As a Scot, I have skied all my life, the wonders of Glencoe, Glenshee, and Cairngorm being regular haunts. But here in Norway I have come to realise I know nothing about skiing, not proper skiing, not the sort of skiing the Norwegians think of when the sport is mentioned. All those years of performing perfect parallels down the Tiger and Coire na Ciste have become irrelevant. I am a novice once again.
Naturally, nowadays, the Norwegians are experts at downhill, or whatever you want to call it when you point your tips down a big steep slope and allow nature to take you to the bottom asap. But many a Norwegian only takes up downhill skiing later on in life, as a sort of frivolous addition to their skiing repertoire. So why the legend that Norwegians are born with skies on their feet?
Transport. It’s faster than walking. While the snow continues to cover the streets surrounding our house, children are making their way to school on skies as though this is the normal and expected thing to do. After all, their parents’ parents’ parents went to school that way. The Vikings went to school that way. Even stone-age kids went to school that way.
This is Nordic skiing, cross-country, or ‘langrenn’ as they refer to it in these parts. And you just can’t do it with your downhill gear. Having borrowed a set of langrenn skis and boots up to this point, I’d had a taster of it on a snowy, moonlit evening in a valley at minus 25. Two of us had the entire valley to ourselves, apparently. The peace was mesmerising, I was converted, but my ankles were wet.
Having seen the light, and knowing that this langrenn business would unquestionably be continued for the rest of my life, I needed new skies and decent boots. I also needed help.
In the sports shop, two enormously long, skinny men, uncannily resembling a pair of skis themselves, launched into this task with serious enthusiasm. Both of them were no doubt langrenn champions, so stringy and muscle-laden was their appearance. I couldn’t imagine why they had taken their medals off. Debate raged as to my exact needs. After some time, they told me I needed metal edges and patterns on the bottom.
A moment later, I realised they must mean the skis. I vigorously agreed.
I was then told to stand on a set of scales in the middle of the shop while they discussed my weight as though through a loud-hailer. We all marvelled at the astonishing number of kilos displayed around the shop for everyone to see, as if such substantial findings were fit for public wonder. Realising I was a novice at this game, their wide-eyed stares implied a vague sense of admiration, as though ‘well done, madam!’ was what they really wanted to say.
So now, I own beautiful new skies, long, sharp, fast, sleek and fabulous. It’s like being born again.