torsdag 23. januar 2014

Your Cross Country Ski Holiday in Norway.... Prt I

XC skiing or 'Langrenn' as they call it here, is what brought me originally to Norway becuase in the UK there is quite limited access to the sport. As a kid I loved watching biathalon, ski/shooting, and the gliding way the skier's used, making it look both challenging and elegant.

Although there are two or three clubs in Scotland and there used to be two schools, in Braemar and Huntly which I have not checked to see are open still, the amount of prepared ski tracks or levelled forrest roads is minimal, whereas in the three proper scandinavian lands, many a small town boasts 15km of tracks prepared for 'both style arts' / kicking in tram-line tracks, and skating style as used in biathalon and a good deal of them also have a little circuit of 2 km or more with floodlighting. The last six winters in southern norway have been snow rich and with seasons of upto seven months within an hour of the coastal towns, there has been rekindled interest in 'langrenn' as the national participation sport.

Mohammed Must Come to the Mountain

So you have maybe chosen to give it a go, and you should then really think about booking a holiday and there used to be Nilsen package deals to Geilo and Hemsedal, two of south/central Norway's biggest resorts. You can string your own cheap flight set up via Rygge  or Gardemoen or Bergen with direct flights from Stanstead or Gatwick. It is a bit of a hassle, but you could make that part of your hol. Geilo is well served by train on the Oslo-Bergen mainline, while Hemsedal has many busses from Oslo or train stations along the Geilo train route like Gol. Travelling with friends and booking a chalet a little off season (enquire when the scandinavian winter holidays are

There are many other smaller ski centres around Hardangerviddas skirting valleys but these are much harder to get to in reality without a local host to drive you there perhaps. In january-mid marrch you could be lucky and be able to ski around the Oslo area and book an instructor from either Tryvannski center or for example may have courses in english. Oslos north moors and woods, Nordmarka have very extensive and well groomed tracks using summer time forrest roads. Bergen has a wet winter but an hour inland there is the Kvamskogen skicenter which has a range of tracks and some longer high valley tours which are prepared.

For the more adventurous there is the ski centre at Stryn four or five hours north of Bergen which has spectacular scenery.

What to Bring and Wear ?

you will be able to hire xc skis of all types at the major ski centres, although boots, skis and poles for a beginner can be had for under 200 quid in the local sports shops. Ski hire is cheaper than the alps, with instruction being about the same for one to one but probably cheaper if you can book onto a course taught in english.  If you by skis you can put a note up on a local super market notice board offering them for sale , take away the cost of your hire and if you dont scratch or bend anything then you will be quids in if you are lucky. Id take them home to use on the few snowy days you get at home, or for plodding around on the moors and the more gentle highland tops or tracks, more on that later.

Bring wine and spirits duty free if you can carry them, or just put them in your main luggage from the offy back home. A sly half bottle of good malt or brandy may come in handy as a bribe or present while in Norway. Spirits are at least half the price again as in blighty often double so dear. Wine is not much dearer, and in fact the state wine shops have a good range of bottles for a tenner which would be about six to eight squid in the UK. Beer is double the price but it is mostly 4.5% pils so actually not that much more from the offy, but in the ski resorts in pubs and restuarants it can be six quid for 400ml which is well short of a pint.

take a large and a small thermos, although these can be had cheap in supermarkets in Norway, and take a thermally insulated half liter or larger drinking bottle. You may want to invest in an insulated drinking reservoir bum bag you can buy here from 15 to 35 quid as they are darn good for cycling or hill running - walking in the UK in winter. A head torch is useful if you travel when the days are shorter, and is useful at night around the chalet anyway. A thermometer, and a foam bum mat for sitting down on, kneeling on or standing on actually that is a bit of a must.

Not forgetting the tiles> you want to take a big winter bunnet for general moving around the resort and standing getting taught or when you stop. Then you want a kinvd of double layer fleece or merino wool bunnet and then you want a few " buffs" to use as bands, throat scarves and semi balaclavas. For  a really cold forecast or journey in january, early february then a merino wool balaclava or good runnning balaclava is a worthy investment but will be too warm in less than 5 or six  degrees of frost. Sports sunglasses preferably with interchangeable lenses from sun to orange or yellow orr purple high contrast lenses from good quality sun lenses are a wise thing to take. Sports sun glasses with no metal and maybe ones you may not lose sleep over if you break them or lose them in a snow drift are just as good.

