As soon as it starts to snow in Norway, cross-country season starts as well! You'll see Norwegians carrying very long and slim skis, heading up to the nearest mountain or forest, with a huge smile on their faces.
But what is cross-country ski? Or Langrenn, as Norwegians call it...
That was exactly my question when I first moved to Norway in 2014. Back then I had never seen snow, much less did I know that different types and styles of ski existed.
So let me share with you all that I have learned so far, and my experience cross-country skiing in Norway, which by the way, has become one of my favorite thing to do.
What is Cross-country skiing?
Cross-country is a form of skiing where the skier relies on their own locomotion to move, like you need to do when walking. This means that you do not need ski lifts or other forms of assistance since cross-country skis let you go up and down on steep or flat snow covered terrain.
Contrary to downhill skiing, where you need slopes to ski down, in cross-country you have to propel yourself by striding forward or side to side in a skating motion, while at the same time using your arms to push the ski poles against the ground.
The ski boots, bindings and skis are also very peculiar since your feet are almost completely loose, having just the front tip attached to the skis. This lets you move as in a walking pace.
Besides this, the skis are extremely slim and much longer than downhill skis. So if you are a good downhill skier do not expect to know how to do cross-country, because you wont!
Another huge difference is the type of tracks. Cross-country trails need grooming and track setting, normally prepared by tractors that compact the snow, put texture on it and define two separate tracks where you are supposed to ski in, with one ski in each track.
This grooming is differently made depending on the condition of the snow and type of weather. This is necessary so your skis have the ideal amount of traction for sliding.
At least in Norway the tracks are pretty much everywhere where there is nature, sometimes they go right in front of peoples houses and you can leave home and ski your way to school. They are also completely free of charge.
Overall I would say that cross-country skiing is a mix of going on a walk with skating, while in the middle of nature.
A huge part of the Norwegian culture
But to "gå på ski" is not only a way of exercising, it is part of the Norwegian culture in such way that Norwegians actually get depressed if the winter is too short or does not have enough snow for they to go skiing.
To go on a cross-country trip is also part of a bigger "tradition" called hyttetur. (CLICK HERE to read my blog post about what Hyttetur is )
When Norwegians go on a cabin trip during winter, going cross-country skiing is a must! I would even say that they mostly go to these cabins to spend the whole weekend skiing. Having a cabin with ski tracks at the door is therefor essential. Many times the only way to get to these cabins is by skiing there!
This is also an activity that Norwegians learn since they are very young. On cross-country tracks you will see everything from families skiing together with newborns on a little "basket" being pulled by ropes, to people skiing being pulled by their dogs.
So I can safely say that knowing how to cross-country skiing makes you a bit more "Norwegian" and definitely more included in the Norwegian culture.
Å gå på ski (literally "walk on skis") - Is the most used term for going on a cross-country "walk"/trip.
In contrast, alpine skiing is referred to as Å stå på ski (literally "stand on skis").
Langrenn (literally "long competition") - refers to cross-country ski as a race/competition/sport.
Dog skjøring - Is, as I said before, when a cross-country skier is assisted/pulled by one or more dogs.
Then inside Cross-country you have different ski types that provide different ways of "sliding" or of movement while skiing. I am still learning about all that.
The word ski comes from the Old Norse word skíð which means stick of wood.
Skiing started almost five millennia ago in Scandinavia as a technique for traveling across the country over snow during winter.
I have learned that in the early days skiers used one long pole or spear in addition to the skis, instead of the two poles. And traditional skis used for traveling in Norway in the 1800s often had one short ski with fur underneath for traction and one very long ski for gliding.
It is already difficult as it is, can you imagine doing it with different length skis?
Skis were also used to equipped troops during war so they could cover great distances during winter.
The must have's
Well, I guess this depends from person to person. I like to have as little as possible, since the extra weight can make everything harder.
Besides the basic cross-country equipment like skis, boots and sticks/poles that have to be bought for your height and adjusted to your weight, you will also need appropriate clothes.
