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EXPLAINED: What you should know about Norway's cross-country skiing culture

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What you should know about Norway's cross-country skiing culture
Photo by J G D / Unsplash

It is common knowledge that Norwegians are infatuated with skiing, and cross-country skiing, in particular, holds a special place in their hearts. Here’s what you need to know about Norway’s favourite national pastime.

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Skiing has been around in Norway for centuries, with experts dating ancient skis back thousands of years. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, has been a part of life in Norway since before the Middle Ages – so it’s fair to say that it’s a well-established tradition.

Norway’s love affair with skiing is so ingrained in the culture that it shapes Norwegian national identity. Indeed, the worship of the gods of skiing is passed on to the next generation at a very young age.

Kindergarten-age kids are taught that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet and often join family skiing trips as soon as they turn three.

If you just moved to Norway from a country that isn’t known for its winter sports and are just starting to learn the basics of skiing, prepare to have your pride crushed.

Norwegian “toddlers” will likely pass you by on both slopes and trails, sporting a far better skiing technique than what you can muster after several weeks of skiing school.

Don’t let the sight of mini-Norwegians effortlessly navigating the winter terrain get you down. If you’re looking for a fun way to meet new friends after moving to Norway, stick to skiing, and success is virtually guaranteed.

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A fantastic country for cross-country skiing

First of all, we would be amiss if we did not point out that Norway is a fantastic place for cross-country skiing.

It offers well-maintained, and free to use, trails and pristine winter landscapes that are well-suited for the activity and are often easily accessible.

If you’re not a fan of visiting the Norwegian wilderness outside of a professionally-curated environment, know that most big ski resorts in Norway offer pre-groomed cross-country skiing trails.

For example, as the state-supported guide Visit Norway points out, there are more than 11 cross-country areas in Lillehammer and the Gudbrandsdalen valley.

Other areas with fine cross-country trails can be found close to popular destinations such as Golsfjellet, Hemsedal, Hovden, Beitostølen, Trysil, Geilo, and Nesbyen.

While cross-country skiing is a competitive sport (in which Norway regularly asserts its dominance at major competitions), it is also a family-friendly winter activity that many Norwegians cherish as their favourite winter pastime.

Don’t be surprised to see Norwegians sporting a pair of skis on their shoulder on public transport on Fridays, weekends, holidays, or any nice day during the skiing season.

Most are just waiting for an opportunity to escape into the white wilderness or hit the slopes.

Passed on from generation to generation

Skiing is seen as an authentic Norwegian tradition, built on decades and decades of nationally significant events (such as the adventures of famous Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in the 19th century, traversing the island on cross-country skis) and consistent winter sports triumphs.

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Every generation is raised to see skiing as an essential activity during wintertime from a very young age, and Norwegian families tend to go on numerous joint skiing holidays and trips during the season.

Skiing isn’t reserved only for families – kindergartens and schools also organise skiing trips, so kids in Norway get the chance to enjoy the activity with their peers.

In that way, children grow up loving skiing and associating it with family and friends, so a lot of them end up sharing this passion with their own children later in life, passing it on to new generations.

Most Norwegians continue going on skiing trips (alone or with friends or family) after they’re done with school, turning it into a lifelong hobby.

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Cross-country skiing is great for beginners

When you’re just starting to get into skiing, cross-country skiing can be pretty convenient as you can choose to ski on pretty flat terrain (on the other hand, downhill skiing takes place on mountain slopes, involves more speed, and has a steeper learning curve).

If you decide to opt for private courses or a skiing school, know that you can usually rent equipment on-site and get thorough training on the basics of cross-country skiing – such as the fundamental movement patterns – close to most major resorts.

In cross-country skiing, only the toe of your skiing boot is attached to the skis. Skiers mostly use their body’s strength to propel themselves forward across the terrain. You can set the pace yourself and enjoy the calming white vistas and enchanting Norwegian forests.

Note that it’s important that you don’t overestimate your ability – try to find a terrain that isn’t overly demanding for beginners (aim for flat terrain with few hills).

Regardless of the pace you adopt while cross-country skiing, you’ll get an amazing workout. And don’t forget to treat yourself to a quick lunch break once you’ve reached your destination (Kvikk Lunsj, anyone?)

Once you get more into your groove you'll find a rhythm and ski partners that you gel with. Whether it's a more leisurely pace (some Norwegians will get dogs to pull them along with ease), or a full body workout, there are multiple options when it comes to doing things the 'Norwegian way'. 

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