I always thought skiing would be something I would learn once I got too old to snowboard anymore so this premature switch of style took a bit of getting used to! As I watched our instructor Ola striding along the twin cross-country tacks, his graceful elegance as he swung from one leg to another. It didn’t look too difficult, certainly not cool but definitely not difficult - I quickly learnt that he made it look easy!
Over the course of our expedition we will be using the skis quite a bit so we spent the week learning the basics and getting some experience and expert teaching from one of Finland’s finest instructors. Unlike alpine skiing or boarding, cross country skiers rely on their own locomotion rather than ski lifts and you don't use the normal piste, there are either special tracks especially for the sport or back country - my favourite being the vast pine-studded forests with well groomed tracks running through them.
There are two basic types of cross-country skiing. One is classic-skiing, and the other skate-skiing. We concentrated on the classic style, this involves moving your skies parallel to one another. It looked easier than skate skiing and looked like it required less physical effort, but it was a lot slower. We spent the first few days working on different techniques and getting used to the equipment we were soon shuffling around on the tracks trying too find our rhythm. A fundamental ‘how to stop lesson’ using a one legged snowplow was quickly followed by the ‘butt stop’ where we learnt how to bail safety onto our arses! It proved it be a technique a few of us practised more than others!
The thrill of cross country skiing comes when you find your rhythm and you begin to pick up some pace and find your flow. However, this can be lost within a second when you feel every one of your limbs is moving on its own accord and flying off in all directions.
I throughly enjoyed going back to the learning process of discovering a new sport. Having only skied a few times many years ago, I had a blank canvas on which to build my new cross country skills. Like most things my problem was speed, often cited as ‘good rhythm’, and my half sprint/falling over style was a bit erratic During the post skit video analysis I couldn’t help but laugh at my ridiculous movements.
The daily video analysis sessions quickly became a highlight of the day as laughter filled the room whilst we scrutinised our positioning. K, as always, had me in fits of giggles whilst praising Ola’s teaching ability. His funniest claim being “If you can teach me to ski, you could teach a moose!” His constant self deprecation about his skiing ability was always the talking point at lunch but the Finnish have a term for people like K. ‘Sisu’. It means guts, and even if you fall, you get back up again! Which K always did, even if the locals insisted it was safer for him to take off his ski’s and walk down the slope!
After we’d "mastered" the basics we spent the last few days on the 3km trail in the forest, getting our first taste of what cross country was all about. Using the different techniques we had learnt to propel ourselves forward we soon got into our stride, gliding along the tracks like true naturals ;)
Cross country is a great form of cardio and after many gorgeous three course meals we had been indulging in, it felt great to work it off with some, er, double pole action. Ola introduced us to this new technique. A double pole is pretty much a standing ab crunch and doing this the whole way up a considerable climb was tough work on my now reindeer filed abs!
Now, I would by no means swap my snowboard for a pair of cross country ski’s but I do totally see the appeal. On the last day we just spent the morning skiing along the perfectly groomed tracks, first testing ourselves on the uphill working up a sweat, then getting into our aero tuck and flying back down again. As we went along we were cheered by locals who had watched us progress throughout the week, some exclaiming how well we’d done - but I think they were just being kind. It is a great way to start the day, it gets your cheeks glowing and your heart racing and I would love to see the sport more regularly available at large resorts in Europe. Although snowboarding can often be tiring, you don't exert anywhere near the same amount of energy and cross country works your whole body like no other sport. Im sold and cannot wait until our next time out… I may skip on the speed lycra though!