Category Archives: Scot Living In Norway

Wonderful 12km of Skiing in Vegarshei

I find more and more that the days I set off to go on a social tour at a light pace end up being the days I am most satisfied with practicing technique and testing some little high intensity nano sprints. Thursday was a day off this week, and the sun threatened to shine, although the combination of -13c and 25 mph winds was always going to be a bit of a challenge when we got up to the exposed moor.

Vegarshei has not been my favourite place, while I have been there quite often because it is other people’s favourite. It provides what you could call a varied tour, but they run it clockwise so the hill climbing is nearly all fishbone. You then have short and few opportunities for diagonal technique (aka kicking) after the stadium is behind you, until the breif 2km round the boggy moor, which so often has defied the piste machine by not freexing deeply enough in recent years. In winter it transforms to a fast section, a ribbon of sensibility on an otherwise ‘rollercoaster’ style route.

A tour at 11am in Norway risks just what I had anticipated, someone wants to start a bonfire and grill hotdogs, and eat oranges and the kitkat copy KwikLunsj. I am not a fan of this with any km to do at all, and the lean to hut is about 2/3rds of the way round with the longest hill of the day being the sting in the tail1500m or so before your reach your terminus.

The steepest hill, where the skate skiers had reverted to ‘labbing’ up in fish bone too.

It had really dawned on me that my skintec skis would fall short of gripping – they are a little balding like me, and lucky for their middle age, a new set of skins is on order. They dont like the cold, loose snow, and the softness of the snowbase does not suit my hard bow tension skis. So I elected to take my older touring skis, which have three season old (applied but little used in this case) Start Grip tape. It gave some grip, but the new snow hadnicely drifted in a kind of micro catastrophe for the nicely lain tramlines. The skis dont track or rather I dont track well on the harder, rilled mid lane, and we all reverted to skating as often as possible to keep a pace on. Infact the conditions were ‘green wax’ with blue picking up too much , and my grip tape being like velcro gathers nasal fluff!

The skating and ski control in corners went very well, and i even did some paddeling ( a much nicer and appropos name for what is V1 Offset in English circles) Also I managed some fast fishboning and concentrated on relaxing my upperr body and arms a bit , an area I often find tires me. Down hill the tramlines were still like going on axminister deep shag pile carpet, with the need to rock back onto heels to keep the skis floating, and that not being very satisfactory in the soft base conditions. It was much more fun to come out of the spor and go downhill in the Frans Klammer style! ploughing worked well, which is good because there are a few really tight spots with very steep drops into corners. This all went satisfactorily. Only the first rollercoaster prove problematicon a fuill stomach , three sausages and some scoff sweeties. Here I strayed into a drift and canned out on my back side. Which disappointed me, but those steep and twisty sections made up for that as I managed to keep control.

It wasnt long, and in time elapsed on skis it was shorter, to get back tot he car. I had set out to have a bit of a plodding, classic diagonal day, and it had ended up being all about skating, feeling of fitness gained this last month or two, and downhill control. Oh and just the fun of dropping shoulders and not getting too seaty on what was a splittingly cold day as soon as you had the fuillbrunt of the wind in your face. Man Friday and Lady Satruday emjoyed it a lot too, and I was ratherjealusof them both having bath tubs at respective homes to sink into, me havbing only a shower cabinet and inch of depth max possible.

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Skating Skis and the Mid Life Crisis???

A few years ago in the office I worked in, skate skis for christmas or a winter time birthday had become a running joke for those slightly balding types like me. It was a sure sign of the mid life crisis, the man seeking new, modern challenges and keeping up with fashion.

There is something to be said for this cliche, but the main reason then was the generation a decade or so older me, had their kids earlier and now had finally some leisure time for themselves, so why not take up with the style which has crept into every nook and cranny of the sport of XC skiing?

For me it is indeed a challenge, although I see myself as having had middle age around my mid thirties when I fianlly grew up and started putting family priorities before my own petty yens. I had wanted to try skate skis after a particularly fine day for getting a skate rythm going in the mid field of the ski runs at a place called Kleivvan in Aust Agder. I towed the wee man on his steering sledge using the elastic cored towrope from the car, and it worked very well indeed as loing as I skated and didnt try the more undulating thrust of classic kicking.

