I have finally made a trip to the sacred land of cross country skiing – Norway. Two weeks ago I missed an opportunity to ski in northern Scotland because of the distances and costs involved. I’ve really been missing skiing, and it turns out that from the London area it is cheaper and faster to go skiing in Norway than in Scotland (as long as you try not to buy much food in Norway…seriously consider packing your own food for a short trip – I did).
I planned a very short trip which would give me time to ski, spectate at the final races of the Oslo2016 Biathlon World Championships, and have a brief look around Oslo. I arrived on a Saturday night and gave my friend Sindre a call. We hadn’t seen each other in six years, but we were soon drinking beer, watching the end of Ski Tour Canada at a houseparty and reminiscing about old times.
The next morning I woke early and took the T-bane metro/light rail from downtown up to Voksenkollen, then I caught a free bus to Vinterpark Oslo where I rented some classic skis and headed out on the trails. By trails I mean 2600km of groomed trails around Oslo. Yes that’s right, 2600km of groomed ski trails all accessible without a fee as far as I know.
Using the rental equipment was very challenging – loose boots, heavy skis with rounded edges, and heavy flimsy poles were a good reminder of what we often put beginners through when teaching. But one does not complain when skiing in Norway! I was glad to be skiing again and had to restrain myself from not skiing all day.
After the brief ski I took the T-bane to the Holmenkollen stop and joined the crowds to watch the mass start races on the final day of the Biathlon World Championships. The women raced first, and the crowds appreciated France’s Marie Dorin Habert and her flawless shooting which brought her a convincing win. The men’s race was arguably a bit more suspenseful with Johannes Thingnes Bø (NOR), Martin Fourcade (FRA) and the legendary (42 year old!) Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) taking the podium positions in that order, delighting the hometown crowd.
I spent the remainder of my trip (Sunday night and Monday morning) walking around Oslo. Things were fairly quiet as the city recovered from the week of biathlon, so I’ll have to return again when the museums are open and the city is livelier in general.
Norway certainly lived up to my stereotypical expectations – with many people riding the public transport system with skis. It was also clear that Oslo especially is struggling with some complex issues of rapid growth, immigration and the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe. I’m certainly not qualified to comment further after such a short trip, but perhaps what continues to draw Norwegians up into the hills in such numbers is the opportunity to exchange the complexities of the modern world for a simpler world of friends, family, good food and where the fastest skier (and steadiest shooter) wins – if only for a brief moment.