A Skiing Obsession

26. March 2016 Culture, Sports 0

The idea of cross country skiing always stuck me as boring. Why would you spend time doing something as benign and slow as cross country skiing? As a youngster I was only exposed to cross country skiing once by a friend who was quite bad at it and I wrote it off as a dumb, boring sport. In fact, I never really did any winter sport outside of ice-skating until my Junior year of undergrad when I learned to downhill ski which I found to be easy and an adrenaline rush. To me downhill skiing was fun for all the reasons that cross country skiing had been boring for me as a child. And then I came to Finland…

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Traditional cross country skiing on an open lake

Although I have been told by several individuals here that cross country skiing has declined in recent years in Finland, I find it a country still very much obsessed with this winter sport. If cross country skiing has declined here I write that off as a result of milder winters and a global generation of young people who sit inside more than their parents do. No matter, because it seems that even if you are one of those Finns who don’t ski much, you still know how. In fact, I am pretty sure that Finnish parents strap skis on their babies’ feet right after christening. Put simply, everyone here knows how to ski and as a result Finland has some of the best and most accessible skiing opportunities that I have ever seen.

Not one to be left out of all the fun, I decided to give cross country skiing another chance. What I found was that my previous views were erroneously incorrect. Cross country skiing is an amazing sport and one that has many styles (who knew, right?). I chose to learn skate skiing, because there are many great groomed trails (groomed trails are a must for this style) near where I live and you can reach speeds not possible with traditional styles.

There were a few obstacles though. To begin with, the Finns who I first went skiing with were at a loss with my clumsiness. My constant falling and flailing were met with a sense of incredulousness. They tried to help me by making suggestions, but I soon realized that for most Finns trying to explain how cross country ski works to an adult was like trying to explain breathing. Skiing had been so natural for them their whole lives that they were not much help. So after a while I just started watching people fly by me on the trail and made adjustments. Soon I was following along and having a great time moving along the snowy, wooded trails. That is until the physical side of cross country skiing started to wear me down. Then I suddenly realized something, downhill skiing was wimpy compared to cross country. I had come full circle. After just a few tries I was able to ski without falling down and have a great time.

A groomed ski trail at Kauppi in the city of Tampere
A groomed ski trail at Kauppi in the city of Tampere

One of the things that is wonderful about cross country skiing in Finland is how accessible trails are and how inexpensive the equipment is. First off the entire country is full of awesome and well maintained trails. In more populated areas this includes many miles of groomed trails, all of which you can use for free. Already that is a huge money saver when compared to the fees associated with many groomed trails in the US (don’t get me started on the cost of downhill skiing). Then there is the equipment. Although it is a good idea to buy quality equipment that will be safe and last, for people starting out it makes little sense to spend tons of money on something that you might hate. I believe cost is a major barrier to most people in the US looking into any kind of skiing. This is no so much a problem in Finland. I found a cheap pair of ski poles in the sporting goods section of the store Prisma for €10 (to be fair they broke after my 6th trip, but I was able to fix them). I decided to spend a lot on a good pair of boots, but even those you can get for around €80 if you wanted. I borrowed skis, but you could get a pair starting at €100 and like anything else the sky is the limit on prices after that. So all in all, you could start skiing for around €200. That is the cost of a crappy bicycle and less than the cost of an Xbox.

Cross country skiing is healthy and fun and it whips you into shape in no time. Finns live long and I have to wonder if all this outdoor activity is part of it. All said, Finland is a cross country skier’s paradise and I must applaud the country for having free trails and making the sport accessible to everyone. So what do you do when the winter is dark, cold, and depressing? You strap on a pair of skis and enjoy it.


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