I signed myself up to the 2017 Ridderrennet week in November 2016, not knowing what I’d really gotten myself into having never cross-country skied before.
Ridderrennet is an annual international disabled cross-country ski competition held in Beitostølen supported by student volunteers from Sports Science degree courses and the King’s guards from the army. With cross-country skiing there are two tracks in the snow that skis fit into, which aid vision impaired people to follow the tracks whilst skiing.
After having a rocky start with Ryanair on Sunday 26 March and their limited desire of wanting to accommodate 8 blind and partially sighted passengers we safely landed in sunny Oslo. On Monday morning I was paired up with my guide for the week. We ventured out and hit the snow, or what may be better referred to as slush and rather difficult cross-country skiing conditions.
By the end of day 2 I wasn’t sure whether skiing was for me, but when old hands like Mike Brace say “I’ve never known snow conditions to be this bad in all my years of coming and for beginners it isn’t the best conditions to be learning to cross-country ski”, I stopped giving myself a hard time for not grasping it as well as I’d have liked. As the week progressed so did my skiing abilities and the slight onset of sore muscles informed me that I was working hard!
Thursday arrived with snow falling and the challenge of tackling the hills as part of my first race. Not sure who at this stage was more nervous me or my guide! I was counted down at the start line and before I knew it we were off and tackling our first downhill of the 4K race. I made it to the finish line with some rather splendid uphill and downhill falls along the way, but in 54 minutes and one exhausted piece! The rest of that day entailed rest and sleep!!
Saturday morning the atmosphere was buzzing over breakfast with everyone excited about the race, with plenty of discussions about start times and competing to beat each other, as well as own personal race times. Whilst the skiers and guides readied themselves for the race at the World Cup Arena the military band came out and played. My personal goal was to try to beat my time from Thursday, although not knowing what the tracks would be like it was virtually impossible to say how it would plan out.
For the second time that week I queued and edged my way to the start line and waited to be counted down with my guide beside me who was telling me I had to give it my all as it was the last day of skiing and I could rest tomorrow. I encountered just as many interesting falls as the previous race, but with more confidence and the focus of beating my time in the forefront of my mind I got up and kept going. I crossed the finish line with a few marvellous falls with my legs having turned to jelly and given way from exhaustion of smashing my previous time and coming in at 35 minutes!
Despite the lack of snow and awful conditions as a newcomer it was a great week, I got to meet some awesome people, push myself physically and try something new and challenging at the same time, as well as discover muscles I didn’t know existed, or had forgotten they did. To say I was sore by the end of the week was an understatement! As one of a few newbies on the trip we didn’t have the same expectations as previous attendees, so did the best we could, but equally giving us something better to look forward to hopefully next time.
The whole week was extremely well organized from transport to guides, to volunteer support at breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you were unfortunate enough to be lost, or misguided by another vision impaired person (a frequent occurrence!) a helping hand was never too far away to offer a guiding arm.
If you have never cross-country skied and are looking for something challenging to do as well as socialise then I’d say to keep an eye out for next year’s Ridderrennet week and start working on the leg and arm muscles.
Written by Masuma Ali