Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

The Norwegian who couldn’t ski

Posted by Monica Johansen on October 15, 2008

Sometimes I wonder where I am actually coming from…

On my way around the world I often get questions about Norwegians and skiing. The general opinion is that all Norwegians are fantastic skiers, and that it is simply something embedded in their genes. In most cases I suppose it is true, although perhaps not the genetic part. Norwegian kids are in fact kicked out in the snow with glass fiber boards on their feet from they are about 2 years of age, and naturally they become excellent skiers. If your choice is to die in the snow or ski back to the car, I think the choice is pretty simple.

Winter in Norway

Winter in Norway

I guess this has really been my main problem. When I grew up I wasn’t much of a physically aggressive and extrovert child. On the contrary, I loved drawing and painting, and I used to sit alone in my room for hours drawing people, animals and flowers on paper that my father had brought home from work. My most loved belonging was a box of pencils in 72 different colors, one of these art pencil boxes you have to pay a little fortune for. I suppose my parents didn’t have the heart to tear me away from my pencils and kick me out in the freezing cold snow. And of course, I don’t blame them at all.

Another problem is that I have always loved dry and hot weather, but snow is usually the complete opposite, i.e. cold and wet. When the temperatures sink below 15 degrees Celsius my body tend to stop functioning properly, and my cells are not able to generate enough heat to ensure that my internal body temperature stays at the required 37. This might well be a genetic malformation, and unfortunately, I don’t think it is treatable. Hence, I will have to except the fact that I am simply not constructed for living in cold climates.

My ex boyfriend in Australia actually had his own theory about Norway. He claimed that Norway in reality was a tropical island somewhere in the Pacific, with white sandy beaches and palm trees. I was the first Norwegian he had ever met, and based on my fear of cold weather he could not make sense of the stories about Nansen and Amundsen crossing the ice on polar expeditions. Before he met me he believed that Norwegians were the robust people from the north who loved ice and snow and could survive in the worst possible climate, but all of a sudden I crossed his path, and I guess I didn’t make a very good ambassador for my country.

Ingar and Henning in the mountains

Ingar and Henning in the mountains

When you grow up in a country like Norway, and you suck at skiing, you are struggling to find your place in the society. Because skiing is something Norwegians do as often as they can. Before Christmas they all look forward to the very first snow fall, despite the fact that it generates huge traffic problems and old people tend to slip, fall over and break their hips. In January and February, the two darkest and coldest months in Norway, when temperatures sometimes drop down to -25 degrees even in the low land, they spend every weekend looking for good skiing conditions. And every Easter, when the sun finally starts to warm up the air, the Norwegians drive up to the mountains to look for colder weather and more snow.

When I lived in Norway I used to love being out in the nature around spring time to smell the fresh air and see the very first flowers popping out. It was always a great time of the year when the forest tracks were snow free again, and you could walk in small lighter shoes rather than the thick water-proof boots you have to wear in the winter. But even then I would often see people on push bikes with a pair of ski on their back cycling up to the higher areas to look for the last little snow spot where they could glide for a few minutes. Frankly, I have always wondered what the hell is wrong with these people…

At school we used to have activity days a couple of times a year. In the summer we used to go hiking or ride bikes in the forest, and sometimes we did orientation exercises to learn how to use compasses or nature tracks where we learned about animals and plants, and I enjoyed it quite a lot since I have always loved the nature. But in the winter it was only one single activity – skiing. I used to hate the winter activity days, mainly because I didn’t have a pair of skis. Hence, my only options were to either borrow some old wooden ones that didn’t fit me at all and that were so worn out that it was practically impossible to glide on them, or I could go hiking with the teacher and some other poor kids who didn’t have parents with enough money to buy the equipment. I tried to borrow some old ones one year, but I quickly learned that no skis is better than bad skis, so later I always went hiking with the teacher. Until the school finally opened up for other winter activities, such as ice skating, and then my life improved drastically.

Sunrise

Sunrise

When I was around 16 years old I made a friend who loved skiing. She used to take me out to teach me how to ski, and I borrowed her mother’s pair of ski which was very modern and of good quality. For the first time I started to enjoy skiing a bit more than earlier, and as I grew up I slowly became better at it. Well, at least I was able to glide down gentle slopes without falling.

As I got older and started to date boys I realized that most people in Norway are in fact excellent skiers. Most of my ex boyfriends have been outdoors and sports freaks, and while I never had a problem with that during the summer I was always struggling in the winter. It is no fun when you always feel that you are slowing down your companion because you are not able to ski as fast him, or that you all of a sudden find yourself alone in the white forest because your boyfriend took off and forgot to check if you were right behind him and you were simply not able to keep up.

There is in fact only one single person that I have really enjoyed skiing with, and that is my friend Henning, which I used to work with when I was a developer. Henning didn’t seem to have the same competitive character as most other guys, and he was happy to let me go in front so I wouldn’t be left behind. He also didn’t mind toddling along in my slow speed, even if he could ski really fast if he wanted to. Skiing was simply so much more enjoyable when we could chat and take time to enjoy the nature rather than haste through the forest so fast that your throat gets sore from the heavy breathing in ice cold air.

My point to all this is that it can sometimes be difficult to feel that you fit in. The expectations to what it means to be Norwegian are sometimes a bit too high, and what are you supposed to do if you can’t meet these expectations? I truly appreciate many things about Norway, but I have never really felt Norwegian. The big question is, however, where on earth do really I belong?

I have no idea…

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One Response to “The Norwegian who couldn’t ski”

  1. Eirin Pauline said

    You are a great writer Monica, and I loved this article. I know the feeling, born in the west end of Norway didnt give me a lot of opportunities to learn to handle either the cold or the snow.

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