Just 12 hours after stepping off the train after a weekend in Ustaoset I was back at the train station to meet 28 teenagers and a teacher for five days of cross-country skiing, based at Mjølfjell Ungdomsherberge, a hostel nestled beautifully in the arms of a wonderful valley.
First job was to get the kids familiar with their skis, especially those who were using skis supplied by the instructors. Kids were shown how to wax skis and use the various different types of bindings before being given instruction on how to kick and glide across the flat car park. Basic 'ski school' drills were also practiced on a nearby slope to give those kids who had never skied before some basic control in going up and down a gradient. We practiced 'herring bone' and side stepping upwards before trying snow plowing to control speed going down. All of this was done with fun and games in mind and the kids were smiling despite the falling snow and chilly -15C.
We also took the kids on some short, flat tours around the hostel to allow them to practice their new found skills on gently rolling terrain. We stopped for lunch out on the trail and sat around a fire which is always good for keeping warm and spirits lifted.
The accommodation was great, beautiful views outside your windows and more than enough to eat. Each morning we made lunch packs from the extensive buffet breakfast. Kids soon learned you burn a lot of calories skiing and trying to stay warm and from two sandwiches on the first day we soon started seeing six and seven tier sarnies being constructed. My new favourite is the 'Basso Bar'. Named after the Canadian ski instructor and teacher who was leading the week it requires layers of crackers/Ryvita topped with jam, pate and cheese to deliver dense calories all day long.
The ski tours and skills lessons continued. One afternoon myself and another teacher led a small group on a tour down the valley in search of the sunshine that was shielded from the hostel by a mountain. The weather was improving every day, more sunshine and the mercury steadily climbed.
Every evening the kids returned from their day to a warm dinner and plenty of free time for them to socialise, watch TV, play pool or even the piano which a few of them did with real talent. The piano playing was also sweet relief from the Euro-techno that one of the German lads insisted on playing at ear splitting volume whenever he could.
One afternoon a few of the kids got to help one of the instructors erect a traditional Lapp Lavvu, which several of us would sleep in one the last night. Despite the cold temperatures the kids really enjoyed being in there and we ate popcorn cooked over the wood fire before getting into our sleeping bags and watching the stars through the hole in the top.
One of the days was spent on a fairly long tour up the valley to Upsete. The day started with a fairly long gradual climb before crossing a couple of frozen lakes. At the lunch stop we played lots of games and had a fantastic multi-lane slalom race.
The journey back to the hostel after such a long day was thankfully mostly downhill with the last few kilometres being particularly twisty and fast. I kidded myself as I ascended the final descent for the second time that I was just retracing my steps to ensure all the children got back safely, the truth was I just wanted to rip down the awesome trail one more time.
It wasn't all fun and games though. We also carried out some theory work with the kids including basic map and compass reading skills. This was followed by avalanche safety instruction. The kids got to see and use various avalanche safety equipment including transceivers and learn how to read the signs of potential avalanche terrain.
Back outside in the 'big classroom' we spent an afternoon building a bivouac area to protect us from the cold wind. The kids were then shown how to use an axe and knives to collect wood for use in the fire, for making benches and also utensils for cooking food.
I enjoyed the mix of skiing and back-country skills being taught on this course. The kids were taught a sense of being custodians of the environment and a lot of them commented how beautiful the area was and how quiet and smooth travelling by skis was.
The evening snowshoe trek was a hoot. We took several of the kids out with large candle/torches for a trek around the dark hillsides surrounding the hostel. We sat in a circle at one point and the kids started telling ghost stories. Somehow it all ended up with the instructors being chased through the dark by snowball wielding students.
The last day was taken up with the final tour, the students luggage was shuttled to the station while they made their way down the valley via the wonderful, rolling ski trail. Lunchtime was also a time for the final games of the week with the group splitting into teams to build emergency sleds, made from skis, poles and shovels, for transporting an 'injured' team mate. Good fun with a serious message. Right below the station the kids let off any remaining steam with a mass snowball fight before removing skis and heading home.
All told, it was a great success. It was uplifting to see the improvement in skills and confidence, especially by those kids that had never skied before. I got to try out some new skills too including skiing with pulk. We're never too old to learn. This is something I'd love to do again and I may get the chance soon. Watch this space...