For one month or so from the middle of January 2022, I went to Norway. First to meet with the group organised by Norwegian company Hvitserk with whom I will be going to Greenland, and then to go out by myself. The aim of the training: to get ready for both Greenland and the planned solo journey to the South Pole.
In going with Hvitserk to Greenland, I will be in a group of seven other people, including two guides. A nicely sized group and it was great getting to meet them all to go skiing with them and get used to the equipment we will be using on Greenland. So we spent a good four days or so, skiing around near Ustaoset, on to the Hardangervidda.
It was a good few days. Definitely felt the effects of not having skied properly for a few years–though am not sure if you can call my skiing “proper” anyway! I had only really been on the flat sea ice before this, and here we were going up and down these hills, which proved pretty challenging. I struggled quite a bit especially at first, trying not to fall over on the downhills, and going slower on the climbs up. But eventually I improved and wasn’t falling over too often when going downhill by the end of it! Uphills… it was varied. The snow can make such a huge difference. When there was slightly softer snow that wasn’t deep, it was fine. Though then there are times when it is really hard, wind-blown and compact, and it was difficult to dig the steel edges of the skis into it and get grip to go up, even with the skins on.
Then there was the time skiing across a frozen lake: rock solid ice with no snow cover on top and no way to get any grip with the skis. While I didn’t fall over, we crossed it in pretty strong head winds so occasionally I found myself actually being blown backwards! A bit frustrating and slow progress on that day, but good all the same!
There are two main brands of skis that are used for polar expeditions – Fischer E99s and 109s (a number variations over the years), or several types of Asnes skis, such as the Amundsen, Nansen and Ingstad cross country skis. They have slightly different widths, so weight distribution differs a little, but they all have steel edges, making them more durable and robust in the polar conditions, easier to cut through icier and harder snow. The newer versions have slots to lock in half skins, which is very handy to have when you know you’ll be doing climbing, but can easily take them off; though Fischers can come with waxless grips so you don’t need to put skins on.
For the Cross Canada expedition, together with the Auyuittuq Traverse, I used the E109s, which were great, and they had waxless grips so were pretty decent when climbing up. Natalia had the E99s, and were neither waxless nor had slots for the skins, so we screwed the half skins on… while they do have glue to stick onto the bottom of the skis, when temperatures get down to -40C and below, the glue is not so effective and the skins are liable to come off. It felt terrible screwing into the body of the skis, but it worked.
There was one tough day when on the way to Churchill during Cross Canada, despite the extreme cold, when we were going over a small river, the ice broke a bit and our skis went into the water. The water then froze on to the skis (and the skins), together with a load of snow, and it was a real hassle getting it all off, so it took a while before we were able to ski properly again. Though I think we would have had this problem regardless of what skis we were using!
Now for Greenland I have got the Asnes Amundsen skis, which I tested for the first time in Norway. It was a joy being able to just slot in the skins – so easy! And climbing in them (using mohair skins) felt pretty comfortable and I never really had any problems. But I don’t know… I miss the E109s… maybe because they were the skis I learned to (cross-country) ski with, and I spent so long on them with the previous journeys; maybe because I felt more confident with them being slightly wider… I guess I’ll only be able to judge properly in the course of Greenland.
A good comparison between two of the main types (E109 Crown Extralite v the Asnes Nansens) is on the Telemark Talk ski website – pretty interesting and worth checking out!