I was psyched for this above any previous trip. Heading North, amongst the fjords and mountains to go skiing for the first time since I was three years of age. Having some experience in wintry hills, I was only excited to learn how not to fall over. The morning was pretty fresh, and the forecast looked promising after weeks of fairly temperate weather. The previous weekend myself and a few others had been camping at around 800m altitude – there had been plenty of snow. With this snowpack and fresh snow and even sun seemed the most spectacular way to experience this anew.
As we met gradually at the bus station, there was a nervousness about the group, mixed with keenness. On the bus, I enjoyed the views and read a book, keeping mostly to myself. I heard people discussing what kit they brought, and what they forgot. I found this quite classic, though ironically as I ended up leaving my phone on the bus.
Arriving at TrollAktiv was impressive. The feel was very professional with clearly a lot of time invested into the place. The surroundings were astounding for such a centre, and despite its size it fit nicely into the landscape with its wooden cabins and high ropes running through the treeline. Having worked as an instructor at a similar place I could see myself working there for a summer.
In the evening we settled in the lecture room with Tim to go over the week’s schedule, and smooth to out the edges with questions. During which I discovered Norwegians tell the time differently to us Brits: Half six actually means half past five to them and so my phone could wait another day. I sat as a sponge trying to absorb all skiing had to offer.
Day 1 – New
To start off, I had a bit of a drama with skis. They had been taken aside to tighten the bindings after which I was unaware, they were left out the truck. When I arrived felt an insatiable urge to jump on skis which I now no longer had. Thankfully Stefan offered his up a little way during the introduction as he had been a few times previous. I later upgraded to Tim’s skis for the ‘downhill’.
Holding the skis and poles felt uncomfortable as did putting them down, totally fresh to my mind and body – putting them on was the truly difficult part though. As I skidded, finding a central balance point that didn’t involve sliding was quite tricky. We did a series of movement exercises on the skis, which at first I was simply imitating without. Moving onto the simple jumps and turns, I felt a strong drive to learn fast.
To be a total beginner is a wonderful experience, and ultimately humbling. When you often practice something you are familiar or even excelling at, thoughts can arise which place you above another. It’s a decent ego-check when you fall over every five minutes. An essential part of learning anything is the acceptance of failure, and when it is new this conscious decision is fundamental to both your improvement and enjoyment from whatever it is.
That evening’s talk was interrupted by fresh snow during Tim’s talk on waxing, how temperature and moisture affects the snowpack, and how these two relate. I found the science super interesting, which greatly improved the two hours I spent waxing my skis – having put far too much on during each layer in a freezing cold room, I hadn’t much luck corking it in with speed. It only heightened the excitement, and frankly was a cathartic practice.
Day 2 – Psyched
With fresh snow and the core basics down, Tim took us more or less straight to a longer and steeper slope. Learning the nuances of positioning during even a straight glide downslope was totally engaging, as was the knack of using the bounce from a fall to maintain speed. Both were undoubtedly key to my quick improvement and need to keep moving. I was happy to have reasonable fitness and good balance from other sports I love, which also greatly helped in my mental approach to the course too.
After a short break, of which an importance was emphasised, we began a little tour through the powder-laden tracks. The reason for its short-lived nature was in winter it is valuable to stay warm without sweating, while avoid being too cumbersome with so many jackets. Snacking is suited to this end.
We had plenty of opportunities to glide down, fall, turn a little or a lot or simply pizza the way down. Of all these though, the herring bone was the most exhausting and the telemark the most avoided.
With half an hour to spare myself and a few others head over to the lovely pisted tracks to fly down for a few sessions. It was during these times alone and totally at my own pace, albeit a little rushed when I learned the most as I had been given a basis of understanding. It was now for me to facilitate my body into adopting the skills.
After dinner, I checked out the forecast and waxed my skis, sleep came easily to me.
