They famously say in Norway that babies are "born with skis on their feet." As a mother of two young children, it's hard to imagine childbirth getting any more difficult, but Norway is the land of grisly Viking kings and hardy Arctic explorers, so who really knows.
One thing I do know is that nestled deep into the soul of the culture, woven throughout the rugged natural Scandinavian landscape and thread through the very fabric of its existence, lies the heart and soul of the world's hardest sport - cross-country skiing.
I'll probably get some comments on that bold declaration, but science and physiology aside, if you've ever witnessed a cross-country ski racer crossing the finish line - frothy face twisted in agony, gasping for that last breath before they collapse in a heaving heap of wilted limbs and lycra - you may indeed think the same.
That is one hard sport.
Maybe even, indeed, the hardest there is.
Born of necessity and bred by geography, skiing was invented in Norway over 5,000 years ago by hunters who discovered they could move faster and hunt better with boards strapped to their feet. Centuries later military Swedes on skis trounced Norwegians on foot, captured the city of Trondheim and kicked off the world's longest running sports rivalry (or at least that's my theory ...).
My own history and connection to cross-country skiing isn't quite as gory, but funnily enough does involve Norwegians. My dear parents took up the sport after they first married and moved to Canada's Arctic. Bored and restless with the long, cold winters, they rented some cross-country skis from the local RCMP detachment and began spending their time schussing around the frozen tundra, learning to ski.Scott learned the sport from her parents, Jan (right) and Walter (left), who took up the Nordic activity after they married and moved to Canada's Arctic. (Jan Scott)
Upon their relocation to Vermilion, Alta., they discovered an untouched provincial park on their doorstep - and I do mean this literally, their backyard actually adjoins the trails - and set out to bring the world of Nordic skiing to the "Red Hat Town on the Yellowhead Route" (Vermilion's motto). From cutting the trails to founding the club, my active, enthusiastic, outdoor-loving mom and dad also brought to town the first ever Jackrabbit (children's) ski league.
And this is where I come in.
Signed up as the club's first Jackrabbit at the age of five, the social scene and competition (and, let's be honest, post-race hot chocolates) proved to be an irresistible mix, and I was hooked. For over 20 years I skied, raced, trained, travelled and lived the life of the Nordic nomad. Three Olympics later, I decided to finally hang up the boards and move on to more sedentary activities like ... motherhood (That was a joke). From Vermilion's first Jackrabbit to Canada's first Olympic cross-country skiing medallist, it ended up being quite a run and a pretty good time for a sport I once heard Red Green describe as "sort of like Alpine with the fun taken out."Scott, right, signed up for her first ski league - which was started by her parents - at the age of five. The social scene and competition proved to be an irresistible mix for the future Olympic star. (Jan Scott)
The Norwegian connection? My personal coach, a gent I worked together with for nearly eight years, was Norwegian through and through. The proud recipient of a degree in cross-country skiing (yes you can get one in some Norwegian Universities), Torbjorn Karlsen had a thick accent, infinite knowledge of the sport, and a particular affinity for boiled potatoes. Torbjorn's guidance and care, together with twice yearly trips to Norway for World Cup ski racing over the course of my career, led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Norwegian passion for cross-country skiing and, subsequently, my desire to write about the Nordic world championships coming to Oslo.
Norwegians are crazy about cross-country skiing. It is no exaggeration to say that skiing is to Norway as hockey is to Canada. Open the newspapers (or better yet, the tabloids!) and read all about the ski racers. Take to the city trails and encounter waves of Norwegians, all ages and stages, out skiing. Ride the subways and you'll find businessmen and women sitting with their skis, going up to the trails after work for a late afternoon session. It is endemic here; beloved and ingrained. A part of the history, a part of the culture, and truly something to get excited about.
On Feb. 23, the world championships will begin. The biggest skiing event there is (aside from the Olympics) is coming home, and I don't want to miss the party. There will be crowds in the thousands, spirit galore, sensational racing, and a little bit of magic in the air. I can hardly wait.
Until next time!
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