Cross-country skiing in Easter
To fly like an eagle, magnificent views and slaps in the face by nature, it can all be yours when you set out to ski cross country.
Just like Easter
When you say it was just like Easter, in the mountains, in the woods, or wherever you were, every Norwegian immediately gets the same image in their heads: snow and sun. The winter is long and dark in this northern corner of the world, and in the dead of winter you have to be out and about early to get some sunlight. You also have to suit up in several layers of wool to keep the cold at bay. As Easter comes, spring equinox has passed, and days are longer than the nights again. Never mind that most Norwegians actually spend Easter at home, the myth of Easter is firmly placed on a wooden bench, in the sun, resting its back on the wall of a typical wooden mountain cottage, sipping a cup of hot chocolate and reading a murder mystery.
Even at our last cross-country skiing trip, one week before the spring equinox, we were sensing that Easter is coming. We had written off sliding elegantly over snow for the season, as the snow was either like slush, or sharp and icy. Ideal for drinks, not so much for skiing. Since then, winter has proven itself as a comeback kid, as we experienced what felt like the snow version of the flood. Still massive, but slower and lingering.
Ready - on your mark - ski!
We do not mind a little more winter and enjoy the return of it. Today we are also on a mission. Will we be able to break the record made by half of the family some weeks ago, of 3 hours and 5 minutes for a roundtrip of around 14,9 kilometres, or almost 2 miles? Will half the family be twice as quick? No, that doesn't make any sense. But will 2 parents and 2 children be quicker than 1 parent and 1 child? In less than 3 hours we will know. How will the dynamics of the said 2 children play out? Will they drive each other to excellence or to despair?
The contending child is bent on success and sets out in a frenzy. I usually insist that the group formation is adult-child-child-adult. One adult leads the way, and one herds the flock. For some reason, I always end up as the adult in the back, or the shepherd, if you will. The reason being, that my better half has a problem with being the shepherd. A cliché about Norwegian family cross-country excursions, is the father that skis faster than everyone else. Most of the excursion he is out of sight. I guess this stems from the days of old, when childcare was left to the women, as men could not be bothered with it. Did the men not provide for the family? Did they not deserve some restitution and the peace and quiet of the outdoors? The Nordic countries were not always as progressive and bent on gender equality as they are today.
Occasionally, our pater familias waited for the rest of the family, and as we reached him and started catching our breaths, he set off again faster than you could say 'No... wait!', or 'What about that snack and/or drink you promised us?'. Not that you would be able to articulate anything, being out of breath as you were. To his credit, I do not think my husband sets out to avoid us, as his predecessors might have, rather he believes in setting a good example and moving the herd forward. Just like the rabbits, or pacemakers, in a running contest that drive the field onward and make the other contestants excel.
One thing the children have in common, is that they hate being last. They are also deeply insulted when they are surpassed by their sibling. To take another step forward is impossible, their whole world is crumbling as they lie on the snow-covered ground crying. When I try to console, they lash out at me, saying they never wanted to go skiing to day anyway. When they are in front, however, it is like watching a smiling race car. No hill is too steep, no obstacle too great.
Getting a grip
Apart from the politics gone bad, with diplomacy failing, at least the snow is pretty good to ski on. The tracks were driven up the day before. I know this, as information is available online and on an app. I am at a disadvantage, though. The rest of my family has skis with skins underneath. These grip the surface, allowing them to better kick the underlayer and actually get somewhere on cross-country skis. The advantage of not getting a grip is that my skis glide a lot better than the others'. Another way to enable a good grip, is by applying wax on the part of the ski which is situated directly under the boot. I do not have the above-mentioned skins. We have brought wax, it's in the backpack, but I cannot be bothered to apply it. For some reason, I have no faith it will stick and do the trick. I just couldn't bear the disappointment of applying the wax and then have it not work. So I am at fault for my own situation.
No matter, I need only be active for a while, and get all warmed up, and I'll be invincible. I have run three marathons, for heaven's sake. Bring it on, snow! I'm ready! And the snow is at times magnificent and on my side. Only I don't get warm, and I battle with the snow, and the snow is winning. My ski boots are half a number too big, which causes a slight delay in the reactions of the skis for every movement. This in turn, is straining my ankles, but not much, just enough to irritate me when I'm struggling with the snow, or as an X-factor to get me off balance as I am skating.
How much is too much?
