This weekend there was a prestigious nordic ski race series here at Storelva on Kvaløya, NM Tromsø. These ski races have been planned over the past 2 years, and had many volunteers to coordinate such a large event. These are not FIS races. They were in between world cup events, but they were very competitive and quite a few members of the Norwegian national team members were present including Niklas Dyrhaug (Tydal IL), Pål Golberg (Gol IL), Ragnhild Haga (Åsen IL), Martine Ek Hagen (IL i BUL), Hans Christer Holund (Lyn Ski), Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen (IL Heming), Tomas Northug (Strindheim IL), Martin Johnsrud Sundby (Røa IL), and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (Gjøvik Skiklubb). These stars were unsurprisingly often the best performers, but in addition to professional racers, there were some semi-professional competitors who have normal day jobs.
It cost 100-150 NOK per day to go and watch the races, however the events were uncharged for those who came via the lysløype (lit ski track). Jesse and I unknowingly skied from home south along the ski track to the area where they had the races, and we were able to watch the racing from up on the course.
Every day there was a women’s and men’s event starting with the 10 and 15 km classic for women and men respectively. The classic event requires that the skis remain parallel as the skiers moves forward. This requires special care with waxing of the skis to prevent the skis from slipping too much backwards when going up hills and still glide easily downhill and on the flats. On the uphills athletes will either double-pole and physically push them selves up the hill with their arms and a small kick, to use diagonal strides where the opposite arms and legs are working together or on very steep slopes the herringbone technique can be used. Jesse attended this first event on Thursday and found the athletes were very separated, there were not big packs.
On Friday was the sprint events, but neither of us had the time on Friday to attend what likely was a fast-paced exciting contest.
Saturday was the skitathlon. It was a beautiful day, so Jesse and I skied over just in time for the men’s start. We learned that the skiathlon is a long race where the male athletes ski 15 km (7.5 km for women) using the classic techniques, then they change their skis and complete an additional 15 km (7.5 km) freestyle. In freestyle the skis are prepared with glide wax on their entire length, this way the skis are much faster. We watched the men climbing on of the larger hills on the course and cheered them on (Heia! Heia!) during their 3 laps before they changed their skis in the Storelva skistadion where the race started. It was exciting to see the different techniques used and how the course changed throughout the race to provide the proper snow surfaces.
It snowed Saturday night and all day Sunday. Jesse and I got up early to try to make it to the start of the relay races. We missed the beginning of the women’s relay because the new snow was incredibly wet, heavy and sticky. We are no experts on ski wax, especially not for nordic skiing. We started out on the ski trail near our apartment and had to stop every 10-15 minutes to scrape inches of snow off that was sticking to the bottom of our skis. It was very frustrating and made us very late for the race start. But we did get to watch some of the women on the Northern part of the course and then have to switch positions and follow them over to the other side of the course.
After the women’s race, we claimed a spot right at the start and watch them all racing out of their stating positions. The pack is very dense in the beginning and for the first couple laps and then the leaders really break away. Another big factor today was the choice of wax, and there was one poor guy who was so far behind from the very start as he had the same inch or more of snow on the bottom of his skis, which were just not sliding at all.
We stayed close to the skistadion for the mens relay which was 3 x 10 km. Each of the 3 athletes for the 3 legs of the race had the same bib numbers but they were different colors. It was exciting to see the racers come around and tag their teammates, but it was crazy to see those that had been lapped. Up by the stadion there were volleyball and football (soccer) fields to play on and even wood grills so that you could cook your lunch. Finally we ended the day near the finish and watched the first racer celebrate his way across the finish line. It was a long race that was very close most of the way, but in the last lap the leader really broke away.
The strength and endurance of these nordic athletes is incredibly impressive. We were so happy that we could spend the weekend out in the snow watching these competitions. For those of you who watched at home, you may have seen our Jack on some random shots of the crowd… the camera loves him! It’s incredible how many opportunities we have already had already here in little Tromsø!