Finally cheddar cheese and good tea bags are a good bet on the provisions side.

Clothes> I made the usual new beginner mistake of wearing basically down hill and hill walking clothes. Even a goretex waterproof or Triple Point jacket is generally not breathable enough for cross country skiing at any level of proper effort in the prepared runs you will be starting in.  This is presumed for all below ie you will not be doing ski mountaineering or wilder back country stuff, but be at a ski center within easy reach of your chalet or a warm cafe, and you will not venture out on skis in below -15 or an effective wind chill to about -20  from say -8c.

For  getting about in the resort you want to have good  winter walking boots or 'alpine loafers' like moon boots, and I recommend a general hill walking set of clothes with either a  shell outer with layers including a thick wool jumper,  or down jacket and uinsulated ski trousers

To cover what you must erm, cover yourself with > the absolute must is a base layer of wool and you will need a two to three changes if the chalet has no washing machine. Make sure they are long enough to cover outstreched arms and the small of your back when you stride forward (a theme for checking all your clothes to take with you!!) I use the slightly thicker merino wool which is great for - 6c downwards and very nice to wear inside, while also it does not get smelly usually and is comfy to wear all day and all night in fact. Lighter damart style wool or high wool mix are a good thing for milder temperatures - at easterr you can find yourself skiing in air of 12'c.

I actually use synthetic materials for shorter tours and milder days of -2c and above because they then wick well and are quick to hand wash and dry. Wool stays warm when wet, but holds more water. however I find merino wool is perfect for colder days and very much more comfortable than any synthetic I have tried, XC skiing is about as effort intensive as mountain biking or gentle fjell running/jogging in the summer but uses the whole body more like in swimming so you generate far more heat for that intensity. You then have the issue of getting rid of that and what to do when you stop for a rest or instruction lecture.

The principle above base layer is then further layering and for your hours of instruction, or warming up or down, or just messing about a bit, then you want a final outer high insulation shell. I recommend buffalo pertex with fleece lining as being perfect for warming up in and especially for standing around in, outside your other layers. If you are a sweaty pig like me then it is an ideal system because you can open and close down the flaps. Bibbed trousers with braces and the standard top are great. Alternatively a skiing or snowboarding shell which has built in down or layered insulation. These both save you having to put on an extra insulating layer and have trousers with long side zips to allow you to plunge your booted legs into. Water proofing is not so important because you will see no rain and you want to have a rest day in wet snow! A good light bubble down jacket is a good option, but maybe keep that for the very coldest days and use it as a resort jacket as you will get a bit sweaty and it  will start to smell and be hard to wash on holiday. They are very good for posing around in or whipping on over your pertex layer but I prefer buffalo system for warming up and slapping overr sweaty clothes and it can be hand washed and dries in a warm room or over a water tank quickly.

Investing in synthetic or merino wool sports underpants *and bras ladies* is a worthy thing as cotton kegs will be nasty when wet as the dusk approaches and temperatures plummet. The same is true of socks, god damn your cotton socks, bring wool and synthetic in various thicknesses from thin wool to thick synthetic in order to match the size and insutlation properties of the boots you hire or buy.

The layers inbetween are then your active layer combination for training on the tracks. You dont need to use specialist xc skiing stuff. The first layer outside your underwear should be either a light acryllic lycra type set up, or a slightly fancier highly breathable double or triple layer winter jogging set. Ron Hill tights are fine, get the standard thicker ones and make sure they cover the small of your back and that you can stride comfortably in them as far as you can *more on that later in training for your holiday* You may want to get a set of braces to hold these pants up or see if there are a bibbed alternative in the running shops. Cycling longs without the inserted padded crotch and wihtout a seam in the middle are also ideal if they fit, especially if bibbed or with braces. I actually still use Lidl running tights on milder days or when I am out doing very hard interval training for under 45 minutes down to minus  ten. They are a great fit.  Your intermediate top should be more of a wicking synthetic material or you may get a special wool with an open weave like I have which is very comfy when it is colder *under minus ten* and holds warmth when saturated with sweat and condensation from sweat and damp, cold air. On milder days you can dispense with this top and use just your heavier wool underwear top.

