Austin Ross is currently participating in a Vermont Academy Camp in Finland. Austin is a student at Colby College, and originally from Steamboat Springs, CO. You can look forward to one other story towards the end of the camp.
Leaving the frenzied atmosphere of a patriotism-hungry tourist town in Colorado on the fifth of July for the considerably less festive confines of a small town in central Finland was a drastic change. When coupled with more than forty hours of traveling, my arrival in Vuokatti was understandably somewhat less than glorious. That’s not to say I wasn’t excited, though. I was thrilled to be in a country where Nordic skiing, my sport of choice, was king. I was ready to rub shoulders with some of the world’s elite skiers while training in the ski tunnel, and I was prepared mentally and physically to work out like it was my job.
My first two days at Vuokatti, although I enjoyed myself, were dominated by sleep with occasional bouts of training and eating. However, despite being tired, I had very positive first impressions. I was struck by a couple things immediately on the first day. I was amazed at how inconspicuous the ski tunnel was. It wasn’t visible unless I was looking for it because it was covered with native vegetation and built into the landscape. I was also impressed with how well the venue had been planned out. No detail was missing. There were automatic doors at the entrance, so that skiers didn’t have to struggle with their equipment to get inside. I was told that the tunnel was an ideal twenty-four degrees so that waxing was easy and skiing was comfortable. There was even a sound system in the tunnel, so we could enjoy month-old hits from the United States on the radio while we skied. I chuckled to myself almost every time I walked into the tunnel at the novelty of the situation. An entire campus with a dining hall, saunas, soccer fields, and miles of trails as well as a shopping center and a climate research center had all been built so that athletes could step out of an eighty degree summer day into 1.25km of artificial winter. I wondered at the kind of support Nordic skiing must have in the Finnish culture for something this grandiose to be built.
After I had been in Vuokatti for a couple of days, I began to settle into a routine. There was a short jog in the morning followed by a mandatory plunge into the nearby lake. At first I wasn’t thrilled with heaving myself off the dock at 7:30 in the morning, but it began to grow on me after a couple of days. It was refreshing if nothing else. Breakfast was next, and it didn’t take me long to realize that gourmet cuisine had never really caught on in this part of the world. Most of the hot food that was served at breakfast tasted like hot dogs, and at the other meals I found that I was unable to identify the animal my meat had come from until I tasted it. Even then it was difficult sometimes. It was nothing special, but it was food and I was happy to be able to fill my hungry belly three times a day. After breakfast two training sessions, one in the tunnel and one outside, were packed around lunch. Finally dinner, an occasional third workout, and some free time were scheduled before bed.
However, the impression that has affected me the most thus far is amazement at what an egalitarian destination the ski tunnel is. I have passed by skiers from places like Austria, Russia, and Kazakhstan in addition to the Finnish skiers that are here, and although there is a language barrier for many of us, each skier treats the youngest children and the fastest racers with equal respect. Nobody is made to feel unimportant or undeserving of a place in the tunnel, even on the most crowded afternoon. Each coach is careful not to impede other skiers, and every skier is polite to their fellow athletes. It is incredible that people from so many different locations and cultures can gather in this unique venue and share a little less than a mile of underground snow in hopes that they will be faster when the snow flies.