Brrrrr! It’s winter!

This winter I decided to really try out cross country skiing. There are two different ways to cross country ski – classic and skate.  I opted for classic. This involves relying on tracks that are pre-made by machines (or by other much more awesome skiers who break a track – but that is not so common), and a style that involves gliding – pushing back with one foot to force your other foot/ski to glide forward. Skate cross country skiing, by contrast, is as it sounds – you use a skating motion, and you don’t rely on tracks already driven into the snow. You can see an example of the classic ski tracks below.

Cross country ski tracks.

Cross country ski tracks.

For the last couple of winters I had borrowed some very old cross country skis, but this winter I decided it was time to buy my own. Wow what a difference! All of  my efforts trying to master this technique on old skis (unsuccessfully) actually were not as unsuccessful as I thought. The first time on my new skis was magic and I was gliding along. I obviously had learnt the technique somewhat (don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot to learn!) and I was zooming along the tracks, in amongst the trees. It felt so amazing, and I could feel a totally goofy smile freezing onto my face because it was so fun. Either that or it looked like a grimace.

Old skis
Old style cross country skis. Ok, the ones I borrowed were not quite in this category!

Then the hard parts came… the little downhill bits where there are no tracks. On the old skis, I didn’t really glide along at all so I only occassionally got out of control (and it was usually witnessed by other people!). On my new skis, I just went faster and faster, and I have no idea how to control skis downhill (I have never down hill skied).  I tried the classic pizza wedge thing, but these skis are about 5cm wide with no edges so they don’t bite in, so during my forays out on the ski tracks I often crashed. Luckily it didn’t put me off, and luckily Stockholm again turned on an awesome winter with lots of snow, so there were tracks at Ursvik, just a few minutes drive from my apartment.  If you happen to be looking for ski tracks, or want to know the status of tracks in the area, check out this link here.

A fabulous friend of mine suggested we should do the Tjejvasa together. Each year there is a 90km cross country ski race, called the Vasaloppet, held in the middle of Sweden. They also hold a smaller version, 30km, called the Tjejvasa (girl’s race). I thought, hey, 30km, can’t be that bad…

So I put in a little bit more effort and training time (remember, I’m still virtually a beginner on these things, and the prospect of being surrounded by 10 000+ women all on skis, and little down hills with no tracks where I can guarantee I will crash, possibly right infront of someone, was no small thought in my mind). We even took a training weekend away with my friend and her family to a place called Leksand. It’s about 300km north-west of Stockholm. See a map here. The weekend was accompanied by the always beautiful sights of a Swedish winter.

Cross country skiing at Leksand.

Cross country skiing at Leksand.

We stayed at a gorgeous place (B&B) which included afternoon tea of scones with jam and a glass of champagne (much appreciated after a long morning out skiing) and had lovely dinners there too. I flew down a few hills on this weekend (there were tracks on these hills, much easier!) and got a bit more confidence, so was feeling better about facing X number of women on skis.

So in February we all hopped in the car and drove the almost 350km to Mora, where it all happens.  Ebba and I started in the 2nd to last group – group 16. Now I had been told by a work mate, and by my own fabulous boyfriend who did the Vasaloppet/öppetspår the year before (and also did the öppetspår again this year), that the tracks for this race are AMAZING! You haven’t experience cross country skiing til you’ve been on such well prepared and groomed tracks, it’s really something! Well bullshit is all I can say!

We lined up at the back of our group, and had a slow start. The day was warm (about 4 degrees C) so the snow was sticking on the wax on the skis (you wax your skis with different wax for different temperatures). So we stopped and mucked around a bit, then away we went. I was waiting for these amazing tracks to start… and waiting… and waiting. After about 10km I realised there were no amazing tracks. The 15000 or so women who went in front of us, combined with the warm weather, had served to obliterate the tracks. Some tracks remained, but they weren’t well formed or fast tracks. They were lumpy and the edges were no longer even, which meant you bounced around in the track instead of gliding smoothly, that is, if there was a track to follow. I was surrounded by a lot of unfit women, many of whom were even worse on skis than me. Look out – pole! Careful, crash! Ahhh sh*t… downhill with no tracks. Yip, I crashed. Right into a (little) tree. And with so many women zooming past right beside me it was damn near impossible to get up and back onto the tracks and get going again (clearly I did manage that in the end though).

It was as I had suspected – crazy numbers of people allowed to enter (it should probably be capped at half that number to ensure some quality of track, or made into 2 races on 2 days), so you were constantly surrounded by people, some slightly, to worse than slightly, uncoordinated, (and some really good too), constantly looking out for the hazards, rather than enjoying the beautiful  nature and exercise. I would have loved doing this 30km track with a couple of friends on another day, but I have to say it wasn’t the most pleasant experience I’ve had. Yet somehow, I still managed to keep that smile/grimace on my face. Will I keep cross country skiing? Absolutely!! Being able to get out amongst nature’s beauty in the middle of winter, and exercise along with it, is a fantastic feeling!

Öppet spår.

Some people near the finish of the Öppet Spår – exactly the same as the Vasaloppet 90km race, only on a different day.

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