One of the downsides to being a travel rep is that days off are rare. When you do get time off, you can never have more than one day at a time. Therefore, if the langlaufen course runs over three consecutive days, you’ll only ever be able to attend the first lesson. Although I still looked like a freestyle skier who had accidentally picked up the wrong equipment from the locker room, my first day on langlaufen skis had gone well. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job I’d then had to miss parts 2 and 3 of the course. These had included minor pockets of knowledge such as how to stop, how to get out of the tracks when you pick up too much speed and what to do if you get into trouble. So my next outing on my langlaufen skis was a few days later with Gabi, my colleague who was already a confident cross-country skier. I’d made a deal with Gabi that if she learnt to alpine ski, I’d learn to langlaufen. So far she’d stuck to her end of the bargain, so I couldn’t really back out when she told me I needed to progress out of the beginners area and onto a more challenging loipe. Astrid, the head of the langlaufen school, looked horrified when Gabi told her which route we would be taking that day. Langlaufen loipes are graded as blue, red and black (the same as alpine slopes) with black being the most difficult. The loipe that Gabi was proposing we take was a black. In Gabi’s head, none of the langlaufen loipes were as difficult as any of the alpine slopes. So by her logic, as an alpine skier I should have no trouble with a black loipe. To this day I am grateful to Astrid for stepping in, and she persuaded Gabi that maybe a red loipe might be more suitable. Well, how hard could it be? I thought. It’s all on the flat, right? The outing got off to a good start. Once I got into my rhythm I was confidently making my way around the loipe. Cross-country skiing is a bit like working out on a cross-trainer in the gym, it’s easier to stay in rhythm if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. I should have learnt from my alpine skiing experience that it’s never good to get too over-confident, regardless of what winter sports equipment you have on your feet. Gabi warned me that we were coming up to a steep downhill part of the loipe, and suggested I may want to come out of the tracks as hills are easier to navigate from the smooth, groomed snow that the skaters use. As I’d missed the lesson where I would have learnt how to ski outside the tracks, and my langlaufen skis still felt like a pair of really long, unstable ice stakes, I decided I felt more comfortable staying in the tracks. Don’t worry, I told Gabi, I’ll just keep in the tracks until it flattens out again. After all, I am an alpine skier and therefore used to going fast. How steep could a langlaufen track be anyway?
As I reached the bottom of the hill and the snow beneath my skis began to flatten out, a huge sense of pride came over me. I could handle this cross-country skiing malarky. What was all the fuss about? My triumph was short-lived as I realised that the ground was starting to slope downhill again. The slope that I’d just conquered was only a pre-cursor so a much, much bigger hill. Gabi glided past me and smiled, completely missing the look of terror on my face. A few seconds later, I overtook Gabi again, travelling as a speed that would have scared the hell out of me on my own skis, and completely incapable of doing anything about it. The best course of action, I decided, was to stay upright for as long as I could. That point turned out to be about three quarters of the way down, when I popped up out of the track (literally) and rolled the rest of the way to the bottom, destroying most of the nicely groomed loipe on my way. Yes, I had done what I had previously thought impossible. I had wiped out on a langlaufen track. I can still hear the tuts and other noises of disapproval from my fellow skiers as they skied over me.
A word of warning – If you are thinking of trying cross-country skiing, the most common injury is a bruised coccyx/tail bone. I wasn’t convinced of this fact until I fell on mine and couldn’t walk properly for six weeks. So when you’re buying your leisure pants, maybe choose some with some extra padding in that area.