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A few months ago, I wrote a short article about being inspired to take part in the Birkebeiner, a world-famous 54km XC Ski Marathon from Rena to Lillehammer, Norway. Well, I’ve only gone and done it!!!

Despite very cold temperatures between -5C and -26°C, the skies were blue, the snow was fresh and the crowd were enthusiastic. I knew I’d put the time and effort into my fitness, I’d done a 40km training ski about 4 weeks before and spent the previous week in Austria ski mountaineering. Whilst I was nervous, I was also quietly confident that, although I wouldn’t be breaking any records, I could get myself round.

The atmosphere was amazing. From the minute we arrived in Rena and settled onto our foam mattresses in the school hall, to the final km going into the stadium at Lillehammer, everyone was really friendly. And the Norwegians really know how to cheer you on!!! I was part of a group of 11 members of the RAF Nordic Team. Our experience levels varied from guys who had been doing this for years, to 3 team members who had only started skiing in January! We were in a number of different start groups, so as our numbers started to dwindle, I took my place in group 22 and waited for the off. Fortunately, being in one of the later start groups did mean that I was with mostly recreational skiers. The frenzied start I had been warned about failed to materialize and everyone set off at a polite but steady pace. The route immediately starts with a long slow climb, and just like anyone who has ever done the Great North Run or similar, within the first 500m there were people having faffs with skis, waxes, clothing etc. I just skied my own race and kept going at a steady pace. I’m not sure whether I was pleased or demoralized by the fact that there was a marker at every km, but I started ticking them off. There were also refreshment stands every 5km, so again, something to keep ticking off and moving forward.

Starting Group 22

All was going incredibly well and I was feeling really good having just climbed the second of the hills and hit around the 24km mark. And then disaster struck. Relaxing and enjoying a slide down the other side, I have no idea what I hit in my track but I was summarily ejected at speed and landed in a heap. Winded, and initially fearing the worst (a broken leg sprang to mind), I slowly got myself together and got to the edge of the tracks. A quick body check revealed I could still stand (phew – my leg obviously wasn’t broken). My ribs were incredibly sore and I had obviously managed to impale myself on my pole on the way down. Still, I had already done 24km and I am not one to waste effort. I had a strong word with myself, “Come on Lizzie! You’re almost half-way and you didn’t come here to drop out!” and off I set. Despite the sore rib, I just managed my pace so that I was never breathing too heavily and I figured I probably wasn’t going to die. The next 30km became about a steady pace and just keeping going. At about 5pm I had around 14km to do, mostly downhill, and it was starting to get really cold. The sensible thing to do would have been to stop and put on another layer, but the ‘it’s only another 14km, just get on with it’ voice was too strong. I persevered and arrived in the stadium 8hrs and 8mins after I started, freezing cold, but ecstatic to have made it!

The trail ahead - fabulous weather & views!

When I first started looking at the race, I just wanted to get round in one piece, without being stopped for being too slow. As I have trained, I had settled on around 8 hours being my target time, so actually, taking into account the fall and bruised ribs, I was really pleased. From a recovery perspective, I haven’t had any horrendous aches, just the bruising. ‘Train hard, ski easy’ is the way forward.

I have been extremely lucky that living in Germany, I have been able to get some quality time on snow, and I have great sports facilities available to me at work. With technique coaching from Lindsay, and a demanding training programme from my Personal Trainer, Caz, I was really able to set myself up for success. A week at New Year in Venabu, followed by a 3-day Skate-Ski Intro in Italy gave my training diversity, and ski mountaineering the week before the race clearly just gave me an appreciation of steep slopes and high mountains that made the ones on the Birkebeiner fade into little blips. The whole experience has been brilliant. The training gave me something to focus on, and the suggestion from RAF Nordic that I join them was much appreciated. Ultimately though, this has been a tale of someone who had done a bit of skiing, setting their sights on a goal, and going for it, and anyone can do that!!!! I’d happily recommend giving a race a go. For me, what’s next? Some idiot mentioned Vasaloppet…90km in Sweden next year….now where are my skis?

