When Cross Country Skiing Becomes an Extreme Sport

I began my Thursday as any other day- I brewed a pot of coffee, showered, and got myself ready for the day. I would be visiting a rural school in Nittylahti, an area about 15km outside of Joensuu. I was looking forward to not only visiting this school but also to presenting about the USA and my school to a few English classes.


We headed straight for the teacher’s room when we arrived, where I met several of the teachers that make up this small school and was offered a cup of coffee. I am becoming accustomed to the coffee that is always flowing at the schools, and the prescribed “coffee breaks” throughout the school day. Teachers actually sit for a few minutes, chat, and rejuvenate themselves for their next lesson. Most of the time teachers seem very relaxed, and not like they are rushing from one thing to the next. I know this is something that I have often talked about with my American colleagues at home, and have worked hard to implement, although I will admit it gets challenging at times. Not only is it important for our own mental well-being, but what about our students? How many times throughout the day do we actually allow our kids a break?

Here in Finland in the primary schools, the breaks are taken very seriously, and I have never seen a student held in for a break for any misbehavior. This is not something in the culture. Students have 45 minute lessons, and a 15 minute break in between each lesson. There are times that lessons are doubled, but then so are the breaks (i.e. a 90 minute lesson followed by a 30 minute break). I have to wonder how this would work in the United States, where recesses are being cut down to once, maybe twice a day, and are often indoors. What would happen if we took our students outside every hour? Would we “take time to gain time”, as the saying goes?

We spent our day at Nittylahden koulu visiting math, crafts and English lessons. In crafts, the 5th graders were working on building circuits and soldering their circuit boards. It was neat to see how independent these students were, and how the teacher guided them to troubleshoot places where their circuit was not working.

In English class, we were celebrities for the period. I was able to give a presentation about the US, Colorado, and some of the neat projects the students at Colorado STEM Academy have done. Most of these students had never seen a 3D printer, nor seen what they can create, so I passed around some of our students’ creations. Oohs and aahs were heard all around! And, of course, the students couldn’t resist asking us about the newly elected Mr. Trump.

Presenting in English class

The highlight of my day came when Jaakko, one of the 5th grade teachers, popped his head in my class and asked if I wanted to join his class for their PE lesson, which would be cross country skiing about 8km in the forest behind the school. I had joked with him earlier in the day and told him if he found me some skis to borrow (I didn’t have mine with me), I’d go with the class. This motivated him and his students to find me some skis, and I learned that you don’t joke with a Finn.

Armed with boots that were a little too big, skis, and poles, Jakko took me to the track near the school to show me how to skate-ski. In cross country skiing, there are 2 different styles of skiing- classic and skate style. In classic, you use the motion we typically see with your legs together in a running-type motion. In the skate style, you are doing just what it sounds like- skating as if you were on ice. You wax your skis differently based on which type of skiing you are doing (and also based on the temperature and conditions of the snow), and since mine didn’t have any wax, it would be easier for me to skate-ski. I got the hang of it a little, and Jaakko decided we were ready to hit the trail.


The teacher part of me got a little nervous skiing with 26 5th graders, who were all skiing at different paces and strewn about on different sections of the trail. Most of the kids were ahead of us, and not all were in sight, but they knew the trail they were going on, and knew the points in which they should wait for the teacher. Yet another example of the trust that is allowed to the students, and my worry went away. It was nice to ski on a new trail , and this trail had a few more hills than the one I was used to skiing on. Not a problem for someone who has been on skis since she was 5, however it still amazes me how different cross country skis are compared to downhill skis, especially when stopping!

Things were going well and we were about 1km from the school. We had rounded up most of the kids and they were waiting just up ahead to cross the road as a class. There was one section of the trail that went through a tunnel underneath the road, and with the warm temperatures we had all week, a lot of the snow in this section had melted away, revealing the dirt and gravel underneath. There was just enough snow on the edge of the trail, so I aimed my skis straight and headed through the tunnel.

In a matter of seconds, I was skiing down the hill and underneath the bridge when my ski decided to have a mind of its own. Instead of staying on the snow, I hit just a tiny part of the dirt and WHAM. Face plant in the dirt and gravel. The other thing you need to know about cross country skis that is different from downhill skis is that when you go over something that is not snow, like a tree branch or patch of dirt, you stop. Immediately. And it can be very easy to lose your balance if you are not paying attention.

With bruised knees, and blood running down my face, I was quite a sight! Fortunately, I was not alone, and only had a kilometer left to go. More worried about leaving the students by themselves too long, I got back up and went as quickly (and cautiously) as I could back towards the school. I definitely earned several stares walking into the school, and didn’t see the extent of my injuries until I went to the bathroom to wash up. For those of you who have every had road rash or taken a spill trail running, you can probably relate to the difficulties of getting dirt and gravel out of a wound, so it was off to the doctor I went. All the teachers were so nice and helpful in getting me to the doctor so she could take a look and make sure nothing else had been injured in my fall (as I also hit my tooth and upper lip). After a painful cleaning, some lidocaine, and cutting away of skin, I was bandaged up and able to walk home. We stopped by the store for some gelato for my swollen lip, as we know ice cream is the cure for everything. Not that I’m giving up skiing just yet, but think I’ll take it easy for the next couple days.



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