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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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Focus

Mar 03, 2017

An Interview with Two Young Women Ski Racing 90km at Night

Today, Sofie Jonsson and Malin Andersson will face 90km of cold, dark terrain.

WRITTEN BY

Adelina Storkaas

With a GPS, headlamp and a few PowerBars, they’ll set out on Nattvasan, the first ever nordic ski race at night.

“It’s an amazing feeling gliding through the forest in the dark,” says cross country skier Sofie Jonsson.

But she won’t just take long gliding strides when she sets off in the Swedish winter night on Friday. In snug-fitting clothes and ski boots resembling slippers stuck in feather light skis, she and 1,599 other skiers will face a 90km race, Nattvasa, that is far from light. The weather forecast is calling for minus 6 degrees and cloudy sky and temperature will keep dropping as skiers get further into the night, the darkness fall and muscles start to burn.  

Last year, when the Swede tackled a 90km trail in daylight, she got cramps in both arms and struggled against high winds, bad tracks and snow. However, she kept taking strides on the thin skis to complete the longest Nordic ski race in the world, Vasaloppet.

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Sofie Jonsson cross country skiing. Photograph courtesy of Sofie Jonsson

“It wasn’t that bad endurance-wise,” she says as she recalls the race, “Obviously, I was tired when I crossed the finish line, but I was mostly happy to have kept on fighting despite cramps and bad weather.”

At Nattvasan, the darkness will add to the challenge. She has skied since she was a few years old and is used to the dark winter days in Sweden, but “has never skied 90km at night. It’s like turning the clock, so that will be a challenge.”

While training, she hit the cross country ski tracks in the afternoon and it was often dark, but she didn’t carry a backpack stuffed with first aid kit, GPS, extra batteries, energy bars, water bottles, gloves, shirt and pants. On Friday she will. When she sets off with headlamp at 8:00pm in Sälen towards Mora, one of her best friends, Malin Andersson, will also be by her side.

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Cross country skiers in the tracks between Sälen and Mora. Photograph by Nisse Schmidt/Vasaloppet

“With Nattvasan, it’s especially fun that we’re doing it together. Shared experience is shared joy,” Malin says.

And this night adventure is not a one-man or one-woman show. Only twosomes can set off in the dark and they should stay close enough to see each other throughout the race. When they cross the finish line, the gap between them can’t be bigger than 20 seconds. The teams can help each other along the way: change skis, push each other forward and keep spirits high even when energy levels are running low.

There will only be one check-point. Halfway through the race, they can stop to snack on sweet crepes, blueberry soup and hot coffee. But “there will be less check-points along the race than in the other races. We will have to manage on our own,” says Malin.

Almost eight out of ten skiers at Nattvasan are men, but anyone can hit the tracks and “you don’t have to be an elite athlete or sprinter,” says Sofie.

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Malin Andersson and Sofie Jonsson cross country skiing. Photograph courtesy of Sofie Jonsson

Olympic snowboarder Sara Fischer, seven-time world champion in Enduro Anders Eriksson and previous Vasaloppet champions will be there along with competitors from Sweden, France, America, Iceland and 20 other countries. They have 12 hours to complete the race, but none of them will be crowned the winner.

“This time, our goal is not to ski as fast as possible. It’s all about the adventure, which is quite nice,” says Sofie and adds on a final note, “I think that many people would benefit from that. You don’t have to race after the best time or the fastest speed. It can be equally as fun just to be part of the event.”

You can follow their journey and their initiative WeSki XC to get more girls into the sport on instagram and facebook.

Feature image: Cross country skiers. Photography by Vasaloppet/Nisse Schmidt

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Events

Jul 10, 2018

The 2018 Whitewater Awards: Nouria Newman and Benny Marr take the spoils.

The Whitewater Awards is a gathering of the world’s best kayakers to show off the biggest and best things that have happened in the sport over the past year.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

 To be considered for an award, athletes, photographers, and filmmakers submit media taken over the past year that they believe showcases the best progression in the sport.  

There are sixteen different categories for submission, including separate male and female categories within the “Best of” kayaking categories. Categories include Photographer of the Year, Film of the Year, Expedition of the Year, Best Trick, Best Line, River Stewardship, Grom of the Year, Rider of the Year, along with several others.  Awards are decided upon by a voting process done by the Association of Whitewater Professionals.

This year’s Whitewater Awards was held in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. It was hosted on June 14th, the same weekend as the North Fork Championships, which takes place on the North Fork of the Payette River just outside of Boise.  The North Fork Championship is regarded as one of the hardest kayaking races in the world.

The race takes place on Jacob’s Ladder rapid, which is a rapid so difficult and consequential that most kayakers feel accomplished simply by surviving the rapid, much less racing the rapid. Nouria Newman, a 3-time NFC racer and winner of this year’s Whitewater Awards Female Rider of the Year describes it well,

“The NFC is the hardest race in whitewater kayaking. [Jacob’s Ladder] is a scary, consequential rapid. Running it is challenging, and it only gets harder to race it and make the gates.”

In order to minimize the risk involved in the race, event organizers have developed a strict qualification process for racers. 30 racers will qualify to race Jacob’s Ladder. Ten of them are pre-qualified from placing top ten at the event the year before. Those ten then read numerous athlete applications and vote on the next ten racers who will join them.  The last ten racers are decided through a qualification race on S-Turn rapid, another one of the North Fork’s infamous class V rapids.

Every year on this same weekend in June, kayakers, photographers, and filmmakers from around the world flock to Idaho to celebrate quality whitewater, progression of the sport, and the community that surrounds it. Both the North Fork Championship and the Whitewater Awards had great turnouts of athletes and spectators this year.

John Webster

The finalists of each category in the Whitewater Awards were presented in film format at the Egyptian Theater for the entire audience to view, with the winner being announced live. Winners were presented with an award and expected to give a short speech at the event. The big winners of the night were Nouria Newman and Benny Marr, who were awarded with Line of the Year and Rider of the Year in the female and male categories. Nouria says that voting for the “best” in each category is a challenging process, “…voting is always tricky, (look at both French and U.S. presidents, not too sure if they are really the best available option). And it is also very hard to compare lines and rapids. What’s bigger? What’s harder? I got voted Best Line of the Year with a good line down Parque Jurassic, a long technical rapid, but Rata’s line down Graceland, which is a huge slide, was equally as good, if not better.”

No matter how tricky the voting process can be, Nouria agrees that the Whitewater Awards plays a large role in the progression of the sport, “I think it’s super cool to see what people can do in their kayak, how they push the limit of the sport and how they open new possibilities.”

For more information about the Whitewater Awards, you can visit whitewaterawards.com, you can also follow them on Facebook and on Instagram.

You can follow Nouria on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can follow Benny on Facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo courtesy of Ari Walker

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