Summit of skiing
Into the wilderness: a group of skiers head out into the country photograph: GETTY IMAGES
HOLLY HUNTgoes off piste to sample the pleasures of cross-country skiing
Heel up, toe forward, pole down and glide . . . on the undulating hills of Sweden’s white north, this is the way to travel. Cross-county skiing allows you to slide through wonderlands of sparkling snow far from the beaten track; only to arrive at a mountain hut serving cappuccinos and waffles piled high with cream and cloudberries.
This may not be how contestants taking part in next month’s FIS Nordic World Ski Championships view their sport, but each to their own. My boyfriend and I wanted to learn to cross-country ski because, much as I love racing down hills at speed, being able to get yourself up mountains without the aid of massive electrical contraptions opens up a world of snowy peaks to explore.
After masses of internet searching I found Josef and the village of Edåsdalen. From southern Sweden, Josef was a Hewlett Packard employee in search of a simpler pace of life. He discovered what he was looking for in Edåsdalen and opened Dalens Gård Mountain Lodge to which he welcomes guests on a BB basis and runs eco-adventures into the spectacular natural wilderness areas of Jämtland province.
The “village” is more like a huddle of wooden Swedish houses at the end of a road, dwarfed by the miles of hills that surround it. There are not more than 70 full-time residents in the village and, by day two of our stay, most of them seemed to have heard of us. While warming ourselves by an open fire in a mountain hut that had taken us most of the morning to reach, the waitress called over: “Josef’s on the phone he wants to know if you’d like the sauna turned on?” By the time you reach your sauna though you definitely feel you’ve earned it. You may build up a healthy glow downhill skiing, but walking up leaves you dripping. We even managed a few rolls in the snow between saunas to treat our aching muscles.
Each evening over a beer by the fire we planned our route for the next day; our shining moment of glory being the summiting of Grofjället. That day Josef lent us snow shoes that we tied to the back of our packs, and gave us detailed instructions of which route to take and what to expect.
We set out into the dim morning light of winter. The short days of a Swedish January seem to leave the world in continual twilight; a faint glowing pink where one feels half caught in a mesmerising ethereal world.
The set cross-country trails have a thin set of tracks that weave along through the snow. As your heel is not attached to the ski and your boot is very flexible, just balancing on your skis is the most difficult task. Once you step into the tracks, though, they act like rail tracks and you glide along letting the trail take you where it will. Going up steep sections, however, involves awkwardly walking like a duck and trying to stay upright.
The trail weaved through pine trees, their branches hung low with teetering towers of snow, and across expanses where the footprints of a passing fox was all that disturbed it. At one of the trail markers there was what looked like a warning sign for moose. What we would do if we met half a tonne of angry moose, we hadn’t quite worked out, but Josef hadn’t mentioned any danger so we continued on.