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Thank you Lizzie for sending us your wonderful cross country skiing story.......(to date!)

Mention cross-country to skiing to most of my friends and colleagues and I am usually met with a response along the lines of ‘that looks a bit too much like hard work’..... well, it can be hard work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, and for those people who enjoy trail running, long hikes or just some fresh air in the great outdoors away from the crowds, then it might just be worthwhile giving cross-country skiing a try.

I’ve long been a fan of the outdoors, fresh air and travel. I have also always enjoyed alpine skiing, so when I discovered Tracks and Trails ‘Introduction to cross-country skiing’ long weekend in Italy, I thought I’d give it a go. Right for the off-set something clicked....although unfortunately it probably wasn’t the technique! The stunning scenery at Val Ferret was the perfect setting, and within a few short hours of basic instruction, we were heading off on an adventure (or at least to the far end of the valley to the restaurant). There is something really satisfying about tucking into a hearty meal in a location you can only reach under your own steam. And no guilty conscience about having cake, because there was always going to be a couple of hours skiing to get back to the start of the trail! The introductory weekend did everything it said on the tin. It gave you a real taste for what you could achieve with cross-country skiing. I was hooked!

I was soon booking myself onto a week in Norway, at the Venabu Fjellhotell. Norway - the home of skiing, for good reason. There are seemingly endless trails across fells and through woodlands. Filling a week and never repeating a route, with expert instruction, my skiing came on leaps and bounds. Whilst the accommodation at Venabu is marvellous, as someone who loves long distance treks and journeys of discovery, my aspiration was to become competent enough to do a multi-day journey. Tracks and Trails offer a number of these and my sights were set on their ‘Trolls Trail Tour’ - 175km from the Rondane to Lillehammer their hardest tour no less (I’m never one to like an easy option!).

Just one more trip before feeling confident enough to tackle the Trolls Trail, I booked onto a Traverse of the Black Forest in Germany. Cuckoo clocks and Black Forest gateau in abundance, the trail proved to be a great journey too. 100km from Schonach to Belchen, the trail winds through forest, before heading over Feldberg Mountain and starting the descent to the finish. Some of the best scenery in Germany, and again great organisation from Tracks and Trails. Our bags were moved on each day, so you could enjoy the fresh air and exercise, safe in the knowledge that there was always going to be a hot shower and comfortable bed at the end of it.

Almost 2 years to the day after I first put the skinny skis on in Val Ferret, I arrived back in Norway to do the Trolls Trail. The journey didn’t disappoint. Over the course of a week, our adventure took us across the Rondane to Lillehammer. There were days when we didn’t see another skier from one stage to the next. A real highlight for me was a night in a traditional Norwegian hut. A big effort during the day ensured we were there early enough to bagsy a bed, but it was great meeting other skiers passing through on their own journeys and sharing tales over huge pans of steaming pasta by a fire.

I’m completely caught the cross-country bug. I can’t wait to plan my next trip, which I would really like to be another multi-day journey. However, another challenge awaits slightly more imminently. A group of colleagues asked me if I would consider joining them to do the Birkebeiner. It’s a 54km race finishing in Lillehammer, and this year is the 80th Anniversary. It is legendary in Norway. I couldn’t say no! I am now wondering what on earth I have done, but it has given me something new to focus on, and on the basis that I love a challenge, what could possibly go wrong?

So there you go, complete novice to aspirant Birkebeiner competitor in 3 short years. And the best thing about it all are the marvellous people that I’ve met and the adventures I've had along the way. What am I up to right now? Spending New Year 2018 with a great bunch of people, enjoying the fabulous hospitality at Venabu again! I have a race to prepare for and what better way to do it then with Tracks and Trails!

So, is cross-country skiing hard work? Well it is more demanding than sitting on a ski lift.....but also so much more rewarding. Now when I mention cross-country skiing to my Norwegian colleagues and friends, they say ‘ but you’re a Brit!’.....yes I am. But one that loves the loipe and I can’t wait to tell them that I’ve done the Birkebeiner!

Lizzie Norton

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