Day 3 – Sore and Psyched
After lots of falls and a considerable distance covered, with a fair portion as herring bone, my legs were stiff in places that were totally alien to me. A good reminder to stretch after long days.
The day was split nicely, with each person doing a leg of the route for 100m or so, then leapfrogging to the next while they hang around to the back of the line. When breaking trail this worked nicely, though I found on the downslopes it was not so great to be behind – the icy compact snow formed ridges from the skis which were often difficult to turn out of at your own rhythm and direction.
The group was moving confidently and well until a slight ‘off-piste’ section which was a little bumpy. So far my experience of bumpy ground was limited but at first glance it was going to be almost underwhelmingly tough. I am quite certain the whole group bar Tim slipped over at some point down this short winding slope. We dodged trees, rocks and bumps. Over-leaned and under-turned all to the same end.
Around lunchtime we met up with the other group and mingled a little but mostly stuck to the groups. Some were tired and a little tense as a cold breeze rolled through, though the sun was out and a flask of tea warmed me, it was easy to feel comfortable with a little silence.
During the break we played with the snow and tried starting a fire with a flint. It was challenging with a lot of the wood being partially frozen. Gathering pieces fit for a fresh fire was a task. Haron showed me how to properly strip birch bark, as I hadn’t been aware each strip has multiple thin layers which become exponentially more flammable when separated and mixed!
Heading back was good, as people’s moods lifted after lunch and having spent the day finding their comfort on skis. We were making good time and pace, moving fluidly off the back of other’s routes. So we finished the day with another bunch of pisted sessions, desperately fitting a last run in and leaving some rather irritably waiting at the bus – though I was quite on time.
The evening was filled with lots of talk of winter safety and first aid, be it personal or group. There was plenty of discussion as to what really separates the two!
Day 4 – Slopes for days
With three days cruising Hågos, it was time for something and someplace new. The ski slopes looked intimidating, as you pulled up the in carpark, a chain of lifts began to wheel round and up a seemingly 45o slope right at the entrance.
Tim gathered us round and passed out the skins, little cat-hair like strips which we attached to the base of the skis. Little did I know just how wonderful that poorly fitted strip of weird material was until half an hour later when we were just walking up the hill (albeit somewhat shallower angle) with no more stress than on a summer’s day. This was totally bizarre as a focus of the past week had been on technique of moving efficiently up-slope and here I was just cruising practically unconsciously while taking in the views and chatting away.
Having reached the top of the first mountain this season in Norway, the view was quite silly all things accounted for. A total 360o with what seemed to be the whole spectrum of clouds, from snow-filled low clouds to wispy ice way above – while the sun shone through. We had some food then moved onto simple snow-belays for abseiling with minimal equipment, perhaps for cornices or steep terrain. It was a learning point for me that you can use remarkably thin materials to lower from, especially with an angle considerably lower than vertical.
Next, a shelter-building competition which was with an unvalidated disregard for the creation by Liam and I. The group was being not even remotely serious during the judging, though while working away people were totally engaged in staying warm for their hypothetical bivvy.
Descending the mountain was astonishingly slow in such a large group; Tim tried to give us a taste of off-piste through sporadic trees and bumps. Despite it being easy-angled I found it reasonably challenging to keep upright and with speed. The pressure was only mounted by falling making a domino effect of ruining the path for those behind. It was quite the task to stay tense in the legs while weaving! Eventually Tim got most off theirs skis as it was quite a fiasco but myself and a few others were close enough behind to carry on trying.
Finally, making it to the pisted slopes we had a few kilometres to go, and simply blasted it to the end with almost no stops. The final run was totally mind-blowing having got some smooth drawn out carves in, I felt a serious flow breaking through some boundaries I had built during the past few sessions.
Day 5 The send-off
Simon stepped in for Sindre, and the day seemed less rigid so I switched groups to see how the others were and for a fresh dynamic.
This was the least productive day, as we did some very basic orienteering along the pisted tracks, though the
sessions down the piste slopes at the end was obviously the best thing going.