As I headed back towards the airport on December 27th after a welcome break back home in Sweden over Christmas there was one small ting of disappointment. No snow. While it is not shocking to have a Christmas without snow south of Stockholm these days, it had meant no sledding, no snowball fights -which you never get to old for in my opinion – but perhaps most importantly it had meant a missed opportunity to cross country ski.
Scandinavians have a very fond relationship with this form of skiing, perhaps even more so than with the alpine disciplines. Whether it is as a workout to get in better shape, as a way to take in the peace and quiet of the surrounding woods, or simply watching races on television; cross country skiing tends play some role is most Scandinavians lives.
Of course, the availability of snow - especially in the more northern parts of the country - play a part. Granted, there are ways to ski without snow and roller skis are becoming a familiar sight as old men are desperately trying to get some training done ahead of Vasaloppet, a 90km race inspired by Gustav Vasa, the fist king of Sweden who in 1521 fled from the Danish on skis for this distance. However, without arguing the effectiveness of roller skis as a workout tool, the point – at least for me – gets lost on wheels. But even beyond the snow, there is a cultural significance in cross-country skiing that ties very closely into the way Scandinavians view the outdoors.
“Ga pa tur”, which loosely translated means go on tour, is the word Scandinavians use for skiing as a mode of transportation rather than a means to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. Different skis, boots, and mind set are used compared to the other – more competitive – way of cross country-skiing.
Most often touring skiing involves skiing with food and equipment packed in your backpack, either for a day tour or for staying out a couple of days. In a lot of places in Scandinavia you can ski from hut to hut located roughly a day’s skiing apart, which means that a day of skiing can be followed by a night in front of an open fire rather than camping out, if that’s not your cup of tea.
This is the type of skiing that I had hoped to be doing this Christmas, but on a smaller scale. A couple of hours at a leisurely pace, nothing but the sound of the steel-edged skies gliding over snow covered fields. To be able to just head out with your gloves on and not really worry about what paths you are taking thanks to the generous land access rights.
For me, who isn’t a very accomplished skier by any stretch of the imagination, the accessibility combined with the change of pace that skiing offers is the appeal. Skis are a great way to quickly get out to areas where you are surrounded by nature. Of course, you could get there using a snow mobile or some other form of motorised transportation, but there is a certain feeling of providing your own horse power.
Without any particular skill, on skis I can get to places that would take a lot more time and effort to get to in summer and might be completely out of reach in winter otherwise. It can be a long a structured tour, or it can be a few hours of almost aimless exploration. Either way it offers a break from an otherwise busy world where you are alone with the surroundings and your thoughts.
High or low skill level, young or old, for days or just an hour; skiing is available to everyone. This is where I think that Scandinavian love for cross-country skiing stems. The outdoors is for everyone, and there’s not really a wrong way to enjoy it – skiing just makes it easier.
Of course, as soon as we turned into the airport parking lot the first snowflakes started falling, and my parents were already talking about how they might bring out the skis when they got home.
Oh well, there’s always next winter.
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