Travel writer Michael Cranmer went north of the Arctic Circle to sample the delights of cross country skiing in Levi, Lapland, and in the process invented a new skiing expression. Read more……..
I’ve been downhill skiing for 24 years visiting many of the world’s top resorts in Europe and North America; but I’ve never been north of the Arctic Circle. I was puzzled by the concept of skiing in a flat country known as “the land of a thousand lakes” (187,888 actually, according to Wikipedia). How exactly do you ski on a lake? I joined an Inghams trip to Levi, in Lapland, to find out.
Well, the answer is simple. You cast away your beloved downhill skis and step into some cross country ones. Now that may sound like an easy proposition, but I’m wedded to my beautiful red-and-white Atomic Race GS’s and the thought of even being seen on the pencil-thin variety filled me with dread. But Inghams had wisely booked me a lesson with Jari of the Levi Ski School.
All those fears and inadequacies of a raw beginner flooded back. Will I fall over? (yes) Will I look an idiot? (yes) Will I be able to stop? (no)
Jari demonstrated how to clip the toes of my ski boots (more like ballet shoes compared to my downhill clumpers) and we set off to the start of one of the 230kms of cross-country tracks that encircle Levi. Each morning at 6 a.m. these pistes are groomed to perfection, a pair each side of the tracks. Keep right is the rule. He showed me how to slide a foot forward, with the trailing foot (still attached at the toe, of course) raised behind, but with both skis in contact with the snow. As I slid the leading foot ahead, the base of the pushing/trailing ski (cunningly waxed over the instep) stuck to the snow and propelled me in fits and starts (more fits than starts at this stage)
I found I’d actually moved a few metres forward, and was still standing. A silly beginner’s grin wiped itself across my face. But, pride cometh before a fall. Ahead I spied a dip in the piste. OMG! How would I stop? “Don’t worry” said Jari, “just relax and slide. Keep your weight slightly forward.” Oh well, The worst that could happen was I would fall over. I slid, my feet stuck in the tracks of the piste, gathered speed, and……fell over! Ouch. But I’d made my first slippy-slidey on cross-country skis. The lesson progressed with Jari showing me how to step one ski out of the track to use it is as a sort of half-snow plough to slow down. That was the theory. More falls. More ouches. But gradually I improved, enough to set off across a nearby frozen lake to lunch at Luvattumaa, which Jari assured me was worth the effort.
How right he was! I’m used to stopping at cosy mountain lodges, then an afternoon’s skiing, followed some vigorous après-ski with the odd beer or schnapps thrown in. Perhaps some crazy techno-dancing. But the scene that confronted me was incredible. It was 1.00 p.m. and the interior of the restaurant was filled with couples dancing to karaoke. Not Gangnam-style, more one-two-three waltzing to incomprehensible Finnish lyrics. The strongest drink on offer was a warm berry juice, or a nice cuppa. I watched in wonderment at the folks enjoying themselves. It was so simple and so pleasant. Ordinary folks, many EFBP*, who had cross country skied several kilometres, to enjoy an old fashioned dance and sing-song, some exercise and fresh air. Worlds away from the whoosh of downhill and just as exhilarating in its own way.
I’d joined the world of cross-country. How to describe this lunch-time revelry? I decided to invent a new phrase, based on the French après-ski (after ski). I call it ‘au cours de ski’ (during ski), and I thoroughly recommend it.
I didn’t miss out as Levi is also the largest downhill ski resort in Finland, only 15 minutes from Kittilä airport, with 43 slopes, 26 ski lifts, 10 free children’s slopes and seven slope restaurants.
(*Eligible For Bus Passes)