I first tried Nordic skiing in a middle school gym class. I live in Minnesota so it was part of gym class. I hated it. It was hard, my face froze and I fell all the time! I didn’t understand how people made a lifestyle and obsession out of this sport (and I’m Norwegian – it should be in my blood)! Fast forward 15 years, I went to watch a friend of mine compete in a Loppet (long distance ski event). I had done a several triathlons and a marathon at this point so I knew the high endurance sports can give you. I watched my friend finish the 35K classic ski race and although it looked brutal all I could think is - I want to ski a Loppet! Minnesota winters are LONG and treadmills, bike trainers, and lap pools get old.
Why not try again?
So I took lessons, bought my first pair of classic skis, kept practicing and got better. I learned how to go downhill/uphill and do more than just shuffle along. I learned to love the exhilarating feeling of gliding through snow in the woods on a beautiful winter day. I learned the art of waxing my skis. I signed up for a couple of 10k races which had these crazy mass starts (think open water swim mass start but add in skis and poles and crashes) where I definitely finished close to last!
After several years of this, I finally got the courage to sign up for my first Classic 29K, and then finally raced a 42K marathon. These were some of the hardest races I’ve ever done in any sport, and although I didn’t come close to winning any medals, I finally realized why people love this Nordic skiing thing and how fun the community is.
Like any outdoor sport, the weather is everything. Nordic skiing in Minnesota can be brutal and the snow conditions can make or break your day. If you get your wax “temperature” wrong, it can slow you down. Sometimes you ski on ice or “sugary” manmade snow. Sometimes it’s -20 windchill and your nutrition freezes (thank goodness for the warm Gatorade at aid stations). But sometimes you get a beautiful day and everything comes together and makes the sufferfest totally worth it. If anyone gets the chance to ski or spectate the American Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wisconsin you’ll get what I mean. It’s the largest Nordic ski race in North America and there is nothing quite like the cowbells and crowds as you ski down the middle of Main Street towards the finish line.
A few years ago, I would’ve told you Nordic ski racing was something I did to get outside and stay in shape in the “off-season.” I’m not sure that’s true anymore. I don’t intend to stop my swimbikerunning anytime soon since thankfully Minnesota winters eventually turn to spring, but I’m glad I found a sport and community I’ve grown to love as much as triathlon.
Written by Lisa Ackerman, Siren Luminary
Follow Lisa on Instagram @lisasackerman