Adventures in Norway and the Birkebeinerrennet

Posted by Annika Landis, EnjoyWinter Factory Team on Mar 24th 2024

Adventures in Norway and the Birkebeinerrennet

After ten days in Alaska, it was straight to Norway to spend a few weeks in Sjusjoen to race the iconic Birken. 

The trip from Anchorage to Norway was BRUTAL, with a 3 am wake up, 24 hrs of travel, and a 9 hr time change, I felt nothing short of atrocious on our first day in Oslo (I met my parents in Norway and we planned to watch the world cup before heading north to Sjusjoen). Not to be deterred, I went for a short jog (some movement always feels better than doing nothing), and then my mom and I took the train to the city to walk around and explore a bit. It was a beautiful day, and sipping espresso in the sun was the perfect way to recover from the jet lag. The next day, we headed into the woods and the electric spectator melee to watch the women’s 50k at Holmenkollen. It was quite the spectacle, with the efforts of the racers nearly outdone by the drunken teenagers, a few of whom left the course in handcuffs. Not a scene I’d enjoy on a regular basis, but it felt like one of those events that you want to experience at least once.

Left: Spectating (sober) the Holmenkollen 50k - which looked even more brutal and impressive in person.

Right: a treat and an espresso - the #1 way to get on my good side and a pretty good cure for jet lag grumpiness.

After two days in Oslo, we headed north to Sjusjoen, where we planned to spend around two weeks skiing as much as possible, and of course, racing the Birken. I have been to Norway once before in college for a June training camp at the Sognefjellet glacier. It was a really fun trip and excellent skiing and so I was excited to go back, this time in the winter, and explore a different part of the country. This trip was special because my parents and my sister were all able to come, and we spent two weeks skiing, relaxing and spending quality time together. My family vacations growing up consisted of backpacking trips in the desert or in the mountains (which I loved and wouldn’t trade for anything, ever), so this trip was the first ‘vacation’ we had ever been on as a family. Fitting then that it consisted of skiing every day and a 54 km race! Perfect.

Left: My mom enjoying her first full week of retirement and looking great in some Bliz Breeze sunglasses.

Right: The weather was a mix of zero visibility fog, and brilliant sunshine.

Sjusjoen is a skier’s paradise. Endless trails extend in every direction, too sprawling to be contained on a paper map and overwhelming in their entirety on the online trail app. It gave me a certain type of anxiety knowing that two weeks was not even close to enough time to ski every trail. But I was sure going to try. With so many incredible trails right out the door, I certainly did not taper for the race, only accidentally taking an easy day because the race was postponed due to weather so horrendous one could barely venture outside without being blown away.

The race itself was incredible and yet also just a blip on the list of what made this trip so special. As I mentioned, the race was postponed from Saturday to Sunday due to ‘gale force winds’ and ‘whiteout conditions’ that would have made it impossible to safely hold the event. It was 100% the right decision and race day was nothing short of a perfect weather day, 25F and bluebird, almost so dazzling it was hard to see at times.

I opted to go with kick wax on my skis, although many of the skiers in the elite waves choose to double pole. Having been a bit lax in my strength routine, I decided that was not a recipe for success, although it is something I would consider in the future. Unfortunately for me, I had a bit too much wax, and my skis were draggy, making it difficult to keep up on the flats and downhills. On the flip side, I had excellent kick which helped me gain ground on the two long climbs of the course. I was a bit frustrated at first, not feeling quite as competitive as I wanted to (maybe the overtraining the week before had something to do with that?), but the day was too beautiful and the scope of the race itself too grand to be frustrated for long.

Left: my dad and I at the finish of the Birken, looking perhaps a little ragged but smiling nonetheless!

Right: Believe it or not, the Enjoy Winter suit was not the most colorful out there, but it still helped my mom pick me out of the crowd!

I focused on skiing smoothly and efficiently and I started catching a few of the girls in front of me as the race wore on. I found a good headspace and a good rhythm and the kilometers flew by all the way to the finish in Lillehammer. I was exhausted, in part from the 3.5kg backpack all participants are required to wear, but happy to have ticked off a bucket list race. Anyone who skied with the SVSEF program will remember the infamous ‘Save the Baby King’ ski team practice, usually on an unforgiving day in November. Meant to simulate saving the king of Norway as an infant, we were put into small teams and had to complete a series of challenging tasks, ranging from archery/biathlon, building fires, fighting off enemies (with foam swords), fording the partially frozen river, carrying massive logs, orienteering through ravines, roller skiing up dirt roads, playing checkers with a viking, and really anything Rick Kapala’s mind could come up with, all while carrying a 10 lb weight as a group. This was my favorite practice, partially because I am hypercompetitive, and partially because it was an incredibly fun way to suffer, and it always ended with pizza and blueberry soup. I have always wanted to ski the Birken in part because of this practice, and to the SVSEF coaches’ credit, I cannot definitely say which event was harder.

After I finished, I found my mom and sister, and together we waited for my dad to finish his race. This race had been a goal of his for a while (maybe because he was one of the architects of the Save the Baby King), and it was really cool to watch him not only finish, but ski so strongly over a demanding course. Not the worst way to spend a family vacation!

The golden hour light and beautiful sunset after the blizzard that postponed the race on Saturday.

After race day, it was back to exploring the trails and fully enjoying our last few days in Sjusjoen. In the 12 days in Sjusjoen, I skied 419 km, which averages out to about 35 km/day, which might explain a bit of my current fatigue! All good things must end, and soon enough it was time for the family to head back to Idaho. BUT, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Norway so I rented a car and headed up to Beitostolen for another week to explore the nordic trails there and do some backcountry skiing in the Jotunheimen National Park. I am really excited for this part of the trip and to hopefully get into some unique mountain terrain.

Left: just one of many perfect trails that made it pretty hard to stop skiing every day.

Right: A miscalculation of layers and a lack of thermoregulation on a family ski made me stick out among the impeccable style of the average Norwegian skier, but hey, those three jackets finally warmed me up!

I don’t currently have any more races on my schedule for this season but I cannot rule out making an appearance at the International Spring Series in Sun Valley the first week of April! This season of skiing and racing was such a different experience than anything I have done in the past and I am still processing what went well, what didn’t go so well, and my general thoughts on everything put together. I’m excited to share those reflections and more of my adventures in Norway with you in my next post, so keep an eye out!