A few weeks I participated in one of the most unique skiing events in my life. The Swedish Rajalta Rajalle-Hiihto Border To Border event, though not a race, offers a lot of skiing in a very fun way. “From Border to Border is a 440 km long guided ski tour from Russian border to Swedish border, which follows a route near the Arctic Circle. In total there are 7 days of skiing and daytrip distances vary between 44 and 78 km. Skied in the classical cross-county style, the event is very international and its popularity grows every year.”
Kate, Jan, Leslie in Finland - photo by Leslie Hale
The Rajalta Rajalle-Hiihto was a definite change from my last adventure; the Greenland Arctic Circle Race I completed two years ago features outdoor camping, sub–zero temps and no less than three 50k classic ski races in the mountains. The Border To Border, conversely, is a congenial event held on a mostly flat, groomed ski track and offers a lot of food stops and plenty of sauna time. 440km and an average of 62km per day can make those kilometers drag on a bit, but the event presented everyone I spoke to with understated achievements along the way. For me, it provided an opportunity to relax and chill out from work deadlines; for others, it was a non-intimating way to surmount personal athletic goals. Still others simply enjoyed it as a celebration of a traditional Finnish way of life!
Double poling - photo by Leslie Hale
Here’s the scoop: If you like to XC ski, are relatively fit, love to meet a gathering of interesting international men and women skiers , enjoy double poling, find lingonberries very tasty, can handle hot saunas followed by a roll in the snow and a cold beer, then sign up next year! The Finland B to B was a wonderfully organized way to end the ski year and to experience, subtly, a new culture and become amazed at the web of ski trails that fan their way across a bog-like landscape of trees and fens in northern Scandinavia.
The event offers 4 start dates with a limit of 100 skiers per day. The group of skiers I travelled to Finland with, including me, Kate Ellis, Leslie Hale, Mike Brumbaugh, Byron Lubenkov, and Ahvo Taipale, decided to sign up for “day 2”.The first day of our adventure began with the bus dropping off our group of 50 skiers on the start of a ski trail near the Russian border. I had limited expectations as I had spent little time researching the trip, relying instead on customers/friends suggestions. All I knew was that we had 68k to complete and the bus would be stationed at the lunch food stop for clothing changes or to pick any skier up who chose not to complete the course.
Forest in Finland - photo by Leslie Hale
Many of us brought two pair of skis, one waxable and the other a no-wax “skin” ski. I started the event on my Salomon Equipe RC Skins because the weather was just under freezing and predicted to warm up. I had not brought an iron or much klister; the goal was for this to be a low stress break from worrying about things, especially waxing.
The tracks were groomed with some hills (day one was our hilliest and any elevation climbs were half of what our man-made courses at Wirth park or Hyland Hills offer) Snow hung on the trees and everyone skied at whatever speed was comfortable, so immediately international packs started forming, Germans in front, Brits and Spaniards covering the rear. Random food stops were a tasty bonus and included pickles at every station! A hot berry drink, not unlike a water-downed version of Mora’s Vasaloppet blueberry soup, raisons and really creamy chocolate chunks (which mysteriously arrived at the aid stations on the second ski day), all also added to the reason why none of us American girls lost even an ounce of weight.
Kate, Ahvo and other Americans - photo by Leslie Hale
The lunch stop popped up about 40k into day one’s tour. A cozy log octagonal wind shelter covered a crackling fire heating an enormous iron soup caldron. Caribou skin covered wood benches supported skiers of all sizes, shapes and degrees of tiredness happily slurping steaming bowls of chunky potato soup. As I snapped off my skis, pulled a light jacket out of my backpack for additional warmth, work and Gear West totally disappeared from my mind. What can be more fun that eating and skiing with no time table?!
Evening glow on the sauna house - photo by Leslie Hale
But I have to admit, the first day was startling to my system. Having raced the Birkie nearly two weeks ago, I had spent the last week sitting at my desk, ordering skis, boots, poles and clothing for next year winter business and scrambling to organize my get-away so I would not be missed. Followed by 2 days of sedentary travel, my body was a bit shocked out of its lethargy with a 68k ski at a reasonable clip. The trail itself was slightly disappointing in truth; it was mostly flat and followed some rather boring power lines, while multiple paved road crossings further deteriorated my vision of deep woods skiing. That night the event finished at a bustling waterpark type of hotel which was not as cozy as expected, especially compared to the more traditional lodging yet to come. We were assigned shared hotel rooms and a hot buffet meal was ready and waiting. I initially scolded myself for succumbing to some sort of Finnish cruise vacation which would not test my stamina, nor challenge me with arctic winter elements of cold and wind, and all we would ski under is power lines for the entire 7 days.
Sauna house and trees - photo by Leslie Hale
By the second day, though, I fell in a satisfied groove that lasted the rest of the week. Each day was provided new opportunities for meeting unusual collections of motivated active skiing personalities from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Alaska, England, Spain, and, of course, Finland. Each night was filled with sauna lounging, delicious food, and endless merriment and laughter as we recalled the events of the day. The lodging itself was always a surprise; from larger hotels to rambling motels to athletic training facilities and even an old, faded, red school house, we never knew quite what to expect. Regardless of where we stayed though, there was ALWAYS a sauna. We experienced large and small saunas, electric and wood- burning saunas, and single sex and co-ed saunas. Afterward, daily tales of harrowing conditions, acts of desperation, and great crowning moments of achievement (or awesomeness) flew across the dinner table as we feasted on a variety of Finnish favorites such as reindeer stew, lingonberry jam, and LOTS of pickles. The days became sunnier and slightly colder as we moved north and the camaraderie grew.
Food stop - photo by Leslie Hale
Packing up to head home, my heart hurt to leave; the hallmark of any meaningful trip. The pleasure of having time to relax in the simplicity of the week - exercise, friends, food and laughter - enveloped my soul. I wanted to take away something great. Classic skiing k after k, my thoughts ranged from how tiny our lives are in the whole scheme of the universe, to how fast my little life is zooming by, to experimenting with new double pole techniques, to making sure I did not clip the skis of the person in front of me.
On the trail - photo by Leslie Hale
I did not find the meaning of life, but I did re-appreciate what counts in life to me: the bonding of friendships among nationalities; feeling fit and healthy; experiencing the wind, snow and the sun of the out-of-doors. The seven days of skiing flew by and ended as abruptly as the return plane trip landing in 70 degree weather in Minneapolis in mid-March. I have tried hard to accumulate as many varying adventures in my life as work, family, money and time will allow; excursions and events both long and short in far flung areas across the map as well as near home have punctuated my life. All have created lasting memories reflective of the activity, time of year, my age and the persons I meet. Border to Border Finland offered me a relaxed happiness for the sport I love and those friends who share that love with me. I definitely recommend the trip if xc skiing is your thing.
To Learn more about the Rajalta Rajalle – Hiihto Border to Border Event, visit http://rajaltarajallehiihto.ranua.fi/In-english/
-Posted by Jan Guenther on Mar 26th 2015