Vakava Team Photo

Vakava Team Photo
Vakava Racers at the Mora Last Chance Race

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Spring in Norway - Act 1, Holmenkollen

We were watching some early season world cup races this season and Eva was so enamored with the gorgeous looking ski conditions she floated the idea of traveling to Ruka in the spring to go ski. We started looking around at potential dates and venues; maybe travel to Lahti for the world cup finals and then head North, maybe go to Beitostolen instead. I was really interested in going to Holmenkollen, since there is so much history and hype around those races, and it was going to be the first ever Women’s 50k on the world cup. It has always been a dream of mine to go ski the Norwegian Birkebeiner as well, but last time I checked it always filled almost immediately after registration opened. Just out of curiosity I checked anyway, and registration was still open. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so the dates were set and we got to work on planning. 

Great Crust Skiing in Southern MN

Our first stop was Oslo to ski, spectate the Holmenkollen races, and tour around the worlds furthest North National Capital. The crust skiing in Northfield was amazing as we were getting ready to go, and we knew we'd be missing some fun social ski events in Minnesota like the Last Chance race, Denim Derby, and Team Gregg team sprint, so we were hopeful that Oslo would offer some wonderful skiing. The weather forecast was looking like temps right around freezing the first few days we were there, so I packed a variety of klisters and warm hard waxes, and figured we shouldn’t have trouble finding a ski shop if there was anything we needed when we arrived.  

We left on a Wednesday evening and arrived in Amsterdam midday on Thursday. It was green and warm there. The tulips were already blooming and there were rabbits out racing around the airport grounds. After a couple hour layover we were back on a plan and we arrived in Oslo on Thursday evening to wet falling snow. Our plan for the trip was to just get by on public transportation, so from the airport we hopped on a train to Oslo Central station, and from there on a Tram out to the Majorstuen district where our hotel was. We checked our ski bag and carried on our Birkie bags for the flight. We traveled as lightly as we could since we would be walking and hopping on and off public transit often. Eva found a hotel that was close to a train station that would take us out to Holmenkollen, close to other skiing options for us, and close to some of the attractions we wanted to see.


On the train with all gear in tow

Friday morning we first got to experience one of the best parts of vacation in Norway, the continental breakfast. The Swedish word Smorgasbord describes it well, there’s a wonderful selection of hot and cold foods, everything from smoked salmon and cod, to waffles and pancakes, to beans and sausages, to yogurt and muesli, to grain bread and cheese. While we were staying in hotels we usually ate enough at breakfast to last us well into the afternoon.


After eating we hiked to the train station and headed out to the nearest ski trail. It was only a couple hundred meter hike from where we got off the train to the trail head, and from there we were able to ski up to the Holmenkollen trails and all the surrounding trails in the Frognerseteren area. We brought our backpacks with us so we could wear shoes and warmer jackets for the walk to the train and change into our ski boots when we got to the trail. This also gave us some additional practice skiing with our backpacks before racing Birken the next weekend. I had been told that many people bring skis on the train, and had seen a couple of people at central station walking around with ski bags, but I was curious how true that was. When we hopped on the train we got our answer. The entire car was full of teenagers heading out to alpine ski, so nearly everyone in our entire train car had skis with them.

On our way up the hill

Lots of good striding here!

We hopped off the train and started up the hill to the trailhead. We passed a school and all the kids were outside enjoying the snow. That was a theme we saw often in Norway; there were many people were outside rain or shine, warm or cold.

The start of our ski involved gaining 500 ft of elevation in the first 2.5km. That’s almost the elevation difference from the start area to the high point of the American Birkie course. This was a good introduction to what much our skiing in Norway would be. Erik Hendrickson told us "All of Norway is a gradual uphill," and that certainly seems true of how they lay out their ski trails. Many of our skis included long continuous ups and downs, a very different kind of terrain than we’re used to in Minnesota. Once we got up to the race venue though the rest of the ski was more moderate. We had to briefly ski along the race course when it merged with the trail we were on, and we saw several athletes out training for the weekend races. Then we were out onto some gorgeous double tracked classic trails winding around lakes and through forests. In addition to seeing some of the racing athletes out on the course we also saw Clay and Deb Diggins out skiing as well.

