Cross country skiing and snowshoeing – a way of commuting, a workout, a way of life, a tradition, a national sport, and a favourite way to spend time close to the nature in the wintery world.
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The ancient history of skiing
It is believed that snowshoeing and skiing were first practised in middle Asia about 4000 to 6000 years ago. Skiing found its beginnings in Scandinavian countries as much as 5000 years ago and was predominant in Northern Europe while people migrating east and into North America mastered the skills of snowshoeing rather than skiing.
The word “ski” comes from the Old Norse word skíð/skīth which means stick of wood / long snowshoe. Skis were used to commute, hunt, collect taxes (sources from the 10th century mention that the king would send tax collectors out on skis) and conquer new lands and territories (the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first man in history to reach the South Pole on skis, while another Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen, led the team that completed the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888). The Telemark, region in central Norway is the homeland of modern skiing. Skiers like Bjørn Dæhlie, Marit Bjørgen, Therese Johaug or Petter Northug are national heroes and we like to brag that all Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.
Regardless of whether that last statement is true or not, cross-country skiing definitely has a special place in Norwegian culture and history, and is without doubt our national sport and one of favourite winter activities.
While the most famous areas for cross country skiing in Norway are located in the central, eastern and southern parts of the country, Tromsø and our northern Norway region has long and snowy winters, with prepared trails close to pristine wild areas that provide fabulous opportunities to practice or try cross country skiing.
Take ski lessons in Tromsø
If you have never tried cross country skiing before, the best idea is to join a short lesson with a ski instructor. This way you will learn how to put the skis on, take them off, fall, get up, find balance, walk and run with the skis first on flat terrain and then even in hilly terrain. Tromsø provides natural beauty as well as a scenic and relaxed environment for your first-time adventure on skis.
Do not be surprised that you will meet local people of all ages while on the trails! Tromsø is located on an island and adjacent peninsula right by the sea, with trails of various difficulty. It is the perfect destination for everybody wanting to enjoy time in nature. Typically, local people who see you learning to ski will stop to give you good tips and encourage you to practice. However, make sure you stay on the right side of the trail and do not get in the way of people working out! There is hardly any bigger crime in Norway than blocking a good, freshly groomed ski trail.
After a good introduction from a guide you will know the basics and will be ready to head out to continue practicing your newly gained skills. You may even dare to challenge yourself with some small hills.
Rent skis and go explore!
Newbies should start with easier, groomed trails on the top of Tromsøya island or in Tromsdalen Valley (trails start by the Tromsø Lodge and Camping, respectively). For more advanced skiers kilometres of trails in the mountains on the Mainland and on Kvaløya are waiting to be explored. You can also try your skills and go outside of the prepared trails. We recommend that you seek local advice on which destination might suit you best, particularly to ensure you don’t find yourself in avalanche terrain.
This website provides current information about all cross country ski trails in Tromsø, and when they were groomed the last time (in hours and days).
You can rent skis locally and get great tips for your adventure on the spot. Usually you are within short walk distance of the closest trails (between 5 and 30 minutes depending on your location) and once you know all the trails in your area you can reach several new destinations with local buses.
The best time for cross country skiing is usually from the middle of January to the middle of April when the snow is good, days are starting to get longer and the northern lights keep us company during night ski runs. Skiing can be possible at any time with favourable ski conditions – typically from the beginning of November until beginning/mid-May). Do not worry about the polar night – trails have electric lights turned on until midnight, and being in the lucky presence of the auroras can make your evening session an unforgettable experience.
To be well prepared to ski, bring some wind and waterproof clothes in layers – it is easy to get really warm when you ski – a small backpack, water, some snacks or light food, good gloves or mittens, a hat and fatty cream to protect your face from the cold and wind. If you come in February or later, when the sun is back, sunglasses and sunscreen are also a must. It is also worth checking the weather forecast; the best conditions for skiing are right after a snowfall when the trails are freshly groomed.
And don’t to forget: bring your camera! Trails will lead you through spruce and birch forests, open lookouts and secluded valleys, so you can take home not only new skills but also some great memories!
If you feel that skiing is too much for you, you may want to first start with snowshoeing. This activity does not need require any special skills and is perfect for everybody who would like to experience snow for the first time or does not feel like skiing yet.
Vi sees på tur!
[This blog post is written by our friends at Tromsø Outdoor. They rent out skis, and provides lessons if you’ve never tried before. Let us know when you get here, and we’ll help you take part in Norwegian culture in the most fun way possible!]