Lizzie Norton

The Norwegian military, on traditional telemark skis.

 

 

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

At first, to be quite honest, I could never quite appreciate the appeal of cross country skiing, having only briefly tuned in to see the epic exertions of Lycra-clad athletes on Eurosport one Saturday afternoon - from the comfort of my own armchair. I wondered whether a decade’s training might not be enough to get me to that level. Then I realised I was missing the point entirely!

As with any sport, cross country skiing can be enjoyed at many levels: just as many of us enjoy a gentle jog around the park on a crisp autumn morning, others choose the running track on weekday evenings to build stamina while following carefully crafted training regimes. We can all find our own initial level of ability, then set whatever objectives we wish to pursue while learning and developing the new skills our pastime requires. Cross country skiing is a rewarding activity where the initial learning curve allows us to quickly build confidence and enjoy the thrill of gliding through woodland and across snowy, serene landscapes.

Much of the appeal in learning the skills of cross country skiing undoubtedly stems from the discovery of a winter environment that stirs the senses, imparting memorable encounters within a natural setting that frees us from the everyday clutter and commotion of daily life. Often overlooked is the charm of Nordic skiing as a means simply to unwind and rediscover a gentler pace of life, and by which we become more attuned to appreciating the stunning beauty of the outdoors.

Complementing the sensations and thrills of learning to ski is the enjoyment of sharing the discovery with others on your holiday. Skiing in a group and learning together creates a great sense of camaraderie, support and friendship that enriches the experiences we share together in the mountains. The time we spend together exploring the trails on skis is but a part of the adventure. Enjoying the cuisine and hospitality; learning of the unique crafts, traditions and folklore of the region; capturing the amazing alpine light in our photos shared with others; exchanging stories of our exploits across the dinner table; getting to know our generous hosts at our evening retreats - all add to the blend of excitement and relaxation that you’ll experience on our winter trips.

At Tracks and Trails we have carefully selected and curated a choice of different cross country skiing trips to appeal to individual tastes. Each of the regions in which we run our ski weeks and weekends has its own distinctive appeal - our trip pages and itineraries provide all the necessary information to guide your selection.

If you’ve any questions or need more information on any aspect of our cross country skiing packages, please do get in touch - we’re happy to offer advice and help in choosing your trip. Should you wish to organise a private trip according to your own schedule and itinerary we shall gladly help with arrangements - pleased do phone (+44 (0)20 8144 6442) or get in touch by email. At Tracks and Trails we pride ourselves on providing a personalised, attentive service that best assures an unsurpassable experience for all our guests.

We look forward to spending time with you on the ski trails this winter!

Jon

An amusing and refreshing article reviewing the delights of skate skiing from Fall-Line Skiing and Snowboarding magazine. Travel journalist, Eric Kendal, took to skinny skis in the Swiss Obergoms (the location for one of our beginner ski weeks) for a lesson in 'skating'. Let it amuse, inspire and enlighten your thoughts on cross country skiing! www.fall-line.co.uk

The Alps have decided it's Spring ....in February! 5 weeks of high pressure has brought us blue sky and sunshine for weeks on end (yawn, yawn!). So the past few weeks we've been able to enjoy 'spring skiing' with light weight gear whilst enjoying some rays. Not all bad really. Due to these warm conditions the low lying Jura cross country ski trails have been effected so our Grand Traverse of the Jura has been adapted to a Jura 'Highlights' where we make a traverse of the Jura reaching all the high points where the snow is still in good condition, 6 different nordic areas are open across the region. We are due some snow this week though so we shall see how much it brings....Julia

For the last 10 days I've been lucky enough to be in Italy. First off the lovely the Ferret & Cogne valleys with our Italian Ski Weekend (ISW) who were learning/freshing their cross country skiing skills. We enjoyed great food, excellent snow, tried both classic and skating styles and ended with great apres ski in Courmayeur.

