Imagine this: You go for a walk in a lonely forest on a snowy Sunday afternoon in March. Everything is quiet, the trees are full of snow and the only thing you can hear is the creaky sound of your own shoes on the snow. But wait, something is disturbing the silence. *Whoosh Whoosh Woosh*.
And suddenly, a group of people skies past you and you barely make it to the safe side next to the track so that you're not hit by a ski pole.
Yes, people, THAT is the reality of Sunday walks in Tromso between December and April. Skiiing - whether that be cross-country or alpine, is the favourite sport of Norwegians and the lovely Silvia calls it even "walking the Norwegian way".
Skiing was invented in Norway (Sami people there have been using skis for thousands of years) and the Norwegians regularly success in ski championships all around the world.
Now, while I still haven't learned to ski during my 1 and a half years in Norway, I did attend the National Ski Championship when it took place in Tromso in January. And saw the Norwegian king for the first time. And almost froze to death. But I digress.
The Ski Championship
One of the first cross-country ski competitions was actually held in Tromso in 1843. In the 20th century then, championships were established and new skiing techniques invented.
Apart from cross-country and alpine skiing, it also became common in Norway to go "touring" on skis - going on a skiing trip in the mountains using a combination of cross-country and alpine skiing styles.
Championships, though, are traditionally held for either cross-country or alpine skiing. The most famous ones in cross-country skiing in Scandinavia are the Vasa Race in Sweden and the Birkebeiner Race in Norway.
I swear, during those events, the streets in both countries are empty cause everyone is watching the race in front of the TV.
One thing you should know: Norway and Sweden traditionally are rivals when it comes to skiing, and TV moderators, as well as skiers like to make snarky comments about the others - it's totally meant ironically of course, ehem...
The National Ski Championship of Norway is a cross-country one and the disciplines included: sprint, skiathlon (a combination of two different cross-country techniques called classic and skating) and relay.
The championship in Tromso actually began with a sprint competition for children in the city centre while the other competitions were held on the beautiful "Whale Island" Kvaløya.
The competition we attended was the women's skiathlon and boy, I did not understand the rules at all! I also totally missed the end of the race or rather, I just didn't realize that the race was about to finish and didn't pay attention, haha.
But anyway, the race lasted for about two hours in which we almost froze to death, and included 2 (if I remember correctly) rounds.
They started out using the classic technique which looks basically as if you go, just on skis, and then changed to the skating style after the first round. That one is pretty self-explanatory I guess - it looks as if you're ice-skating, but again on skis of course. I totally sound like I know what I'm writing about, right?
To be honest, I just read about the championship in the local newspaper and asked the boyfriend if he wanted to go.
You know what his first reaction was? "But I don't have skis" - Yeah right, I know that you're Norwegian and you've probably been born with skis on your feet like everyone else but did you REALLY think I asked you to PARTICIPATE in the NATIONAL SKI CHAMPIONSHIP? Talk of being self-confident....
Anyway, the newspaper also said that they expected thousands and thousands of people to go and watch the championship and since the only way to get to the stadium was to go by bus, we (I) decided to already head there at 8am on a Saturday morning.
You know, just in case. Of course, we were literally the first guests to arrive that day - they hadn't even started to built up the ticket sale booth...
Sorry I made you get up so early...
Anyway, this gave us some time to walk around the competition track and watch the training sessions, as well as one wonderful post-polar night sunrise!
I'm seriously glad that we were there so early - Kvaløya is such a beautiful spot, especially during that time of year (aka late January).
We also wouldn't have been able to secure a spot overlooking both, the start and finish line, as well as the viewing area of the king - yes, he totally had a warm cabin for himself to watch the race while we peasants almost froze to death, haha.
I'm not exaggerating - even though we were already wearing woollen and outdoor clothes, we started to freeze before the race had even started.
We secured a spot and waited for the race to begin at around 9.45, the king made his appearance at about 10.15 and the race finally started at 10.30 - and was finished at 12.
Now you might think that 2 hours isn't that long but with an Arctic wind blowing in our faces, we pretty much started running to the gym as soon as the first three participants made it over the finish line. I mean, there were people putting up tents and camp fires next to the track to stay warm and there even was a handball field in the snow for people to use between the race but honestly, with hot dogs and tea in the warm gym, it was much more cosy and we also got to witness the award ceremony.
Even though it was freezing cold, it was a pretty cool experience (no pun intended). Also seeing the Norwegian king was so different from what I had imagined.
When I saw Victoria of Sweden and Margrethe of Denmark, there was security and pomp, but the only "pomp" there was at the championship was the playing of the national hymn - which I guess is pretty standard for a national championship...
I also finally got to experience the Norwegian "Heia" culture first hand. You know, when Norwegians attend sport events, they cheer their team or favourites by shouting "heia".
Seems pretty weird to me as people in Tromso say heia instead of hello but anyway - next time you see a sports event on TV and you hear "heia", you know it's the Norwegians....
Oh and we were on TV, yay!
It was definitely a fun (and very Norwegian) event to attend and tickets cost only 150 NOK (about $15) which fitted our student bank accounts just great.
And you know what, I'm going to learn how to ski tomorrow as I'm going on holiday in Swedish Lapland. Please wish me luck that I don't end up in the hospital, haha!
Have you ever attended a winter sports event? And are you able to ski?
Linking up with Bonnie for Travel Tuesday.