Diary of a Cross-Country Skier

Trish Burgess, 06 February, 2018
In this excellent, Bridget Jones-inspired diary, Trish Burgess recalls the highs and lows (strictly temperature-related!) of her visit to the beautiful snowy landscapes of Finnish Lapland.
Temperature -25C (distinctly chilly), distance skied 2km (back and forth on same parts of the track), number of falls 0 (smug)
Our instructor, Emma, takes eight newbie skiers onto the snow just outside Hotel Ylläshumina. It's so cold my breath is steaming up my glasses. Emma is double-gloved and double-socked but I'm single-everything and I panic that hypothermia is going to set in within minutes.

Most of our group are dressed like polar explorers, which is understandable as we're about 200km north of the Arctic circle. Dougie and I are kitted out in proper cross-country ski gear. Dougie's trousers are particularly figure-hugging. When my glasses de-mist I decide his bottom looks lovely. Must concentrate.

There are actual hills to tackle. I thought cross-country skiing would be on completely flat terrain. I look aghast at an incline, like a dalek approaching a staircase.

90 minutes of learning the basic techniques. Most of us fall over. This is excellent cardio-vascular exercise; fun but tiring. All the polar explorers look over-heated, despite the outside temperature. Discover I can unzip my armpits to let the air circulate.

Our friends on the activity week have also had a good workout; a snow-shoeing expedition into the beautiful Ylläs fells. They are given proper insulated clothing to wear, which they can keep for the whole week. Handy for the supermarket run.

Like an animal preparing for winter, we feast on nuts and berries at the hotel's buffet breakfast. I supplement the muesli with scrambled eggs, sausages, croissants and mugs of coffee.

Dinner is served early, from 6pm, which is ideal as we've worked up an appetite. It's a 'From the Volga, with love' buffet so beetroot soup, lots of fish and salads and delicious stroganoff. Puddings are plentiful: something wobbly, something chocolatey and something fruity.

Wine purchased from the Alko shop goes down well after a day on the trails when we relax in our cosy cabin. A cheeky Pinot Noir at dinner and a coffee-flavoured vodka as a nightcap. Dougie makes a start on the whisky shelf at the bar.
Temperature -12C (totally tropical), distance skied 3km (feels longer), number of falls 2 (regressing)
Second day of instruction on a different route. Developing the kick and glide technique. We're taken to a hill that we have to ski down. I descend elegantly, become excited and fall over at the bottom. Emma scores me 9/10. Enjoyable ski back to the hotel, passing the entrance to the petting zoo. Make mental note to return to see camel.

We hear about the fun on the snowmobiles. Our Inntravel friends have a thrilling day and celebrate with extra beer at dinner.

There's a waffle-maker at breakfast but I'm unsure how it works so I opt for extra cake. Highlights of the dinner are the onion soup, creamy potatoes with the fish and some chocolate truffles to add to the usual dreamy desserts.

We add orange juice and hot water to the supermarket wine so we can enjoy our own version of Finnish glögi in our room. This is a 3 o' clock ritual as darkness decends. Dougie moves along the shelf with another malt whisky. I start on the Lapponia liqueurs. Tonight it's cloudberry.
Temperature -11C (stripping off layers), distance skied 5km (cracked it), number of falls 0 (seeks Olympic selection).
Our first full day without an instructor. Struggle to get a rhythm going as everything aches. Dougie fares better and begins to instruct me: gets short shrift. Head north to Navettagalleria, gorgeous little café in the woods. I want to stay here all day but we're on a mission and set off on a circular route back to Ylläshumina.

Fantastic afternoon, skiing on a gentle blue trail with some exciting downhill stretches. Scenery is magical with trees like an army of yetis marking our way back to civilisation. Ignore petting zoo as we're having too much fun to stop.

Dog-sledding is a huge success. Our new snow buddies love the huskies and there's much talk of the dogs' different personalities and how exhilarating it is when they speed off through the forest.