Some nice trailside scenery
Friday's ski

After a little over an hour of skiing we were pretty tired and our bodies still weren't really set to local time, so we headed down a different trail that dropped down to a lake called Sognsvann that had a train stop. When we arrived there were people out everywhere enjoying the day, skiing, hiking, heading out on winter camping trips for the weekend, and some school classes on field trips out into the woods.

There were many train trips with skis

Friday afternoon we went out exploring around Oslo. We went to Vigeland park, Frogner park, Akershus Fortress, and the Royal Palace, before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back to the hotel. I'm going to keep the first few posts in this series focused mostly on skiing so they doesn't get too long, but I will have a post coming soon about all the museums, parks, and other attractions we saw on our trip.

Saturday morning we tried to get up and to breakfast early so we could head up to Holmenkollen. Holmenkollen is the oldest race on the world cup circuit, the most prestigious outside of the major championships (or maybe more than the major championships if you as the Norwegians). It's also a huge party and celebration of skiing, so we were really psyched to take it all in! If you're interested in a broader picture of the event Nat Herz wrote an article about it that was published in the New York Times We expected it to be busy, the race frequently draws up to 100,000 spectators, and we had no idea how the logistics would be getting there. The roads were pretty quiet though, and while there were more people than usual at the train station it wasn’t overly busy. There were extra express trains running to the race venue, so we had no problems hopping on a train right away and we were on our way up!

When we got to the train station at the race venue is when we found the crowds. We thought we had allowed plenty of time to get to the area where we had tickets for the men's race, but the crowds were HUGE, and we waited in line for probably 45 minutes to march the ½ mile up to the race course.

It was over a half mile of this before getting to the arena

When we got up to the VM Haugen where we were spectating we managed to connect up with a few other Minnesotans who were also there spectating. Zach and Jenna Nelson, Michael Moulsoff, and Erik Hendrickson and his cousin who lives in Norway and had just moved to the Oslo area. Where we were we could see the athletes go by right on the other side of the fence as they climbed out of the stadium and before they dropped back in to lap. We could look down on the stadium and see the action there and up the hill behind and see them crossing in the distance. There was also a jumbotron so we could watch the race footage when the athletes were out of sight. We also got a taste of how how Norway spectates ski races. Where we were there were many families that brought the kids out, set out reindeer hides to sit on, got out their cookstove and roasted up hotdogs and marshmallows, and had their thermoses of hot chocolate. People got right up on the fence to cheer on their hometown athletes.

Spectating from VM Haugen
Eva ready to cheer for the US men

It was a small field with only 39 starters since the world championship 50k was only a week prior. There were 4 American men starting so we had plenty of people to cheer for, and the deep Norwegian field made for a very competitive race, even with a small field. Things unfold slowly in these long races, and most of the field was still together at 25k. From there things got interesting as Holland and Kruger chose to make a ski change at the end of the third lap of 6. They were off the back for a while but chased their way back onto the pack, and by 30k they were pushing the pace and the pack broke up quickly. When most of the rest of the field changed skis at 33k those two along with a young Iver Anderson getting away from the field. Kruger put on a surge in the last 1/2km to get away from Holland, and Anderson faded back and was passed by a hard charging Nyenget shortly before the line.

Kruger, Holland, and Anderson racing off the front

Kruger sprinting in for the win

After the race we headed to the harbor to see the Fram & Kon Tiki museums. Then we headed back up to where we had started skiing Friday to get some night skiing in on the lighted trails around Holmenkollen. Anywhere we crossed or skied along the race course there were revelers around their campfires eating, drinking, singing, and cheering us on if they even noticed us passing.

