“Meet us in Norway! You will love it,” Heidi said when my husband Kris Freeman and I were planning our spring vacation. Kris’s brother Justin, his wife Heidi and their two girls, Iris and Sage, live in the Netherlands and love going on ski vacations during the winter. While we were planning our trip, my parents, Jim and Michele Dodge, and Kris’s parents, Donavon and Barbara Freeman also decided to come ski in Norway to see Justin and his family during their spring break trip.
Right now we are in Nordseter, Norway for two weeks, enjoying the spring skiing, warm temperatures and endless kilometers of free, groomed trails. The trails from Nordseter run all the way to Lillehammer and connect with the Olympic tracks at the Birkebeiner Ski Stadium. In Norway, Nordic skiing is the favorite pastime and and part of their history and culture. The government maintains the trails and grooming and thousands of families are out enjoying the mild temperatures and great skiing this week.
Kris and I both grew up skiing with our families. I started skiing with my parents in their backyard and trails winding through 70 acres of woods. My Dad would pack a lunch and we would spend the day skiing as a family. We would also go to ski races all over New England, and take ski vacations during school breaks. Kris grew up skiing with his parents and his brother, going on trips at a young age that included skiing the Canadian ski marathon.
Norwegians are on Easter break while we are here, and I am amazed and intrigued by the culture of skiing that I have seen here on the trails in Nordseter and Sjusjoen. I keep seeing families heading out on the trails with backpacks filled with food, shovels, small sleds, and cameras, with sleeping pads rolled up on the top. Out on the trails families pull small children in a pulken (pull sled), and children that look about 4-6 years old are tethered and skiing behind a parent or grandparent. All ages, and all family members, including the family dog, are on the trails together. They stop and create benches made out of snow, some with a small fire, where they spend time playing and eating a snack.
Today we skied on part of the Birkebeiner trail out to a small hut. At the hut there was a table with soda, coffee, hot chocolate and 3 waffle makers powered by a generator. Families were sitting outside on stumps, enjoying waffles, while the young children played in the snow, and the adults soaked in the midday sun.
The atmosphere reminds me of my upbringing and the one my husband has described to me. I feel lucky that I grew up skiing with my family, and continue to ski as a family. Heidi was right-I do love it here! I love experiencing a culture where skiing is a family pastime, with children being taught to ski by parents who were taught to ski by their parents.
The Bill Koch Youth Ski League in New England has this culture through family involvement. USSA competencies say that kids less than 12 years old should be skiing 80% undirected. When I was growing up, many parents in our Bill Koch League were coaches, volunteers, and learned to wax; and most skied with their children and went on ski trips with families from our club. Everyone was involved in some way which created in a community that grew into one of the biggest Bill Koch Leagues at the time. Our league consisted of families who all understood that skiing and recreating year round, as a family, was important to keep their children involved in sport at a young age. This community resulted in continued friendships, and skiers working in the sport as coaches, some in the highest levels of the sport. Hopefully, it will also result in another generation of parents taking their kids skiing, and kids skiing with their parents.