Over this you want a simple pertex jacket with a mesh lining, a running or cycling one with a longer back on it and long arms, probably meaning going up a size from your running one or checking your cycling one allows for full swining of the arms. Simple pertex types are ideal,  for anything down to minus ten with even a good wind chill> and can be had at Lidl on their offers for under 25 quid or in runing emporia, doon/the/barras , what have you. A better qaulity top with a harder wind cheating front and integrated light fleece on the chest and lower back is a good investment as it can be used for respective sports back in blighty. Cycling stuff has the big advantage of pockets in the back, although dont do a tour-de-France with bananas there as they will be mushed ice cubes within an hour.

Over trouser in pertex or light goretex type materral with braces are a good option but once again you must be able to stride in them really leaping forward and swinging your arms, and they should not chafe on the ankles or inner thighs. For the general speeds and less adventourous tours down hill you will take *should take* as a new beginner you probably dont need these but if you suffer from the cold then a shell trouser with a simple mesh or not inside is a good idea/

Rule of thumb for Temperature
I am a big bloke and sweat even when in some kind of good conditions, so I often just use ?lidl running tights or my special skiing three layer fancy tights now, a merino wool mid weight next to skin top and a pertex running jacket, and I take another larger pertex jacket for pauses or if the wind gets up.  This rolls up in a bum bag or a small ruck sack. A spare pair of gloves and maybe a small sports towel and that it is it for up to four hours tour or a whole day messing about, with my buffalo kit near by.

As a new beginner you should avoid skiing in under minus fifteen although light efforts can be no problem. In my experience, the wind chill is not linear, and when you get to about minus nine with wind over ten knots *five meters per second in scando speak* then it gets notably very much colder, and minus 15 with say 15 knots wind is intolerable. Luckily that is a rare combination due to the scandinavian stillness of high pressure on the one hand, and the snow bearing, midler fronts from the atlantic on the other.

I have skied around in -23C with no wind, but your nose freezes up and your eye lashes freeze together. A thermometer is a useful bit of kit, especially if you can measure the snow temperature on the ground - more on that later, but that would impress an instructor and locals would be asking your advice on technical waxing! Often the weather forecasters seem to quote maximum temperatures or have bad estimates and this is important as I say, to choice of clothing for the day if it ducks down.

Essentially this is all you need as main clothing, along with good, longish gloves which have a form of grip on the palms/ winter cycling gloves are pretty much Ideal although I find them a bit warm and use specialist gloves which are a bit extortionate for what you gett. Pertex overmitts are a good idea as are an extra pair of nice warm gloves  if you get wet fingers *top tip* change gloves as soon as you feel they are damp, and put the damp ones under your arms outside your wool layer and try to dry them a while, or in your inside pockets if you are on the move.

So when you stop you should have your top insulated shell like the buffalo to sling on. Often No'ggies *norwegians* dont take anything more than a bum bag because in the main resorts there are often mountain cafes to hop into and the noggies keep on going for ages. For a tour to one of these huts which may be a couple of hours round trip for a noggie you will maybe be using the morning to get up and half the afternoon to get down, especially if you do this at the end of a week of instruction. I was crazy enough to do two hours instruction at Geilo, first time ever on skis, on hard conditions, and then go round the lake *Geilo Fjord* as they try to call it, which was 15km and it put me out for the rest of the weeks furthere xc and snowboarding. More on all that later. Taking a ruck sack is fine but you should learn the techniques without a ruck sack on. A small narrow camelback style one is very good for a single extra fleece jumper or buffalo top, but the drinking systems need an insulated tube, and you are better taking them out altogether and taking your small thermos with warm squash or tea in it *not coffee or hot chocolate, the will make you feel sick and dehydrate you often !  these small mid back ruck sacks are ideal for strapping on all your days stuff and dumping at the side, while a bum bag which fits firmly on the waist without dropping onto the hips can carry your drink and spare gloves or pertex jacket number two for moving around.

