A Burnham-On-Sea skiing enthusiast has this week become the first Brit to complete the world’s longest cross country ski trek.
Over the past month Tony Gore, 65, has taken part in an incredible 33-day, 1,700km trip on skis from Virolahti on the south coast of Finland, close to the Russian border, all the way to the Arctic Ocean in Norway.
His epic “trek of a lifetime” started on 3rd March and finished on Thursday April 4th after a gruelling month in a group with 30 skiers. His daily distances were around 50-60km, with the longest days being 70-80km.
Speaking to Burnham-On-Sea.com, Tony says: “Skiing for 8-10 hours a day, every day, is hard.”
“Consuming enough calories is difficult, and every day is a relentless cycle of breakfast, pack, start skiing usually around 6am or 7am, then ski and snack all day, snack at the end, prepare skis, dinner, sleep, then get up and do it all over again.”
“Normal cross country skiing on machine-prepared tracks is very safe. However, we were skiing on tracks that are much less well-prepared and much narrower, and frequently icy. Sometimes it might be an icy road, where there is no track. We lost two skiers early on to broken bones.”
“Not being a good skier, I have learned how to fall over the years, which is just as well, considering how often it happens. Many of us are strapped up for muscle strains. The determination of some people to keep going through pain and adversity, even when a bout of flu struck, is extraordinary.”
He adds: “Dangers lurk, especially on the lakes. There was heavy snow not long after the lakes started to freeze and the snow insulated them, reducing the thickness of the ice. What then happens when you get a warm spell is that meltwater settles on top of the ice.”
“Below the snow, and it turns the snow slushy from underneath and so without warning, it can collapse into water. We had to abandon the original route and plans because there was 60cm (2 feet) of water between the snow and ice. In one case, the only possible alternative route was through the border zone, but our initial permission was revoked by higher authorities.”
“Some of the areas we skied through are remote – one two-day section of more than 100km had absolutely no human habitation, and we had to be picked up part-way and taken to our accommodation and brought back to continue the next day.”
“Wolves live in this part, but are shy; the bears were still in hibernation, but there were plenty of tracks of lynx, wolverines, otters, beavers, foxes, rabbits, grouse and others.”
“Then there are the challenges of the technicalities of cross-country skis. They have to both grip and glide, across a wide range of conditions. In the UK, without the opportunity to test and practice waxing, it is difficult to gain that knowledge and experience, making it harder still.”
“You have to embrace “sisu” – the Finnish art of being laid back and ‘what will be, will be’. Saunas help and here in the UK we have no idea of the variety of saunas that exist and their benefits.”
He adds: “There was a certain amount of curiosity wherever I went – a long distance British cross country skier is a bit of a rarity! So it has been hard, mentally as well as physically, but as the saying goes ‘no gain without pain’!”
The trip started on the south coast of Finland and in the middle section he and fellow skiers followed the border with Russia.
He adds: “This is where the Winter War of 1939 – 1941 was fought. For some of the Finns, this was quite sobering as their fathers and grandfathers fought in that war. We stayed one night in a former border guard station where it all started.”
“Staying mostly in bunkhouses, old schools and village halls, we got to know a lot more about real life in Finland away from many of the tourist spots.”
Asked whether he feels it was all worth it, he says: “Absolutely – it was a trip of a lifetime, and it shows that there are still plenty of challenges around and it is mostly applying yourself to it and making it happen.”
How Tony got started in cross-country skiing
Tony explains to Burnham-On-Sea.com why he got started in the sport: “I accidentally got involved in long distance cross country skiing. I was looking for an easy trek but the organiser of the Border to Border ski event in Finland convinced me in 2010 that despite never having skied more than 35km in a day, I could ski this if I was reasonably fit. So I did the 450km in 7 days!”
“In 2016, some younger Finnish friends said they would do a longer trip – 720km in 13 days. So, not to be outdone, I did both that year, and then decided I really couldn’t stop without doing the ultimate trip. It only takes 30 people and runs every two years.”
“That gave me 18 months to improve my fitness. Training is hard because we don’t often have snow in Burnham. Mostly I keep fit by running; thanks to ParkRun and Burnham Harriers for motivation and especially the Harriers cross training sessions that help prevent injury. The other good source of training has been BOS Pilot Gigs as rowing is good for the upper body strength and a lot of the Finnish skiers row their equivalent of our gigs.”