On the contrary of what you may think, cross-country clothes are very different from the ones used for downhill ski. In this case you will not only sweat a lot more, but you will also need to move more. You'll need clothes that can protect you from the wind and cold but yet be thinner, tighter and more elastic to let your body breathe and move freely. More similar to what you would wear to go on a hike, then the "normal" snow pants and jacket.
Cross-country is a good exercise so you will definitely need loads of water. I also like to have a snack or two, and a first aid kit just in case something happens.
Most places in Norway where you can go cross-country skiing will have a Stue somewhere along the way. This is a kind of restaurant/café, in the middle of the mountain/forest, that will serve coffee, tea and cakes. Perfect to stop to rest or warm yourself before continuing your journey. So make sure you have money with you in case you pass by one.
My must have's:
Skis, ski boots and sticks;
Langrenn trousers and jacket;
Underlayer of wool clothes;
Gloves, hat/band, neck warmer;
Bottle of water;
Snack (like kvikk lunsj);
Chapstick and sunscreen;
First aid kit;
Money to buy a cup of coffee.
Charger (in case it is too cold and your phones dies)
Weather is what makes cross-country skiing great or a complete disaster.
First of all, most skis will need to be waxed depending on the temperature it is that day. Red wax for below freezing temperatures, blue for above freezing temperatures, and klister for slushy conditions.
But that all sounded too complicated for me, so like a true foreigner I bought what norwegians call "Smørefrie Skis". You don't need to wax these type of skis because of their textured pattern that gives friction against the snow, and it will work in all type of snow and temperature conditions.
- Cold sunny days, after a fresh snow day, are the best in my opinion. Then the snow is fluffy and plenty, the sun is shining on your face and everything looks beautiful.
- Very cold days when it hasn't snowed for a while can be an adventure because everything will be very icy and slippery. The tracks will probably look perfectly defined what makes you gain high velocity very quickly, and if you fall it is way more painful.
- Warmer days are my least favorite ones, since everything will be melting and slushy. Branches and pebbles get mixed with the snow and make your skis break suddenly, or keep you from sliding smoothly.
- Windy and foggy days are also tricky. You can feel disoriented, get tired quicker, get colder and the ski tracks can loose shape, making it so much harden to slide.
- When it gets warmer for a week, and then goes back to minus degrees also has its disadvantages. Then snow has melted, waterfalls started to unfreeze, making the water run where it wants. When it suddenly freezes again, you are left with nice snowy tracks that sometimes are crossed by half frozen streams of water (like on the photo bellow). Going over this patches with your skis is not a good idea, because although it is not slippery while you are crossing them, when you'll get back to the snowy tracks your skis will not slide since they will be covered in ice on the bottom part.
Where can you do it?
You can do it basically everywhere in Norway! For free!
As soon as there is snow, the municipalities make sure to prepare the tracks for you to use.
Even from Oslo city center you can easily and quickly get to cross-country tracks with public transport like T-bane number 1 or several buses.
You can also reach the beginning of each track by car, having normally a parking area nearby.
I normally use the app: Skisporet and iMarka to check where the tracks are, which ones are prepared (organized by colors), the difficulty level and length of the tracks, the section of the terrain and if there is any Stue on the path.
Along the tracks you always have several signs pointing to other tracks, points of interest or nearby towns/villages. Making it so much easier to know the way. The app will also tell you where in the map you are.
I recommend to everyone that comes to visit Norway in winter to try cross-country. Even if it is as a payed class. Even more if you have just moved to Norway and want to feel more included in society and the Norwegian culture, know how to do cross-country ski is one of the best ways to start a conversation with a Norwegian and to be invited by Norwegians on a weekend ski trip or hyttetur.
But the thing that made me feel in love with Langrenn was definitely the closeness to nature, the silence, and the possibility to travel through 100% natural places, where cars cant get to, and it is just you, your skis and the breath taking view.