Evenutally I struck, but the winter prove quite short, it starting snowing the day I bnought them and it thawing to become Icey some three seasons ago. I got an absolute bargain, but found that the Intrasonic skis I bought had a little odd balance point for my shoe size and despite NIS bindings, could not be adjusted forward. They did well though and I probably needed more on lift and balanceof my own mass than the whipping point of the ski. Eventually I bust the tail of one on ice during a fall i guess one day, or it maybe got stamped on or stabbed at in the ski bag by accident. My new skis are fancy carbon fibre, just got them on monday. i had gone in with my old ski to confirm its death warrant as epxected and ask for any good deals, and although I ended up spending 600 kr more than my budget, I got a pair for half price, ex bindings but with NIS plate on already!!

For me it is a challenge and a good, infact, fantastic way to improve my balance and manoervering on skis. I find the main issue is actually breathing, or rememberingn to breath deeply, and also not rushing it all. Anyway I needed a lot of percieverance to keep going after all the falls and all that start stopping, and wondering if I ever will have the concentration necessary for perfroming what is skiings answer to the ‘fixie’ bicylce! You are locked into a metronomic rocking from side to side, releived only on the steepest downhills by a tuck, or on faster slack down hills by double poling in the tamlines, as desired.

Concentration issues have plagued me down the years, often not seemingly anything more than ‘cannae be arsed’ but with neweven fancier and possibly slidier skis I had some motivation. That and a bad anaerobic back pain I get during classic diagonal, which needs about 20 mins warming up gently before it goes away. Skating is more aerobically demanding, but uses the body in a lighter and kind of more natural way than classic, which requires a bent in the knee while striding and a forward poised stance.

I became aware that I could just go and string things together a bit, and take breaks so as to catch my breath and concentration, and think over what went right and wrong. Now those breaks are getting fewer, and I guess like a fixie in a velodrome, the 5000m was not built in a day.

Rushing things is an issue and then forgetting to breathe, and then losing rythm. Howevver there seems to be a little key in the lock I am turning by just practicing. One issue with concentration is that skis can behave a little unpredictably. One common mistake I made and you see many making, is to cut too wide a vee when on the flat or down hill, and place the ski at too broad an angle to the line of travel. When coupled to a big rock of body weight, this means you end uyp shooting from side to side at high speed, and you can see some folk fighting their own efforts, legs splayed out. The wise money is on centering your ski, and placing it carefully down as you kick off the other ski,. The ski dangles forward in roughly the directioon of travel towards the end of the other skis glide as the push is ready to begin. many folk look like they are paddeling uphill, or proceeding like a chimpanizee raised walking on their legs/

Paddeling is in one way like first gear on a bike, you can sit back and take it easy, but if you ‘get out the saddle’ and put some effort in, you can saw your way up a hill Like nobodies business. It is a technique qhich many go over into at too early a stage in their speed versus gradient, and either end up losing speed and forward momentum or get caught as I have, in a skis which slide far out to one side at a time, and you kind of fight the skis and end up with too much travel in either zig or zag. It is better to double dance until you grind down to a speed where paddelign is snesible, a bit like using first gear on a moving car, you avoid it until you are really slowed up and are gonna stall otherwise.

You dont hgave to be very pure in your technque though. You can change between double dance and single dance, or throw in a quick paddle at times when you have really slowed down on a mdium hill, or even on the flat when you hit soft snow. However you do need to learn what proper dancing is, and not pole in the wrong synchosity to your skating movements in your legs. The poles are launching you off the end of the push away on the old ski and onto the new ski, and when your weight is fuilly on the ski, your arms are about waist level. Quite a few people I asee use a kind of high speed paddling, with the arm trhust coming before the push even., That show you get going on skis often in fact, a ,kind of angled paddle,

Downhill your skis feel much freer and easy to manoevre than the long, softer classic cousins. Step tyrning in partiuclar is much easier and indeed my new skis did behave better than my old Intrasonics Also you can choose to skate a little and practicine feelign how it is to skate with a ver tgtveepte i og,vey longlide phases.