Manage to scoff some homemade carrot cake and hot chocolate at the café, adding to the usual delicious hotel breakfast. A traditional Lappish evening meal includes salmon and potato soup and sautéed reindeer with lingonberries. Carry on the berry theme with lingonberry cake and lingonberry liqueur. Certainly getting my five-a-day this week.
Temperature -14C (feels colder in the wind), distance skied 5km (steady), number of falls 1 (standing still at the time).
Decide to consolidate by choosing the same trail as yesterday. Reach the Navettagalleria in half the time. Wind picks up in the afternoon and splatters my glasses with sleet. Wish I'd brought ski goggles: blame Dougie as he said we wouldn't need them. Have a bit of a tiff. Ski past the petting zoo for the third time: camel will have to wait for another day.

Having spent two days sitting on their behinds, the 'active' pals have a go at cross-country skiing. Two of the men give up after ten minutes: the women persevere for the whole 90 minutes. We tease the men mercilessly and I'm even more proud of my efforts in learning this new skill.

Chicken tonight and a very tasty goulash soup. There's a bowl full of ice-cream balls too, in case we need more reminders of our frozen environment. Dougie's on the back row of whiskies now and it's a blueberry liqueur for me after dinner. Find my favourite chair in the lounge, in front of the log fire. This is the life.
Temperature -15C (still cold, funny that), distance skied 13km (yes, you read that correctly), number of falls 2 (one of them spectacular).
Push ourselves today. Choose a blue trail round Lake Äkäslompolo and along the river valley to Lake Kesänkijärvi. It does have a small red section in the middle, where there is a steeper incline and descent.

I let Dougie try the red downhill first but forget to wait until he's reached the bottom. He falls, doesn't clear the track in time, takes me with him. We end up in an undignified heap. Take things steadier on the way back: overtaken by many elderly locals. On the plus side, the landscape is spectacular, with pretty bridges and part-frozen rivers.

Aching from the cross-country ski lesson the previous day, our gang book themselves a reindeer safari with the hotel. Another day looking at an animal's rear end: they're happy again.

We've earned every morsel today after our adventure. Tuck into carrot soup, smoked duck breast and pork steak in a cream sauce. Back to the wine and vodka for me.

The Aurora App on my phone tells me there's an 11% chance of seeing the Northern Lights. I'm a lazy Aurora hunter and this week the lure of my pyjamas and bed has been greater than the lure of those magical lights. Decide to follow a man with a tripod down to the lake. The lights appear and they are wonderful, just as I hoped they would be. Cry a little. It's been an emotional day.
Temperature -15C (Groundhog Day), distance skied 0km (a rest day), distance walked 9km (it was meant to be a rest day!), number of falls 1 (foot sinks deeper into the snow than expected).
I fancy a break from skiing. My thighs could crack walnuts now.

Set off for our favourite café once again for hot drinks plus cream and cloudberry swiss roll. Take a wrong turning but discover a stunning view in the process. Plod through the snow across the lake to the centre of Äkäslompolo village. Have a fear the frozen lake will thaw and I'll disappear through the ice. Start to hum the theme tune from Titanic. Walk quickly.

Our merry group forsake animal transport and also choose to walk. One friend tries a kick-sled to skate to the shops instead. It's a bit like a souped-up zimmer frame.

Comforting tomato soup, elk steaks and silky mashed potatoes. Vanilla panna cotta with a chocolate brownie on the side. Our last night in Hotel Ylläshumina calls for beer, wine and a farewell cloudberry liqueur.
We have loved every minute of our cross-country skiing week at the Hotel Ylläshumina. A return visit is definitely on the cards. Dougie wants to hone his cross-country skiing skills further and I need another helping of the fabulous food.

We forgot to visit the petting zoo. I really wanted to see that camel.

Hotel Ylläshumina

If you would like to learn how to glide across the trails like Trish, have a go at dog-sledding, winter walking or snowmobiling on a special Activity Week, or perhaps just fancy a cloudberry liqueur by a log fire, head to the magical landscapes of Ylläs for an idyllic winter holiday.
More about our holidays in the snow in Finland >
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