A Question of Balance
Being new to cross-country skiing I was a little concerned about how easy it would be to pick up. Although my balancing skills left a little to be desired, I quickly grasped the basics and was soon off wobbling my way through the stunning snow-covered landscape.
Our instructors; Ilse and Mary, two very experienced leaders and top ski instructors, guided us through all the nuances of cross-country skiing from the shaking of the hips, the shifting of your body weight, gripping the poles and ones balance. Now, I would have thought, after being on the planet for a while now (!) and walking for most of if, even if on occasion, being inebriated, I thought I had mastered this one fundamental aspect of human existence - balance - and always felt I had command of my legs and feet…not so fast there…
The location of the ski centre on the trip is at Kvitavatn Fjellstoge, Norway, close to Rjukan (town of the ‘Heroes of Telemark’ WWII fame), and a short 3 hours (weather permitting of course!) drive from Oslo. The location is quite special, with Mount Gausta (1883m – highest in Norway) dominating the scenery close to the cross-country course on and around Lake Kvitavatn. The lake is frozen for most of the winter and opens the country up to great vistas, being on the edge of the tree line it gives one the feeling of being at altitude and miles from anywhere. The lodging was very warm and welcoming with quality food served throughout the weeks stay.
Anyway, lets get back to the skiing and starting for the first time at the Ski School, or as they spell it: Ski Skole. After being kitted out with the boots, skies and poles, all based on the information provided by myself at the time of booking. We were given some tasks to perform, i.e. checking the skis are clean and then waxing them ready for the day. Right, let’s get outside and off we go to do the first exercise, the daily warm up session, which Ilse and Mary directed with great aplomb.
We played tag, and passing a ball to improve balance and give the beginners confidence in their skis on the packed snow. This works great and you really feel like you’re achieving something. Then it’s getting up - herringbone style - the slight slope, which seems to be the biggest hill you have ever seen when first attempt it! Then into the tracks and down the ‘gentle’ slope; bending those knees and feeling the lay of the land through the skis and practice the snowplough to bring yourself to a controlled stop…yeah, right! It all makes sense regarding the skills they teach you, honestly!
As soon as you think you’re doing good and gaining the confidence, they throw a tennis ball at you that you have to catch to stop you from looking at your feet as you glide along, with the purpose of looking ahead at what is coming up…although, in my case, that was invariably a tree!
After a break for lunch, did I mention the food already? Well, just in case I neglected to elaborate… The meals were really good, plenty of choices for breakfast with the Scandinavian smorgasbord on full display. They encourage you to pack a lunch (after the first day) from the variety of offerings provided, all food, tea and coffee are included in your stay and you can eat as much as you like.
Right then, ski school is over later on the first day (!) and it’s out onto the tracks…this is quite nerve racking for a beginner, no matter what face you put on for the rest of the group! Anyway, off we go, trying to remember all the instructions that the guides have given us.
It really is invigorating as you marvel at what you have achieved in the first 5 hours of instruction. We went around the cross-country course, the easy route of course! Those in the intermediate group were on their way a lot earlier after proving their abilities to the guides.
Over the course of the week, as we gathered more skills and see a lot more of the stunning location at Kvitavatn, one expects to improve. Whether you’re in the tracks or in deep snow, it is a lot of fun to participate in this underestimated sport.
I would like to add, you have to be in good shape, because it is a very physical activity and the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it, common sense you may think. Well, I put a lot of effort into getting up out of the deep snow and was admired by the guides at how skilful I was at it! Believe me, if you fall over as much as I did you get all the practice in you can imagine to improve the technique.
If you ever get a chance to try something once, do this, and who knows, you may even be a natural and take to it like all the rest of the group did. I was very envious of their abilities and thought they were terrific in accepting my shortcomings in cross-country skiing… I had a rest at the end of the week and took to trying out some snowshoeing, that’s fun too!
I can tell you, I was relieved to enter the Exodus office on the Monday morning without an injury - did I mention the ‘question of balance’..? And even my pride was intact. So back it was to switching the computer on to start the day updating the Exodus website, which is something I can still do!
Exodus Web Manager
To see more of Bob's images from the trip, please visit the Kvitåvatn-March2010 photo album.