Also you get to feel without using poles to propell you downhill, amd that is ta thing I should do on the flat, leaving my poles

Soi from frustration and a broken ski, to appreciating the learning curve and how I just need to sew a few things together, it becomes a picture from what was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle of small bits right,. much missing.

XC Skiing Jim, But Not As We Know It….

Today I had an appointment in a neigbouring town, which meant having a few hours over on a rare sunny afternoon.  Rain had washed most of the snow around the house away, but as we live right near the sea, often things just a little in land are much more like Narnia while we are in a filthy soggy mess.

We are blessed in having an enthusiastic xc ski and skating club who bought a former piste basher complete with rotary cultivator type back equipment, and a GPS with a SIM card! So we can track when they have been out doing their ‘dugnad’ , that’s volunteering in Norsk, and know that even quite icey snow can be turned into something useable, Today though was skiing Jim, but not as we know it.

Partly it was in my own resignation to conditions being less than ideal, or even a non starter due to ice and bare patches. Our little 3.7km run out to Jakobs “Kafe” is rather kissed by the snow gods for most of its legnth, because on the one hand it is in the shadow of a ridge of low hills, while on the other it is mostly devoid of fishboning which means you can get a really good work out and enjoy it more than those “kuperte” courses as they call them, which are typical a ring with lights made in a cheap bit of woodland where it is mostly fishbone-up, tuck down …oh and usually covered in dog shit and often joggers make a point of destroying the tracks. In rural Norway that is not the case, because you are likely to get lynched for such desecration of the national sport, but in the towns, some folk see snow and ice as a hindrance to an amble with the dog and talk about ‘condom clad’ lunatics on skis.

I digress a little to set the scene. Why was this skiing, only different? Usually of a sunny afternoon there are plenty shift workers like nurses, houswives and of course pensioners leaping at the chance to glide on their sports skis or touring planks. Not this afternoon. The car park was what they call ‘klink is’ ,  resembling a skating pond with a frozen river runing down to it where the road is. I surveyed the opening by foot, reccie’ing out the possibility of becoming completely stuck with spinning wheels if I dared drive further in. The ice though, as it often is, was not very slippy because it had a texture of rain and gritty snow on it, and it was resolutely frozen so as to be doing a good impression of permafrost! So there had be no other takers, not for their intelligent 4×4 drivetrains nor their metal studded tyres. “Personne” as the French say, with a melancholy tone of voice.

The start of the tracks were equally uninviting being composed of machine track crocodiles, a glacial mid plateau and fossilised footprints to interupt a plastic sided ski like a pneumatic drill perterbs a walk down the high street. What was left of the ‘spor’ ie the tramlines, was a pale resemblence of their former vee-sided, prestine selves. I can understand why many would glance up the forrest track from their car window, and shake their heads and sigh, looking to abandon skiing or resign themselves to an hour round tour the the next, higher ski tracks at Vegårshei. However I knew well that the end of the road is the nasty lumpy tail of the bobcat, while further in you can usually rely on their being skiing as long as the bobcats clump has 5cm of cover.

It became not a lot like skiing at this point. I elected to walk so that if it was crappy further up too, then I could bail out without the furstration of having to take my skis off again, or rip up the outside edges trying to plough to a halt on the concrete like lower stretch. I was kind of resigned to calling it a day, not annoyed, go home walk the neighbour’s dog, do some pilates, have a cappucino. I had the tail end of a cold anyway.

I sruveyed the tracks a little more. The LHS lies a little more in the shadow, so was deeper and better defined than the right hand. Both sides are driven rediculously far out allowing for a super generous centre lane for skating, quite immodest in its sprawling width across the road. In fact the ski run is pisted a good meter either side of the actual dirt road, which makes this method of pushing classic to the extremes frustrating! I use it a lot and apart from on dark evenings, the large majority of folk are using classic style, with only about one in four skating. When you get good at ‘staking’ double poling, you can find out just how far out to the side they make these tracks as your pole disappears into the bank of snow which has been groomed out over the ditch at the side of the actual road! Also now there is more battling with tree branches and the odd little subsidance where the tram line weight trailer thing starts to fall into this soft fringe.

