I was looking forward to this trip, because I hadn’t been able to ski in Finland for many years because of the mild weather conditions in the south where I lived. Growing up, my family was very active and skiing was one of our regular winter activities that we enjoyed doing with the whole family, including my grandparents. You could say that everyone in Finland knows how to ski. Much like in Norway it is one of the national sports of Finland. Therefore, I was also interested to see how the people from our class who had never cross country skied before, would cope and learn this skill that I was so familiar with.
The trip would be from Monday to Friday, and the goals of the week were to learn how to ski and develop a good technique, as well as to learn what is involved in ski touring and what one needs to know in terms of equipment, equipment maintenance and the general safety in the tours. This trip would also prepare us for our next trip(s) in the mountain areas, as we would ski mainly in Høgås which was higher on a hill and would offer somewhat similar conditions to mountain areas.
Because we had many learning outcomes during the week, I try to write a little bit about each one.
The skiing technique and “smart skiing”
Our group was divided in two, and I was in a group where we had a new instructor Tim, who owns the TrollAktiv, the place we would stay over the nights in this trip. From the first day on he encouraged us to learn the right ski technique because especially when ski touring one saves a lot of energy when the technique is good.
In the beginning we practised a lot of different turns and lifting of the skies just to get the feeling of having skies on, and how one should balance the weight on skies. He also instructed us to go uphill, and downhill with different styles to increase the balance, and ski control (e.g.Lifting other leg up, slalom etc.). I noticed from the inexperienced skiers that for some it was very difficult to find the balance on skies, especially if the downhill was uneven or curved. I learned that especially when going down/ or uphill one should not lean forward but rather “sit on skies” bending the knees and ankles, and use the hands for balance (see the picture).
Another thing was when poling to try to slide the ski after the kick, and angle the pole so that one can actually get the power behind the pole.
After some practicing we headed to ski on and off tracks, of which the off track was especially fun. In terms of “smart skiing” I learned a couple of things. When ski touring and wanting to go uphill, instead of the “fish-herring” or “the duck walk” style, more energy saving option is to go up diagonally by making a “zig zag” form, and using the kick turn when changing directions. Another thing was controlling the speed when going downhill, because if one falls a lot during the day it is both energy consuming and might get the gear wet. Therefore, when hoping to get an easier track down, it was recommended to not to follow a pressed track but to ski in fresh snow.
Is naturally a very important factor to consider when touring outdoors in the winter. Especially when mountaineering the weather can change quite rapidly. Therefore, one needs to prepare for the trips by observing the forecast, and the wind speed especially, because it can add many degrees to the coldness of the weather. This was the case on our third day of skiing. The temperature was only a few degrees colder than the day before, but the wind was blowing hard, and that would mean that up at Høgås it would have felt like -20 C. Therefore, because of our group level, a choice was made to ski lower, so that the possibility of stopping and teaching remained.
Especially, if the weather is cold, as a leader one must keep a close eye on the group members, because if they start to get cold, there is always a possibility of hypothermia and frost bites. Especially symptoms like cold fingers/ feet, tiredness, and abnormal behavior should be looked for, and avoided because they could indicate the development of hypothermia. Therefore, it is recommendable to have multiple, short breaks, and if necessary have them under an emergency shelter/ bivvy bag to get shelter from the wind.
An emergency shelter for our break
Actually we learned that the emergency shelter and a snow shovel were the essential things to pack when winter touring. About the fluid and food I learned that one should always carry something warm to drink, preferably caffein free, and something appetizing to eat. After the break one should get moving as soon as possible because especially the feet, and fingers are apt to get cold after eating, due to the blood flowing into stomach area. This was something that I noticed happening to me a lot.
Further, especially in the beginning, but also along the touring ventilation is important. This means removing or adding clothes according to the body temperature, and the goal is neither sweat nor freeze. Another tips in terms of the clothing were that one should always carry an extra warm jacket, (if not wearing already) water/ wind proof top and bottom, and extra pair of warm gloves, socks and a hat. It is important that everyone has their own clothes in case of getting wet or cold. Another key thing to pack is a first aid kit, and again that everybody has their own. If you are the leader of the group you should have a bigger kit, but if not just the things you need and are going to use, and know what to use them for.
A small accident actually happened on our fourth day of skiing, when one of the students sunk into a stream/ bog. This was luckily on our way back to the cars. As soon as the student was pulled up from the stream, he changed a warm jacket on, and changed wet socks to dry ones. Because his ski boots were soaking wet, he placed two plastic bags over the feet, so the new socks would stay dry. While he was being clothed, Len ordered the rest of us to plan what would be the fastest way back to the cars. Luckily we were skiing behind the other group so we discovered their tracks, and decided to follow them instead of navigating back with the map. The student would ski among the first skiers so he could set the phase. The aim was to keep moving and keeping a steady phase, and observe his well being. Luckily we made it back without him getting too cold.
Using the terrain and having fun
Another important thing I learned during those five days, was that the nature itself offers a lot of possibilities to ski and utilize the terrain in different ways. Whether going on the tracks, or especially off tracks there are so many different possibilities to ski.
One can go uphill and practice different techniques like “fish herring” and diagonal skiing, and downhill with different techniques, like slalom or telemark style. One can also find different off track routes where the forms of the terrain, and forests and open areas can be utilized for many types of skiing. What we did a lot, especially when the weather was good, was to stop at some smaller hills, and hillocks and practice different skiing styles and just have fun. These sessions especially promoted the group cohesion because people had more contact oppose to skiing in a line behind each other.
As a conclusion, I found that the week was both educational, and fun. Educational, in a sense that i learned a lot about different teaching styles for beginners in skiing, and also a lot about touring in colder conditions. Fun, in terms of seeing amazing winter sceneries and other students, occasionally including myself, falling on fresh powder snow.