Editor's note: This is Sun Valley, Idaho US â€œsuper master skierâ€ Jon Engen’s article from the recent Norwegian Skarverennet.
My body was stiff and sore after a 5 hour train ride, I had gotten up at 4:15AM to catch an early train in Oslo after a sleepless night, and I had stepped off a 24 hour flight schedule from Sun Valley, Idaho two days earlier. The legs felt like jello and I would have thought I was on skis for the first time unless I knew otherwise. I had just arrived at the start of the Skarverennet in the mountain area by Geilo, Norway, and we were one hour away from start.
I ski around to loosen up and test my skis. I bring one warm-up pair and one race pair. I maintain a special pair of skis stone ground for this type of spring and euro conditions, and they turned out to be the ticket. I was confident about my skis. The legs however were still shaky and the body was screaming bad things at me. A solid warm-up was needed.
I’m skiing around and feel a little better. Up on may sides glide two pairs of Rossignols; I notice one of them is next year’s model. The conversation between the two skiers take place in a dialect from way up in the valleys and the men are clad in fancy suits with sponsor logos on the front and NORWAY written across the back. This is the real thing. This race attracts the cream of skiers in that part of the world. Although Michael Botvinov and Johan Muhlegg among the men, along with Antonina Ordina in the women’s division have won the race in recent history, the event is ruled by Norwegians, approximately 15,000 of them all together. That includes racing and touring classes, young, old and everything one can imagine on skis.
The women started 15 minutes ahead of the men and the start area filled up with guys in a hurry as soon as the ladies took off. It was barely elbow room in the front; the field was several rows deep and stretched out over at least 100 meters or more. I anticipated around 1500 people in my start group. The Elite group started one hundred meters ahead of us. They were supposed to be about 70 men, but we counted a whole lot more than that. I remember being up there myself in years gone by. The gun went off and everything went into motion. The trick here is to hone in on the tail end of the elite start group and get on that train as soon as possible. I saw a couple of juniors to my side. That was a good sign as these guys are ambitious, especially in the beginning of the race, and they make for a good hang. The first hill comes in about one K, and we were into the elite field by then.
The first hill is a real hill. Take the last K of the CA Goldrush, Bitch Hill at the Birkie, and Russian Hill in Lake Placid, put them all together and then add some. The 5K mark is neatly placed on top. Once on top opened a vast white, mountain landscape with an endless train of people. Much of the 38K course was visible, including the other couple of Â¨hillsÂ¨ to come. The skiing was good, the weather was excellent, it was a marvellous day to be a skier and the race was a high speed chase with the fast conditions. I had my sights on a spot among the top 15 overall, which I managed a few years ago, and I ate my way up the field a steady pace. This is what cross-country ski racing is all about. With about 10K to go, I felt a massive jerk in my left arm as a skier stepped on my pole basket. On examination, both the arm and pole were there. However, the third time I felt the jerk, I was left with the shaft without the basket. The pole speared the snow providing minimal thrust, not the best projection as we were heading towards the fastest part of the course. This is a time where experience helps motivation. It is near impossible to pull away with this condition, but possible to hang in a pack if you stay smart and real close. That became the next goal, staying tight with one group with multiple skiers in sight, and so I finished. The numbers ran away from me, but came in about 30th overall with the time of 1:29:02 over 38K. That gave me the crown for the older Gentlemen and I was happy about that.
Lars Berger, World Champion of both X-C Skiing and Biathlon, was the overall winner in 1:20:04. He edged out of Kristen Skjeldal and Frode Andresen. Olympic hero Ole Einar Bjrndalen came in 12th. The 37 year old Elin Nilsen from Northern Norway won the women’s division for an unbelievable 12th time with a time of 1:31:26. She retired from World Cup skiing in 2002, but is staying in shape. Italy’s Nataila Santer captured 2nd place ahead of the upcoming Merethe BrÃ¥then of Oslo. The winners of this race are not only Olympians, but most often multiple time medallists. Besides that, the race is open to you, me and everybody, and the experience is well worth the trip.