but one I had visited with the group I was in on our first trip.
We set off and immediately passed the stationery dog sled teams who were waiting for the day’s passengers. The dogs stood up and howled as we passed by – Marie said it was because they didn’t like us setting off without them!
The weather was cloudier than forecast and a cool, stiff breeze was blowing from the north. We crossed the main road at Saltashaugen and looked for the loipe. I knew it had been there before but the snow and wind of the last few days had obliterated it. We followed the snow stakes up the hill and it struck me that the hill was nowhere near as steep as I had thought it was when I had visited two years previously. We crested the hill and continued downhill trying to follow the tracks of other skiers. I was worried that we would struggle without the tracks of the pisted loipe to follow but whenever we skied across the open snow, we had few problems.
Views northwards to Muen – the area’s highest mountain - were spectacular and Marie was surprised to find how remote this landscape felt. After about 1km, we met the pisted Trolløypa and continued along this with very few other skiers visible until we reached the marker post at Veslefjellet. Most of the places shown on our map were just lonely, wooden posts in the snow. There were no buildings on these spots.
Here, we had a choice of routes, follow the pisted loipe south to Mysaetrin or follow the snow staked Trolløypa across wind-blown snow further east to Dorfallet. The latter route was the most attractive but the clouds were increasing and a few snowflakes were falling so we decided on the former choice.
The loipe disappeared every now and then but we were confident of not getting lost. Marie was moving really well and I was falling behind every time I stopped to take a photo.
We continued on our tour, south then west back towards Venabu in improving weather – the snow didn’t last! We got back to our hotel for lunch on our sunlit balcony again, a tour of about 13.5 km.
In the afternoon, we headed back to Mykroken, this time via Ǿygard-seter and under clear, sunny skies. We enjoyed practicing in the softer snow and took more photos looking north into the wilderness around Muen.
We returned via Saltashaugen in the late, afternoon sunshine. Afterwards, we enjoyed a celebratory Aas beer in the hotel bar.
“That was the sort of day I have been dreaming about.” I said. Great skiing in a wonderful landscape and perfect conditions.
We enjoyed each day at Venabu and on the last day, we decided to do something new to both of us. A tour of about 13 km, northwards and circling around the summits of Flaksjølihøgda, Tverrhøgda and Svart-hammaren. This was possibly the hardest and certainly, the most remote tour we had tried.
We started by descending along the snow blown loipe towards the Flaksjøen, a frozen lake. The going was quite easy but Marie seemed to be struggling to get going. It was a grey, windy morning and I think this was putting her off. We headed northwards at a junction and had to herring- bone climb up a steep slope. Marie suddenly clicked into gear and now followed me easily. We skied up and down over humps with not too much trouble and after a problematic climb into a canyon, we continued over longer stretches until we reached Kvanndalen. Up to this point, we hadn’t met anyone but here two Norwegians caught up and overtook us. They told us this was their favourite route in the area and that after Indre Uksan (the farthest point north) it would be downhill all the way.
We followed them – not falling as far behind as I thought we would – towards Dørhøgda where we started to meet skiers who were doing the route in the opposite direction. The clouds were beginning to break up and we had fantastic views northwards towards the Rondane mountains. We enjoyed the long ascents and descents as we quickly ate up the kilometers.
At Indre Uksan we started the long descent south wards just as the sun started to appear for longer periods of time. We cruised downhill and returned to our hotel via Ǿygard-seter, the only part of the route we were familiar with. A really beautiful route over more desolate, snow covered wilderness in great conditions.
After lunch, I went out on my own – Marie was resting her ankle which she had hurt in a fall during the morning – back towards Mykroken again, in sunshine. This time, I went to Brennflya and followed the snow stakes out towards the DNT hut at Grǻhøgbdu for a short distance before turning back. The sun was shining again and it had been a fantastic week.
We had followed the cut loipe’s most of the time but where the snow had blown over them, we still felt happy in this alien landscape. Although I was tired, I hated the thought of going back to the UK and leaving the snow behind.
I really felt our skiing abilities had progressed during that week. We had become more confident and I felt we were moving closer to the activities I had imagined might be possible. I often think of it as our best Nordic skiing adventure.
We had been flying for about 3 hours from London towards Kittilӓ airport, set about 125 km inside the arctic circle in Finnish Lapland. I had ben staring out of the airplane window for quite a while and I was amazed at how long we had been flying over …nothing! It was a reasonably clear day and by that, I mean for most of the time we were flying over wilderness. Miles of gentle sloped, snow covered hills, separated by flat patches, presumably frozen lakes. If Norway had been a step up from Europe in terms of wildness, then this looked like it was going to be another step up from that.
Getting off the plane, the cold took my breath away. It was -10 with a breeze that would cause it to feel colder. Although it was early afternoon, the low position of the sun made it feel like evening. The cold and low light levels were something we had to get used to that week.
