You can ski without a mountain?

I have never skied in my life. Not yet, the husband hastens to add, not yet.

There certainly wasn’t too much of it in the west of Ireland growing up due to the distinct lack of a few factors, snow being one of them, mountains being another. But they were the days when I thought that you needed mountains to ski, what did I know. But more on that later.

Of course I had seen skiing on TV like most people and it always looked like something that was incredibly privileged and expensive. Imagine the cost of looking that privileged in a very cool brightly coloured two-piece, the skis, the glasses, and then you needed to actually go somewhere to use them.  The cost of skiing holidays seemed absolutely prohibitive, which I guess it is if you are off to St.Moritz or Vail for a few weeks a year. To my rational mind, it was too much of an outlay for an annual event. And what about the hospital fees after breaking my leg.  And not to mention the pre-holiday cost in time alone of polishing up on middle-class conversation topics to be ready to sit  around having my après-ski.  It just never grabbed me somehow.  So my Alpine holidays consisted of driving through the Alps on the way from Germany to Italy, that was as near as I got.

When I met my husband, he told me about this odd sounding new phenomena that had been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years called cross-country skiing. In the part of East Germany where he grew up, this was your standard Sunday winter activity, drive in to the forest and then take out your skis and ski through the forest. Apparently he never liked it so much, something to do with endless skiing with no destination in mind and if they did come across a good hill that was worthy of a few hours, they went down it once and then continued on. All a bit pointless to a young boy.  Apparently everyone was out skiing like this, the snow version of the Sunday walk.  And that being communist East Germany, it wasn’t just for the wealthy because, overtly anyway, they were all equally poor or wealthy. It all sounded a bit strange to me as I never seen this flat version of skiing on TV or heard of anyone going on a skiing holiday that didn’t involve hurling themselves down a steep hill. Again and again.

And then I moved to Norway, where cross country skiing is a way of life in winter. As one story goes, it originated as a mode of transport here in Scandinavia out of sheer necessity. I am happy to believe that as where else do you have towns called Ski and Skien in fairness.  It is hard to walk through snow that is a few feet deep, 2 pieces off wood underfoot to help you glide makes a lot of sense.  The first winter we were here, we got skis, boots and sticks for the kids as they would put them on skis in the barnehage. Nora was barely 2 years old and she was happy as anything gliding and falling over. Up and over, untangle and then do it all over again. No sticks were allowed as 2 year olds turning on each other with sticks never ends well.

A few Sundays back, we went to a markadagen down the road here in a place called Skullerud.  This is a free activities day, designed to get people off their behinds and into nature to enjoy a bit of fresh air. There was an open fire, you could get pølse or sausages from a grill. You could even get a ride in a horse drawn carriage if you were willing to queue for long enough.

I am not sure what we were thinking, or most likely we just weren’t, but we didn’t bring skis for the kids. Because this is Norway and there was ample snow on the ground, the whole thing was centred around skiing which hadn’t really dawned on us until we got there. There were people on skis everywhere in this beautiful wide open snow-covered space. The 2 little people immediately started to complain that they didn’t have their skis. Oh no, we had clearly messed up on this one.

But then we went towards one area of “the plain” (calling it a field sounds wrong somehow, it was far too sprawling) where there were lot’s of people milling around and lo and behold, there was a little trailer with a man and a few helpers doing a very good trade on skis.  There were people coming and going getting skies and boots from him.  Others were bringing them back after having a go.  And here’s the best bit, this was FOR FREE. They didn’t ask for a deposit, you didn’t have to sign a contract or a waiver or leave the deeds of your house. Nothing. What size shoes do you need, he took a look at the kids to judge height and then just handed out skis + boots. Implicit in this was that you would of course bring them back when you were finished. Good faith was in full flow here.

So the kids were delighted and the parents were relieved that the nice man in the trailer had saved the day.

My husband and I were both curious to see Alexander in particular on skis. You see, he went to skiskole or ski school  earlier this year. For 5 weeks on a Wednesday afternoon, he and other kids from his school were bundled on to a bus to bring them here to Skullerud for 75 minute lessons on how to ski.  This was organised through AKS or the after-school activities at his school and we had to pay a fee.  I was pleased that he was keen as this was the boy who refused to take up football (I am no good at it and the coach didn’t say hello to me) or karate ( you are kidding’ me, there are no ninja moves anywhere here), but he was happy to go with skiing.

Now we would get a chance to see what he learned during his ski lessons. The most I ever got out of him was “It was good” or “It was cold”. Well, it was impressive.  He can walk up hills on skis (small ones), go down hills (the same small ones) and generally just glide along beside us on the flat.  His little sister was also in her element, we just needed to prop her up every time she got herself in a knot with her skis.  So we all had a great time.

What I found particularly interesting about the day was the feeling of inclusion, that skiing could be for everyone. The Norwegians who came there that day came with their skis or sledges. They know what is needed when going to a markadagen. Those with very small kids even came with ‘buggies on skis’ that they could pull along after them as they went in to the forest skiing. Brilliant!!

So as far as I could see, it was mainly the non-Norwegians who arrived with no skis or equipment of any kind. With one arm longer than the other as we would say in Ireland when referring to being a bit unprepared.  And for the likes of us, there was the benevolent man in the trailer giving out the skis and the ski boots so that we could have a go.

There were lots of people giving it a go. Tentatively gliding along and looking mighty pleased with themselves. Integration is of course about more than learning a language, you have to embrace a way of life.  And in Norway, skis are a huge part of that way of life.  Making it free and easy to try skiing goes a long way, particularly for adults immigrants, many of whom think that it is too expensive, too difficult, too crazy and removed from the world that they know.

So yes, I too will go on skis. I look forward to the joy and inevitability of it. I hope I am as good at untangling myself as my daughter is.


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