Next stop the Dolomites! Two of the ISW team combined their trips and came with me. We base our Dolomites Track Explorer in the lovely family run Hotel Zanon - more amazing food! Good thing we are skiing everyday to keep up with the 4 courses in the evening. Our week 'explored' different ski areas, different ski styles & ski types, developing technique, visiting local villages and day ski tours. The icing on the cake for many though was entering the 22k Classic Ski Race the 'Lavazeloppet'. The Tracks and Trails team entered the event the day before once having skied the course and felt confident that they could do it. So a nervous 24hrs followed whilst they planned what to wear, to eat & to carry and whether it was now such a good idea! On the race morning of the race they were joined by some 150 other skiers at the start line at Passo Lavaze. As the sun rose to another blue sky day I stood on the hill side and enjoyed great views of the skiers leaving the starting pen and making their way around the very hilly/challenging course. I proudly watching all of the T&T's ski team complete the event all in good time - they were given 3h30 to complete. So well done to them all as their results were: Nick:1h40 - Caroline:2h00 - Gill:2h20 - Sue:2h58.

My final day in the Dolomites took me to the start line of the Italian 70k classic race known 'Marcialonga'! This amazing event is like the London Marathon on skis. Joined by 7500 other skiers from all over the world the course takes you up the Val di Fiemme and Fassa valleys. The views and ambience are incredible. This race i've wanted to take part in for many years and is seen as the 'classic of all classic events'. And it was for me too. Although a little fatigued in the legs I was happy to complete the course in 6h23 minutes.

Following a warm spring like feeling across many parts of the Alps I am pleased to report excellent snow conditions in Italy. We currently have our Italian Ski weekend running based in Val Ferret, in the the Aosta Valley. The depth of the pressed ski tracks is over a metre and the very COLD temperatures of -23 at night are making sure it stays around. During the morning it was still -16 so we enjoyed immaculate, cold, soft snow to slide and glide across. Prepped with enough layers, warm coffee stops, good gloves(!), blue skies & sunshine we enjoyed another great day beneath the breath taking peaks of the Mont Blanc massif. Tomorrow we'll be in Cogne in the Gran Paradiso National Park for more of the same.

After heavy snowfall these past two days the run up to Christmas is providing excellent skiing conditions - and what's best is the pistes are quiet! 15/20 km's of tracks are open in Val Ferret and the coffee and cake reccommended!

Merry Christmas and happy skiing & snowshoeing. Julia & Lindsay

Last week I was joined by Leslie from the US, Arletta from Poland, Team SA (from South Africa) and Susie from the UK on our multi-activity winter week. There truely were an international feel to our week. Over the 6 days the group stayed in a luxury chalet and were able to enjoy getting to grips with both cross country skis styles - trying both the classic and skating - and experienced days out in the mountains in winter travelling on snowshoes. The holiday is based in France but as we are so close to Italy we are also able to nip across the border for a chance to sample a little Italian snow and of course not forgetting the cuisine too. Team SA were able to add on a few days and experience a little of what Switzerland has to offer and when they left us headed off to Zermatt to alpine ski under the eyes of the Matterhorn. I'm waiting to hear how they got on?

I'm just back to the Chamonix Valley after another great ski trip to the Jura mountains where the snow continues to fall and the temperature is staying low - keeping the tracks in excellent condition. Our 'extreme team' (The Mackenzies and Janet) have just completed approximately 100km on skis in just four days. We began our ski in Mouthe, at the source of the Doubs river, and enjoyed skiing on pressed tracks all the way to Giron which sits just north of Geneva, making it easy to depart for their late flight home. Our journey took us through a variety of mountain villages, farms & pastures used for grazing in the summer months, hilly forested areas and flat valley bottoms. Travelling with only a small backpack enabled us to enjoy skiing both the ups(!) and the downs along the way. The accommodation we use is in a mixture of rustic farm houses and small family hotels where you can enjoy local dishes, cheese and wine. The trail is also close to many wonderful coffee and cake stops! To add to the ambience of our journey we even caught up with skiers training for one of France's longest cross country ski races, the Transjurassienne which was also held over the weekend.

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