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Day 5: Skiing in Äkäslompolo

Yesterday was an exciting day with the huskies, but today had the potential to be even more exciting because we were trying a completely new activity: cross-country skiing. This was one of those things which seemed like a really good idea at the time we booked it, but which I started having some doubts about when I woke up this morning. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Would we spend the entire session falling over?!

The first step was to walk to the bus stop where we had been picked up for our husky trip yesterday. Fortunately the weather was a lot brighter this morning and without yesterday's combination of a blizzard and piles of fresh snow, we were able to reach the bus stop in a mere 10 minutes. It looked a bit different there today!


At the appointed time a lady pulled up in a van to pick us up. She threw us slightly to start with by asking what our preferred language was; it turned out she spoke English, German, Swedish, French, Spanish and Italian. We assured her that English would be fine! She then began apologising profusely for the fact we would have to climb through the passenger side of the front of the van in order to get to the seats at the back, because the weather was so cold that the back doors of the van had frozen and couldn't be opened. It was a bit of a squeeze but we made it. We were astonished to learn that the temperature was around -18 degrees.

There were four other people in our skiing group; a French couple and a German/American couple. We were all driven to the activity company's offices in the first instance so that we could be kitted out with our skis. We exchanged our normal boots for special ski boots and learned how to clip and unclip them from the skis themselves. And then we were off, walking towards the start of the ski trail. Carrying the skis turned out to be quite difficult - they were surprisingly heavy.

Before long we arrived at the start of the ski trail and were given a demonstration of what to do.


There was a relatively flat piece of ground here and to get used to the skis, first of all we had to clip on just one ski at a time and practise going up the track a little way, then turning round and coming back. Once we had mastered that, it was time to put both skis on.


We were trying classic cross-country skiing, which meant that we were skiing along prepared tracks at the side of the path. If you look at the picture above, you should be able to see the tracks on the right hand side of the path. The clear area in the middle of the track is for skate skiing, which is more difficult.

We managed to complete the practice without falling over, and so we were ready to set off on the proper trail.


It felt very awkward to start with but the teacher assured us we would soon start to get the hang of it. And when we had time to look at them, the views were beautiful :)


So far we had mastered going on the flat and going uphill, the latter being quite tiring because you have to take small quick steps (like jogging) so that you don't start to slip back down the slope you've just climbed. I could just about cope with this ... but then it was time to do our first bit of downhill!


It may not look like much of a slope in the photo, but when you were standing at the top of it with a pair of skis it felt very steep indeed! With everything we had done so far it had been possible to halt and balance ourselves with the poles if it felt like we were slipping out of control, but once you are on a downhill bit the skis take over and there's nothing you can do until the ground flattens out and/or you fall over.


I wasn't looking forward to this bit at all but the teacher was very encouraging and reassured me I had already got a lot further than some of the visitors from Japan and Singapore who she had been trying to teach recently.


Phew, I made it - just about!

After that we had a nice flat track to relax on for a bit.


This was much better!


We still had a couple of things to master though. First of all, going around corners!


I didn't quite master this bit and fell over. Standing up again with the skis on your feet is a real challenge!

After that we had a flat bit again, which was much easier.


This was the calm before our final challenge, which was skiing down this underpass. The track which our skis had been sliding along gave out at this point and so we had to get down the slope in proper downhill-skiing style, pointing our feet together to slow down.


I think more by luck than by any particular skill, I managed to make it down this bit in one piece.


Phew! We had survived our lesson and managed to ski about three kilometres on one of the beginners' trails. It was time to go inside to warm up and celebrate with a coffee.


What an exciting day! Skiing was scary at times and also very tiring, but definitely an exhilirating experience :)

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