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Sunlight glistened on the crisp, white snow and fluffy clouds raced across the blue sky. What a superb final day for my three-day cross-country skiing trip, I thought, as I looked out of the hotel window that morning. But Mother Nature had other plans. As we – myself and two Italian women – set off on a guided 16km safari a little later, the tracks were icy and a strong wind had blown up to test our skills. The howling noise drowned out our Hungarian guide Robert’s instructions, making me feel like Captain Scott trudging to the South Pole.

The howling noise drowned out our Hungarian guide Robert’s instructions, making me feel like Captain Scott trudging to the South Pole.

The howling noise drowned out our Hungarian guide Robert’s instructions, making me feel like Captain Scott trudging to the South Pole.

After several kilometres, we arrived at a crossroads on the loipe (track) and skied into the trees, where we escaped the worst of the icy blast. With the wind now behind me, I soon began to zoom along and caught myself smiling at the quiet beauty of the scenery.

Trails on your doorstep

I was in Norway, staying at the Venabu Fjellhotell on the edge of the Rondane National Park, about 80km north of Lillehammer (home to the 1994 Winter Olympics). The traditional, family-run hotel welcomes guests from all over Europe, enticed by its top-notch guides and 140km of loipe, set in a dramatic mix of flat and hilly terrain, that starts right outside the door. There’s more than enough variety to keep skiers from beginner to expert busy for a week and, as the trails crisscross each other, your safari can be short (7km) or long (35km), depending on the weather. Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of crosscountry skiing. I love that it’s such a good cardiovascular workout that uses your whole body, and it’s great for your back and stomach muscles. I also revel in being in the wilderness – but one that’s well signposted! However, as I hadn’t hit the trails for a few years, I’d spent the first two days of this trip on shorter safaris, brushing up on my technique with Richard, an American instructor, and the hotel’s other guide.

Sheila concentrates on perfecting her technique in the loipe (tracks)

Sheila concentrates on perfecting her technique in the loipe (tracks)

Like many sports, the secret is to maximise your speed with minimum energy. So for cross-country skiing, poles and arms should be at 90o from your body to help you glide along the track as effortlessly as possible. ‘Your head is your pilot, your core is your engine,’ explained Richard. ‘When you pull one leg back, your nose, knee and foot should be aligned while you twist your hip a tad. Your arm goes back for balance. The other leg and arm go forward to create a long, elegant line and a graceful, gliding rhythm. Your stride should be no more than 2ft.’ Sound simple? I’m still trying to perfect it!

I also worked on controlling my downhill speed. Unlike Alpine skis, skinny skis have no edges, so if you want to brake, you either do a half or full snowplough. With the half one, you keep your right ski in the track and the left on the slope (you always ski on the right) in a partial snowplough. With the full one, you come out of the tracks onto the slope in a proper snowplough.

Going uphill is all about moving forward without sliding back. You can either try ‘bopping’ or doing herringbone steps. Bopping is when you stay in the tracks and make small steps while pressing your skis down hard for grip. With herringbone, you come out of the tracks and point your skis’ tips outwards, making a ‘V’ shape up the hill. Richard gave me a great tip: looking up and ahead will stop you slipping back.

On my last day, I wanted to put my sprucedup technique to good use – and Robert’s safari proved the perfect testing ground. As he led us up hill and down dalen (valley), I glided along the tracks, bopped and herringboned up hills and whooped with excitement as I raced down scary descents using snowploughs for control. We finally neared the Rondane, where the tracks levelled out, and were rewarded with breathtaking views of its snow-capped peaks. Soon we were tucking into a well-earned buffet lunch, luxuriating in a post-exercise high.

Headwater (01606 720199; headwater.com) offers cross-country ski holidays in Venabu, Norway, from $1857.9per person. The price includes seven nights’ full board, return flights from most UK airports to Oslo, transfers, ski hire, guiding and tuition. For more information on Norway, see visitnorway.co.uk.

Get fit for cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing uses every muscle group, and requires muscular strength, endurance and flexibility, so the key is to build up your strength, stamina and balancing skills and improve your flexibility. There’s no age barrier to learning, but some level of fitness is ideal, even if you’re a beginner. It’s best to start training two to three months before you go skiing. Nordic walking is one of the best ways to build up your fitness and stamina, toning your arms and shoulder muscles, plus helping you co-ordinate your arms and legs and practise with poles. Do this twice a week and include interval training (going fast and slow up and down hills) to build up your speed and strength. You can also swim or do an aqua class and alternate this with interval training on the cross-trainer or rowing machine at the gym.

Which way now? The choice of tracks is huge so you won’t get bored

Which way now? The choice of tracks is huge so you won’t get bored

 

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