Our hotel room was in an annex to the main building which meant we had to go outside to get to the restaurant. To go outside, we had to put on all our high-performance mountaineering gear just to keep warm. After about 30 seconds outside, I could feel the warmth leeching out into the cold air!
After a few hours or so of experiencing this I said to Marie, “I think that this is the closest we will ever get to visiting another planet!”
We started the next day by skiing some short loops near the town across the frozen Immeljӓrvi. At first, we felt a bit “wooden” in our movements. I think this was due to the cold but once we got warmed up, we improved. I had a few moments of irrational fear crossing the frozen lake. I have always been told never to cross frozen lakes – here in the UK, they rarely freeze solid. After a few seconds I realised this was foolish – the loipe’s had been made by machines weighing a lot more than me!
The following day we caught the bus northwards out of the town to the frozen Levijӓrvi, another large, frozen lake. We chose a tour and followed the loipe to a place on the map called Marja-Leena, a junction of the loipe’s where an old woman cooked sausages and pancakes on an open-air grill, outside a wooden teepee! We had travelled through about 5km of forest to get there, the trees had frozen dollops of snow covering each branch, making them looked like frozen giants, covered with white shrouds. At Marja-Leena, we could look across the frozen river towards the forest beyond. This place had a real feeling of wilderness.
We returned the same way to get a bus back to the hotel. We had just missed one and had to wait for about 25 minutes. This reminded us of how cold it was, the wait seemed interminable and we realised how careful we had to be in future not to be stuck out somewhere.
A real positive was that we felt we were really skiing well. Our technique was gradually improving, every year it was a little better. We were covering more ground and quicker than we had done before despite, or maybe because of, the cold.
We continued exploring the area over the next few days.
We got the bus southwards to South Point and returned to Levi via Kӓtkӓjӓrvi in lovely but low angled, sunshine. The day was quiet and the only sounds were made by our ski’s sliding across the frozen snow. In the still air, our breath billowed from our mouths like smoke and Marie’s hair grew ice crystals as the moisture from her breath froze on it in the -16 temperatures.
On a different day, we headed east from South Point. We had meant to head north on a tour but somehow, I forgot this and we were part way towards Lapinkylӓ before I realised. We reached Lapinkylӓ, a Reindeer farm and tourist hotspot, quickly and decided to continue on the loipe in a south easterly direction for a short way.
Once we had crossed the frozen river, we were in wilderness again and we saw very few other skiers and for a while, no buildings. Rather than turn around, we carried on through the quiet forest to Kultamaa, a collection of farm buildings on the side of the Nӓlkӓjӓrvi, another frozen lake. Here we realised we could stop for refreshments in an old wooden building. Inside, it was warm and although the owner spoke no English (and we don’t speak Finnish) we bought 2 coffees and 2 pieces of Lingonberry cake. We enjoyed the very “retro” ambience of the décor, straight out of the 1960s. We signed the visitors book and photographed the owner’s ancient radiograms, then headed back the way we had come.
Back in Lapinkylӓ, we stopped to sit outside around the fire and ate our sandwiches. Then, spent some time with their rather sad looking Reindeer as the day got greyer and gloomier.
Later, we returned to South point to get our bus and worked out we had skied over 20 kms in around 4 hours of skiing. For us, a good distance in a reasonable time. Despite the grey weather, we had a great day.
The last day, we returned to the north and skied a tour out through the forests to Kӧngӓs and east to Rautuskylӓ before returning to the start via Marja-Leena again. Another 20 km in about 4 hours but we felt disappointed. We realised we could have taken a longer tour through the wild country around the east side of Levi if we had taken that decision earlier. As the week had progressed, so had we and our ambitions were growing. We wished we had realised it sooner.
Levi was a great place to visit. I sometimes had to stop and realise we were skiing across frozen lakes and rivers in the intense cold of arctic Finland. At some point during the week, Marie stared out across the icy landscape and said, “It’s an honour and a privilege just to be here.”
I could only agree.
As I write this in the winter of 2021, that was our last Nordic skiing adventure.
In March 2019, we decided to visit Malta instead of a skiing trip and in 2020 we went to La Gomera in January. I had initially thought about Scandinavia in March but life and the Covid pandemic interfered and it didn’t happen. At the moment, it’s impossible to go anywhere, so what will happen next winter in 2022?
Will foreign travel be allowed and after 4 years with no skiing practice and 4 more years of age, how good will I be? Will I want to go?
I can only look back to when we started skiing and think this - if I knew we would get to ski across areas of Scandinavian wilderness, to experience the gloomy half-light and feel the icy cold inside the arctic circle in Finland, I think I would have been surprised to have done so much and come so far.
I still hope that there is more to come. I would like to ski longer – maybe multi-day tours – or possibly ascend more mountain routes. I think that sometimes, in my mind, I blur the lines of where Nordic skiing ends and Ski-mountaineering begins. Perhaps I will get to do that someday?
I feel I will try if I can and that is one of the exciting prospects for the future – just to see how far I can go.