A childhood on skis
Read on for an atmospheric description of a childhood in Norway – despite the cold and hardship, it sounds kind of wonderful…
Norwegian children are born with skis on – and the midwife stands by with a saw. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. We arrived in Norway in the winter of ’47. Norway had been occupied for five years and there was not a spare house in sight, in fact there was nothing spare at all, the country had been robbed, cleaned out, of anything useful. The university had been ravaged and was unusable. The British Institute was moved to a hotel in the country outside Oslo and that is where I took my first faltering ski steps, aged 18 months. I hated it: I was always cold, with a red runny nose, and wet bottom – my mother never got me to the loo in time, having to peel off seven layers of clothing first. My nickname was Piddly Pants Penelope. It was so cold that year that the fjord froze over; you could walk on the ice from Norway to Denmark and the fish died in the water. My mother, from Australia, thought she had come to hell; nothing to buy in the shops, rationing, and two runny-nosed children.
Living next door to a Polar explorer
But things looked up. Our church received masses of warm clothes from a branch church in America (I always thought it was the Marshall Aid) and we were lent a summer house by the fjord – no electricity or running water, we had to break the ice on the well and then haul the water out in buckets, but at least it was our own. The house was neighbour to the Polar explorer Amundsen’s house, the one who beat Scott. No wonder he got there first – anyone brought up in those conditions would find the walk to the Pole a doddle. My poor mother.
Things looked up further, houses were built, and we moved up the hill overlooking Oslo, close to the famous Holmenkollen ski jump with a thousand square miles of wilderness as our backyard. The wilderness would often encroach on our life – there were elk and deer in the garden in winter, ptarmigan and capercaillie courting in the summer. What a life. And the snow! So much! If it had gone by May 17th I would be allowed to exchange my thick, brown woollen stockings, kept up by an old-fashioned suspender belt, for short socks, to march in the procession. The 17th of May is Norway’s national day, Constitution Day, when every Norwegian marches; those in the capital Oslo march to the King’s palace. Afterwards everyone gets sick – the children by eating too many ice-creams, the first of the summer, and the grown-ups by drinking too much.
Short days and romance
I skied to school every day and took the ‘tric’ – the electric – home in the afternoon. In winter the tric is furnished with leather straps on the outside to which you fasten your skis. Sometimes the amount of skis fastened to the outside would completely obscure your view. Oslo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1952 and we lived close to the venue of the slalom. The slope was floodlit – a necessity, as it was pitch black by two in the afternoon – and there was a T-bar. If my current heartthrob was skiing too I would manoeuvre myself in the lift queue, or dawdle on the slope, to make sure we went up together, holding hands, with thick gloves on, of course. And then we would ski home, through the woods, down the floodlit trails, the lights of Oslo twinkling and blinking far below us. Bliss! Romance par excellence!
I had very long wooden skis – the edges were screwed on in sections – and wore leather boots, plus fours and red stockings. The bindings could be loosened for walking. Wax was usually rubbed on. My brother and I started an enterprise – a ski wax production company. We melted my mother’s candles and tried to pour the wax into empty toothpaste tubes. My brother was an excellent ski jumper – he jumped 49 meters when he was only nine years old. He always wore ‘the fat man’, a beautifully warm fur coat that had been in one of the ‘Marshall Aid’ crates from America. That is how we recognised him at the top of the jump. My father ski jumped too, but he once broke both shoulders and had to have them re-broken when it was found that they had been badly set.
A child in the wild
If I wasn’t ski racing during the weekend I was rushing round on my cross-country skis in Nordmarka – the vast wilderness that surrounds Oslo – collecting points and kilometres. Every child is issued with a card which you stamp at your starting point and then stamp again at your furthest-away point in one of the many small restaurants, huts, chalets or shelters that are scattered around this enormous area that backs onto the capital. 32 kilometres was considered a good day’s ski. At the end of the winter the card went to the Norwegian Ski Federation who would jot up your mileage and award you gold for 500 kilometres, silver for 250 and bronze for 100. I never got above a silver, but some of my classmates got double gold! At Easter my father and I would pack two rucksacks and ski into the heart of Norway, the home of the trolls, spend nights in mountain chalets and cover huge distances in the day, over glacier and plateau, moorland and mountain. We were in Peer Gynt country, two tiny dots in the vast forever.
It was extraordinary visiting England and seeing children in short pants with no central heating. What did they do in the winter? Cricket, it turned out. My father imported a cricket team once, and held an exhibition game. It never caught on – the Norwegians thought it was too boring.
My childhood paradise was a whirl of powder snow and empty white spaces, floodlit trails in the forest, snow crunching under boots, and horses breathing clouds into the frozen air. And always an abundance of snow.
Ingie has been an energetic figure in Alpine and Nordic ski training for fifty years, managing the British Ladies’ B team and later the British Children’s Team, training the British Team, the Green Jackets for Operation Snow Queen and the 21 SAS Territorial Army.
Her true dedication to racing can be seen through her role over the last 40 years as the Racing and Training Manager for the Downhill Only Club, a ski racing club founded in 1925, that runs race training camps and, over the years, has provided more members of British teams than any other club.