Yesterday I bought a pair of Finnish Karhu-skis in a thrift store. Karhu means bear in Finnish. Having lived in Denmark tens of my adult years, I did not own skis for most of my life. Denmark is a country surrounded by seas, and winters are humid, windy, with temperatures hovering around 0 degree Celsius for many months. At most every fourth year some snow falls there but it doesn’t stay on the ground long enough to warrant acquiring ski equipment. By that I mean cross country skis, shoes and poles.
Downhill skiing is out of the question in Denmark, the highest hill, Himmelbjerget (=Sky Mountain) measuring only 147 meters in elevation. However, once in the distant past I was a great cross-country skier in Finland…
Every Sunday morning a cross-country skiing competition took place in the nearby village. I was seven years old the first time I participated. Typically we were only two participants in my age group: my classmate Ulla and I. We skied a one-kilometer loop on groomed trails in the forest. Before the competition a lottery determined who would start first and the other would start a couple of minutes later.
It was a lonely skiing trip for me when Ulla started first, because I never caught up with her. Her father always skied behind her and pushed her to ski faster. If I started first, Ulla or usually her father would yell at some point in time for me to get off the trail so that they could pass. It was especially irritating if the snow was deep because it took me a long time to get back on the groomed trail.
I was envious of Ulla being helped by her father. I don’t know where my father was during competitions, but afterwards he often mocked me about losing again and again. It felt unfair, because I was sure that Ulla won because her father encouraged her all the time and protected her in the scary silence of the big pine tree forest. Much later I realized that Ulla won because she had bigger lungs than I. She also won all the other long-distance disciplines, like running three kilometers in the forest. On the other hand I won all the short-distance disciplines including jumping, because I had longer legs and could accelerate faster. Thanks to that difference in our strengths we became friends. We took turns in winning.
In fact I don’t know whether winning was at all important to us. At least it wasn’t as important as to the boys and men, who were members in our little rural sports association. Most likely we started with sports because our fathers decided we should do that. Anyhow there weren’t many other leisure time activities that were free.
Much later when my kids were small in Denmark, I took them to Finland in the winters and taught them how to ski in the same forests where I had skied in my childhood and youth. They found out quickly that it was boring to ski in those big silent forests. Maybe if I had taken them to some ski competitions they would have enjoyed the competitive aspect of it; and then, maybe not.
It may be a cliché, but my life experience has confirmed that most girls and women are much more inclined to cooperate while most men seem to love many kinds of competitions.
Now that I find myself in the mountains of Northern Arizona, more snowfall would be welcome for me to be able to use my new skis. But this year the region is experiencing a warmer, dryer winter even at altitude.