The road is a little narrower for its first 100m or so, and I didnt think too much about the extremities being soft this time. Everything had a consistency somewhat like a cross between concrete and polystyrene. Soon the tracks became better defined and at least safe to rattle along in using doubtle pole “stah-king’.   I was out in the fresh air, and could always just enjoy the walk if the conditions prove to be intermittantly rubbish, and also I elected to walk down the only fishboning part and back that last 100m I had just come up sans planches.

On the brow of the next little ascent, I clipped on my very best skis, which have lots of spring in them, and poled off. It wasnt long until I remembered than around half my time around the very melty-freezy woods and hills of Kristiansand had been spent on such cement like paving. I had my cold, tail end, so this was going to be nice and easy, concentrate on technique if possible. Poling – down with the pelvis, point the knees forward. Diagonal on slippy stuff – press hard down and transfer weight gingerly with a shorter than usual stride, as if on a steeper hill.

The boys of the wee 5 mph machine had done a pretty good job, because there was texture in the track beds! All be it hard, abrasive, big crystals. It was blue clister material but not actually blank ice. I had friction in the kick! I could concentrate on aforementioned technique! But not for long before I missed a step. MMore concentration and there were no missed steps. Slow, but ‘nail like adhesion’ ” Spikerfeste” as I made my way up hills, and then there was just poling with a chance ffor double poloe with kick every so often, which is probably the technique which demands best adhesion to work as it was a little sketchy today.

The first down hill has a soft run out and it was fun. The track then turned and climbed a little and that was slow, there was suddenly lots of friction, and maybe a little suck. My ‘hairy’ Atomic Skintec 4000s were however really doing the job of the best clister prep I have ever managed. I got a real sense of feel for once on the hard snow, because my skis have such hard arches ( nicely they call it just ‘spenn’ which means both tension and excitement in norwegian!) In double pole there was usually no interference from the mohair skin under my soles. They can though get very ‘sucky’ in wet conditions at easter, but there is apparently some magic spray for them should this be the case.

The thing that wasn’t skiing as I am accustomed to it, wasnt really the jurassic mudflat like trail conditions, but my attitude. I had come out with no intention of doing anything more than getting a little air in my lungs, prepared to bail out or walk with my skis over shoulder. Yet I was enjoying a very laid back ski, with the 7.4 km round route completely to myself . In days gone by this could have been a personal hell as I tried to keep up a pace which the conditions and my fitness would not really allow. Like a steam loco trying to go hard at a banking and only wheel slipping while exhaling great plumes of steam in the process.

On the way back there is a long down hill from Jakobs cafe which is usually a little pussy cat of a ride, but in ice it can soon become a 50kmh rush and then if the tracks are a little skew-wiff, then bam, a ski jumps out and you end up hurt. It is very destroying for sports skis to plough or half plough down this stuff, better to know where you are and go into a tuck a little lower than usual. What would have terrified me ten years ago, brought a grin to my face. I remember doing the Nespebøvarden run and coming down to what I thought was a gathering at a Lean-To where the piste basher had stopped. I was hurteling down the narrow one way track and wondered if I would get past the gang of folk talking . However in fact it  turned out not to be the piste machine, but cars at the car park and I was lucky to have newly learned single ski out ploughing because I could reduce my mighty momentum while keeping tracking in the dark, blinded by the headlights a little as I was.  I stopped just short of the boom and felt rather proud of myself. I had kind of graduated. Applied that ‘experience is the condition you aquire at the exact moment after you most needed it’.

I made a good speed back, less hurry more haste as it seemed and met no oncoming traffic, epseically not those irritating snow is whiter on the wrong (left hand for Norway of course) side of the road. It was almost meditative and serine as I poled along, gliding like a great sail ship running her top sails above the fog. Personne.

Even when I came back to the car, there were no after work Birkebeiners blow torching their clisters. It was for once a very secluded feeling of being at peace with the woods and not at war with the ski tracks.