I am not sure it is possible to write about living in Norway without mentioning skiing. It is deeply sown into the cultural fabric of society here. Skiing to Norwegians is what a cuppa tea is to Brits or what souvlaki (barbecue but better) is to Cypriots. It is a social and cultural imperative, significant whether you partake or not.
There is, however, no skiing in my cultural fabric. Lots of tea and souvlaki, yes, but skiing not even in my peripheral existence. Not until four years ago when my roommate who had always wanted to learn how to ski asked me to go skiing with her. I thought, why not? 32 years old and learning how to ski, never too late to try right?
learning to ski
So it began in January 2012, one week, the French Alps.
This was the first time I had experienced minus temperatures and knee-high snow, not to mention the big planks attached to my feet whilst I slid uncontrollably down a mountain. Not an ideal activity for a beach-loving control freak like me. I was not a pretty sight- but there was light at the end of the bruise filled tunnel of pain and humiliation. Apres-ski! Which was what essentially helped me get through that first week of ski school.
When, a few years and many bruise filled adventures later, I began feeling confident on skis, the topic of skiing became part of my repertoire when chatting with new people at social gatherings.
“Oh yes, and do you like skiing? Yes I love it. When I was in the Alps…”, irritating I know, my only defence is I was so keen to share my excitement for this newfound world I had begun to master. So when I met a Norwegian at a friend’s wedding I thought ou it snows there so I asked him if he knew how to ski.
Yes, I asked a Norwegian if they knew how to ski. The response was a facial expression that said, who is this joker? “Everybody skis Eleni”, was the answer to my question. That was me put in my place!
another type of skiing
So not only did I ask the world’s most idiotic question but then I hear about another type of skiing.
“What!? There is another type of skiing?(mind blown wide open). Oh right cross-country skiing you say? What’s that then?”
“Like jogging, but on skis,” I was told. “Up and down hills, through forests, across frozen lakes. It’s amazing.” All I could think was, he said going up hills? On skis? I didn’t get it, but agreed to try anyway. I mean I can downhill ski, how different can it be? Let’s just say the first time I tried was traumatic for everyone involved. I barely managed to stand up let alone move and unsurprisingly it ended with a severe temper tantrum. I also learnt my very first valuable lesson in cross-country skiing – never trust a Norwegian when they say the terrain is mostly flat.
from the womb to the slopes
Norwegians like to say they were born with skis on their feet and this is not far from the truth. I see some incredibly tiny human beings on skis moving faster and more gracefully than me, even on a good day. However, whilst downhill skiing is popular here, it is cross-country skiing that is quintessentially Norwegian. I mean all you have to do is watch the Winter Olympics to understand. Norway tends to snap up just about every medal going and is miles ahead of any other country in the gold medal count, and the professional skiers are demi-gods and goddesses with celebrity status and super-human fitness levels. Now that I have tried the activity I understand why. It is a kind of sublime torture going uphill on tiny planks, sweat dripping from every pore. Not for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.
Skiing is tough, whether down or up, alpine or cross-country. Hard work to master but thrilling when you do. The greatest thing I have discovered about skiing though is how friendly it all is. Whether in the Alps or in the woods here in Oslo it is a bonding activity and everyone is in on it, just one big love fest. Just last week I was walking home from a ski session with my skis on my shoulder and a man walked past me smiled and started asking me how my ski session went and what it was like up in the forest. And they say Norwegians are cold and unapproachable. To me it seems there is an automatic unspoken bond between fellow skiers that breaks down social barriers and makes people like each other.
In Norway families go cross-country skiing together. Kids, toddlers, even infants go along in specially designed carriages with skis on the bottom that are strapped around mum or dad’s waist. Grandparents go out with grandkids and dogs run alongside their owners. It is a family affair.
I do have to say, in all fairness, not all Norwegians are skiers. I often meet people who tell me they grew up or are from the West coast or South of Norway and are not great at skiing because there is not much snow there. Or that they have traumatic childhood experiences of traipsing through the woods and can’t bear the thought. I choose to believe that I am in the same league as these people skill wise, which makes me feel slightly better about my lack of grace on skis.
I am taking this ski challenge head on. Last week I participated in the annual ski and waxing class that one of my work colleagues leads. He does it every year and loves to teach others how to be even better at skiing and I need all the help I can get. I was the worst in the class, but just a tad better than last year. Yes – progress! There is real hope one day that my greatest skill on cross-country skis will be something other than controlled collision.