Well lit and wonderfully groomed

Oslo in the distance
Saturday Night Ski

The evening got a bit more exciting after our ski. We finished skiing at the Frognerseteren train station, which is the end of the train line that goes around Holmenkollen. We were hiking up the hill to the station and we saw the train sitting there, so we booked it up hoping to catch it before it left. We made it and found seats and started to change back into our shoes and warmer coats. Then the conductor came back and told us there was an issue at the central station so no trains were being allowed to run. He told us we could call a cab and the train company would reimburse us. We decided to hike down instead since we were basically at the city limit way up away from the population center, so we weren't sure how successful we'd be getting a cab. As we hiked down towards a more populated area to call a taxi we saw at least 5 taxis pass us going up the hill towards the train station, so I guess they go that far out after all. We hiked down to the Holmenkollen train station and saw the trains were running again. We saw 3 trains go up towards the end of the line, but none were coming back down, so we waited and got pretty cold there still wearing our ski gear, until finally one came back down and we hopped on. By the time we got back to our Hotel it was after 11:00PM, so we went straight to bed.

Sunday morning we were determined to get to the venue with plenty of time, so we got to breakfast as soon as it opened, ate quickly and headed for the train. It was less crowded than the day before with many spectators still out in the woods or hung over at home in bed. America had some superstars in the race though, so we were excited to go cheer on Jessie, Rosie, Alayna, and Hailey. We had tickets for the stadium, because we wanted to be right in the action if someone from the US ended up on the podium. We sat right where the skiers looped at the far end of the stadium so we could watch them corner and head back out each lap. It was also a bit less crowded than at the finish line. We could also zip down to the far end of the stadium to cheer as the racers came down the hill towards the ski exchange and towards the finish. We had our large American flag draped in front of us and we were waving our small ones.

    The women's race started out more aggressively than the men's. Jessie was chasing after all the intermediate bonus points, so she pushed the pace early and about a third of the field was out of the pack by 3k. A couple of young Norwegians did a lot of work at the front as well, so the pace stayed honest. By halfway the lead pack was down to 16 skiers, with Jessie and Rosie still in the mix. Rosie fell off the pack around 35k, then it was down to 8 skiers. Jessie was the first to go in the sprint to the finish, but couldn't hold off some of the Norwegian skiers and ended up 3rd in a very close finish.

The women's front pack early in the race.

Being in the stands was really exciting. There was music and a jumbotron across the stadium to watch the race when the skiers were on the course, and the announcer did a great job keeping everyone engaged and leading cheers and songs. We also got to meet several other Americans at the event, including workers from the American Embassy, a big group from Alaska, Jessie's parents, the group on the Lumi Experiences trip, and Julia Kern.
    The world cup sponsors were there in force, so after the race we stuck around the venue to watch some ski jumping, win some ski ties and a hat at the Coop booth, eat cheese and S'mores, and check out the Northug shop. Then we went back to the hotel and headed out to ski before it got too late. We tried a different course starting from Sognsvann and heading east to connect up with a lighted trail. There was still some daylight when we started, but we knew we'd be finishing in the dark.

Skiing along the river
    The Trail was gorgeous, and the grooming was excellent. I think pretty much every day that we skied I marveled at how many km of ski trails there were, and how fantastic the grooming was everywhere! It was just unbelievable to me that we could take the train right from the center of the city and get out on a trail that started out through the forest, along bluffs, across farm fields, along a creek, and up to a trail side cafe. Then we hopped onto a lighted trail for a mostly downhill run back to the train station. There are over 100km of lighted trails right in Oslo, so even if all of our skiing had been at night we would have had plenty of trails to explore.

Better scenery than the lighted trail at Hyland

Last ski in Oslo
    Once we got back to the hotel we packed up all our things so we could leave bright and early the next morning. We took the train to Bergen for a couple days and left our skis in a ski locker at Oslo Central Station. I'll cover the Bergen trip in the final post of the series, the next post will pick up when we pick up our skis and head to Lillehammer.


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