It is very unlikely your stuff will get nicked in norway as soon as you venture in along ski tracks. There are often lean/to bivouac type resting stations which are ideal to dump your stuff at if you know you can find your way back to them for shorter tours, or circular ones.

Under instruction you want to warm up with all your kit on and then strip down.

 I would recommend the following temperature guide with some referance to damp air and windchill

'easter conditions' - over freezing from 10 am to 5pm. Sun shine. Thin wool socks, ron hill tights, light wool long top, pertex running jacket, spare fleece or running jacket for stops on longer tours, take an insulated foam sitting mat with you. Watch out for forecasts of sleet or even the odd rain shower even over 800m and you may need your waterproof jacket & trousers packed with you.

Mild snowy conditions, damp and windy> down to minus 6

wool underwear top and legs, ron hills. If you feel the cold or the snow is wet, then an outer trouser in pertex or goretex and a fleece or light wool midlayer. An extra ptex or your buffalo style top for stops or worsening weather, and if the forecast is for sleet then a waterproof set. I use a buff and take a spare couple of them / one to replace the sweaty one and the other to use as a second layer or a scarf or balaclava if it feels colder or on the way back to the chalet or car.

Colder, stiller conditions minus 5 to minus 12.

Here it depends most on your level of activity and how much you sweat, as well as the duration of the tour or training *see later* Here you want wool underwear top to toe
and your running tights over, warming up in all your outer insulated shell. as it gets colder then you want to be near your warm stuff and you want to have a sports towel handy to wipe sweat away before it freezes.  Be really careful that you hands are dry and warm, and that your ears are coverred and not getting numb. Also check before you go out that you will have no gaps to bare skin at your ankles, waist, wrists and neck when striding along.

wear your warmer hat, and take your warmest hat for pauses. Also take extra gloves and thicker spare socks with you.

If the wind gets up at -9 to -15 then you need to have a wind cheating shell over legs and body, and an extra hat. For those of you who are racing snakes and feel the cold while never really sweating, then we are talking about using your outer  insulated shell or buffalo stuff on top of yor mid layer. For me it means putting on my spare, outer pertex jacket and warmer gloves and hats and reducting my intensity so I dont sweat too much or create too much of my own wind chill * ie breaking down hill>. You can use buffs as a base layer for your head and a face scarf at this point of course.

In windless conditions you can move around with a light to jogging work rate pretty comfortably in buffalo gear or with say a bubble jacket and slalom trousers on down to -20c Here your toes, ears and of course fingers are all at risk of frost damage and that can creep on without you noticing. Avoid sweating if you can , this is the great thing with the buffalo flap system for example. Secondly check all your skin is covered, regularily and that you can feel your extremities. Dust off snow immediately and after a fall, remove any snow from your clothes / it can be worth whipping the outerr layers off to dust it all out before it melts. Check you can move your toes and that you have a sensation of touch and temperature in them and your fingers. As soon as they go numb or you get sharp pains, then check to see if they are too cold. you may need warmer socks and gloves or over gloves. check again that your socks, boots and  gloves are bone  dry as any moisture will freeze and sap warmth from you. At minus tweny plan maybe a 50 minute lesson including only light movement and then maybe a tour which takes you nearerr your warm chalet or cafe and avoid being out for more than four hours in the whole day if you can, and avoid any waits in the cold for busses or lifts to get to youur accomodation.

Dry everything thoroughly remembering your boots too in the chalet over night and check before you go to bed on progress with your boots in particular. I have some supposedly fancy gloves with an alpine leather subsitute grip but by god they hold the water and I need to keep them drying all the time they arre not in use and they will be used as drvigin and shoppinhgh gloves very soon!  It is best to have some good quality winter resort boots like Sorels or some moon boots with good grips as XC ski boots are plastic soled and can be slippy and wick warmth away directly to the ground when walkiing on them.

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