Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners

Trip Start Feb 08, 2009
Trip End Feb 16, 2009

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Flag of Finland  ,
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We've looked at the tourist information and decided on some of the trips that we'd like to do in addition to skiing.  We all want to try snowmobiling and to make a trip at night to look for the aurora.  We'd also quite like to see huskies or reindeer and go on a journey by sled.  My preference would be for a reindeer trip, but they all seem to be more expensive.  Paul and I have decided to do an ice-fishing trip, travelling out to a lake and drilling a hole with the hope of hooking something.  I want to catch a complete monster fish just to have my photo taken with it, but the tour leaflet says that if you catch something you can cook it and eat it, which is the decider.

The weather in the morning is glorious, and we set out to book our fishing trip for later in the day.  Just after 9am the sun creeps above the trees on the side of the fell, giving the frozen scene a soft golden cast.  It's a winter wonderland outside.

We find out at the tourist information that we are too late to book on a fishing trip for today, so we decide on Friday morning instead.  With nothing else but the prospect of looking at festive reindeer patterned jumpers in souvenir shops, we ask about hiring cross-country skis.  For a reasonable €10 each, we pick up the kit and resolve to teach ourselves.  It can't be that hard, can it?

The boots are soft and ankle high, with a grooved plastic sole that fits onto a ridge on the narrow ski.  The toe clips into a binding, and the heel is free to lift up from the ski.  Unlike alpine skis, the binding isn't automatic, so you need to be flexible enough to reach your toes to unclip from the skis.  The poles are far longer than for downhill, reaching up to my chest, and I soon work out this is because the ends never reach in front of you.  They dig in about level with your leading foot, otherwise you risk tripping yourself up and planting your face into the snow.

The movement is just like marching, swinging your arms high to match the effort made by your legs.  As I start to get used to the feeling I glide more with each step, especially on the level parts of the track, leaving the marching for getting up hills.  My legs and arms start to burn with the effort on the steeper slopes.  On either side of the pisted route are parallel grooves carved into the snow by several previous skiers.  Stepping into them helps me to move much more smoothly, although I have to step out again to walk with my skis in a v-shape when the gradient becomes too much.

An old fellow passes us using the centre of the piste to ski as if he were skating, pushing his feet out to the side on each stroke.  He salutes us with his pole and glides away effortlessly.  An attempt to copy his movements reveals how much effort is required, and I go back to my shuffling steps.

We head out along an easy route to the nearby village of Laanilä (about 4km away according to the map), the location of the nearest café.  The route is lined with streetlights and takes us past a husky farm.  The dogs bay and howl at the visitors arriving at the farm to take part in husky sled trips, and we continue on our way.

At the coffee shop in Laanilä we try out the only words of Finnish that we've picked up so far.
Hei - Hi/Hello
Kahvi - Coffee
Munkki - Doughnut
Kiitos - Thank you
It was sufficient for our needs.

We start our return journey soon after noon, and although the sun has reached its highest, it barely clears the tops of the trees on the fells above Laanilä.  The air temperature is around -14ºC , and the cold cuts through any exposed skin.  My fingers ache and stiffen up as I try to take photographs.  Several trees exposed to the full strength of the sun are slathered in ice rather rather than snow, and glow gold.  As we pass by them they crackle, as the sun melts the snow, and the water is instantly frozen.  My breath is freezing as I exhale and catching in my hair, turning it wiry and grey where it hangs over my shoulder.

We follow a different route, slightly longer at around 7.6km, on the way back.  A couple of times we pass warning signs; a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark and one or two words underneath.  Finnish doesn't share a common root with most other European languages, so they could mean anything from steep hill to cliff edge, to road crossing to dangerous bears on the loose.  Although hills and cross-roads are more likely.   We end with a long downhill run back to the gateway, stepping into the parallel lines and gliding along, as if on rails.
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