This Land of Snow
Anders Morley skis across Canada with Norwegian inspiration
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Though named Anders, Anders Morley is not Norwegian, but his cross-country skiing journey across Canada had numerous Norwegian references in This Land of Snow: A Journey Across the North in Winter. The book is a memoir of his solo trek in 2012-2013, when he was in his early 30s.
Anders grew up in New Hampshire. His father got the four Morley boys interested in skiing, but it was Anders who developed a lifetime passion for skiing, particularly cross-country.
“To this day, I have a hard time thinking of skiing as a sport and have felt self-conscious the few times I’ve skied in prepared tracks among the athletic and sleek-suited crowd that frequents Nordic centers. For me, skiing is just the way you walk when there’s snow on the ground. It’s walking in cursive, and I love to walk.”
He met his Italian wife while studying in Germany, and they moved to Italy. He wanted a challenge and at the time, he felt his marriage was strained.
It didn’t occur to me how much advanced preparation he had to do. This wasn’t a matter of strapping on skis and shushing off. He had to have a tent, food, and other provisions. He pulled them on a sled.
The skis were designed by a Norwegian company that was familiar with building skis for long trips and different conditions. The length was shorter than normal cross-country skis and the width close to alpine skis. At each tip was a picture of Roald Amundsen.
“These dimensions gave them the right balance of maneuverability and stability for mixed conditions. They were moderately cambered, an important feature of ski design that gives users more or less spring each time they lift their feet, and also had a modest sidecut, the thinning at the waist typical of alpine skis, which makes the skis easier to control on downhill turns. Unlike most cross-country skis, my skis had metal edges, making them more responsive to aggressive footwork. Finally, two invisible slits in the bottom of each ski permitted me to attach the half-length skins I had just put on. These short climbing skins were a unique accessory—and a relatively new invention—that gave me some of the grip of full-length skins while leaving the skis more of their natural glide…It was a relief to be moving so much weight without feeling like I was being pushed into the ground by the sum of my belongings…It was still 140 pounds, but now at last I was skiing.”
Anders might not see a human for miles and hours. He wrote metaphors about the snow, wilderness, winter, and life; his means of survival; the people he met along the way, and his pontificating of his purpose before the trip and after.
When a truck or snowmobile would come along, they always stopped. When Anders would tell them what he was doing, they would invariably say, “Are you crazy?”
“After the transaction, he said, ‘So are you looking to kill yourself? That’s some lonely country you’re going into, and it’s damn cold. I mean cold. You know what cold is? You ever feel 50 below? I have. And I use a wall tent and a woodstove. It’s still cold.’”
Ahead of the journey he developed a network of people in towns who could be responsible for handling his next delivery of provisions and with whom he might stay when he got there. So, he had to estimate when he would get there. Thanks for the internet.
Though he was alone for the majority of the journey, his interactions with the people in the towns, their hospitality, assistance was the best part for me. You get some insight to why they live where they do. A few were Norwegian or had Norwegian ancestry. In these towns, there were also interviews with newspapers or radio stations and sometimes talks with students. There was a hint of sadness for me thinking the likelihood of him never seeing these people again.
There was a running battle about who the better explorer was, Fridtjof Nansen or Roald Amundsen. There were discussions about Norwegian society and the winter-adaptablity of Norwegians.
“What I needed now was more cheerful company. So, I decided it was time my skis had names. My left ski I dubbed Jackrabbit, after ‘Jackrabbit’ Johannsen, one of my lesser heroes, who is credited with having introduced cross-country skiing to eastern North America. He was a spirited man who lived to be 111 years old and skied to the end. On my right foot was Fridtjof, named for Fridtjof Nansen, a major hero of mine. Although Nansen never reached the pole he aimed for as his younger contemporary Amundsen did, I’ve always admired him because he realized there were more important things than exploring on skis and went on to distinguish himself as a scientist and to become one of the most important humanitarians of the 20th century.”
Anders was, at times, too philosophical. While there is a map of the trip at the beginning of the book, it would have been helpful to have the progress on the map at different junctures. Even though pictures would not have looked as good on a Kindle, it would have been great to see what he saw. Most of us will never experience it.
This Land of Snow: A Journey Across the North in Winter
By Anders Morley
National Outdoor Book Award 2021
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 21, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.