The discomfort and the enhanced risk of injuring myself, is a disadvantage I endure, because I deserve it. Not in the sense of the commercials for l'Oreal in the 90's that we laughed at in Norway, and still is a cultural reference, though fading and a reminder that I am no longer the younger generation. No, I deserve discomfort, in my opinion, because I am Norwegian, and we pollute and consume a lot. If everyone consumed as the Norwegians, we would need 3 and a half planet Earths. According to the Earth Overshoot Day, the day in which Norwegians have used their share of the world's resources in 2021 will be April 12th. We talk a lot about different types of shame in Norway. We have flight-shame, meat-shame, for the time being corona-shame, probably. And I have consumer-shame.
No wonder we consume so much, when there are cross-country skis for different skiing styles and different underlayers. Although I move forward on light touring skis, made for skiing in prepared tracks, I could have opted for skating skis, which are shorter than your light touring skis, with tips that are less pointy. Naturally, you need other bindings and boots for skating skis. Different types of bindings is another dimension, which means that you cannot use the same kind of boots for your different pairs of skis, but need different pairs of boots, of course. I own a second pair of skis, but those are touring skis, mind you, that are broader and sharper. So, I am fully equipped to go skiing in the mountains, where it is too steep for heavy machinery to carve out tracks, that would be erased in a second by blizzards anyway. Only I don't have or take the time to do so. My children are not strong enough for it. But in 10 years time, we're ready for it! Unless those skis have fallen apart at the seams by then, of course. Maybe I should sell them? I hope Norwegians are among the best at buying and selling used goods. I currently have 3 pairs of cross-country skiing boots. One pair borrowed, to my defense.
That is why I am skiing with skis and over-sized boots belonging to my mother-in-law. Feeling the weight of being part of the problem, and not the solution, I have been reluctant to buy new ones. My own skis I received as a gift from my family when I studied at university some 20 years ago. They are literarily falling apart at the seams, my husband having glued them together.
How do we know where to ski on our touring skis in a blizzard, you ask? And how do we avoid being buried in avalanches? Some, unfortunately, do get buried and are not retrieved alive. Others navigate like trekking birds, guided by the earth's gravitation points. Or we simply follow the route set out by the Norwegian Hiking Association. They set up poles into the ground that lead the way. They make sure that the angle of the point of the route up to the nearest mountain always is less than 30 degrees. Hence you are scot free and able to explore among others the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Western Norway, close to the Hardangerjøkulen glacier, last seen on screen in The Empire Strikes Back. I know, because that is what we did in a past life without children a decade ago. With brand new touring skis, ready to start a lifestyle of frequent summiting.
Mother Middle Earth
So, to be fair, I shouldn't feel to guilty about my ecological footprint when it comes to the amount of skis I own. Even though I have not used my touring skis more than a handful of times since that legendary excursion to the top of the world, or at least Middle Earth. Anyways, as I skate my way through the forests today, I am feeling medium environmental. Skating is the only way I can keep up with my companions today, not having any grip. It is a little more challenging and requires more energy. Having become less active during the pandemic, it does me good to challenge myself.
As we live in a capitalist, free-market society it should be no surprise that it is possible to buy skis for this particular technique. If willing, I could have 5 to 10 pairs of skis and the same amount of ski boots and several other Norwegians would not bat an eye upon receiving such news. If you are considering buying your first or additional pair of skis, you can check out the Norwegian Hiking Association's guidance on choosing ski gear.
We edge on our youngsters, remind that it's not all fun and game we're here for, they have the chance to excel, to endeavour, to be better than their former selves. It seems that being first motivates them both, will being last is a disaster and one might as well lie down and die. The 6-year-old contender started at an exhilirating speed, leaving his older sister in despair. I remind her about the fable for the turtle and the hare, and suggests that her brother will be exhausted before he reaches the finish line. I wonder if it was the right move to compare her to a turtle. She nevertheless screams at me shortly after. Having been an angry child myself at times, I indulge her. Better to scream and get the aggression out instead of piling it up inside.
We hardly stop to get any rest. Just the occasional stop after a long ascent to get a sip of water and the odd chocolate bite. We rested a lot before we got started, having had a long, lazy morning with brunch. We all more or less just want the trip to be over and done with, so we can go back home and be lazy again.
The end is near
Having trodded on mother earth, it feels just that she should slap me in the face as our excursion draws to a close. As I descend one of the last mini-slopes, I tumble and fall flat on my knee. My limbs are getting ever weaker. It seems these days that I am always one careless moment away from a permanent limp. I wipe snow out my face and head after the others.
Did our little ones become better versions of themselves? Everyone is so happy to return to civilisation that we completely forget to mark the time. We are still a family, despite occasional screaming at each other and different standards in equipment.