New goals for Birken legend

Octogenarian Gunnar Tronsmoen plans to double pole entire distance from Rena to Lillehammer in this year’s race

Photo: Alexander Nordby / NRK  Gunnar Tronsmoen is practicing to double pole the Birkebeinerrennet race this year.

Photo: Alexander Nordby / NRK
Gunnar Tronsmoen is practicing to double pole the Birkebeinerrennet race this year.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

He may already have 33 Birkebeinerrennet class victories, but Gunnar Tronsmoen has new goals for the long-distance cross-country skiing race this year; the 86-year-old from Alvdal plans to use the double-poling technique for the entire 54 kilometers (33.5 miles) from Rena to Lillehammer.

In addition to winning his class 33 out of the 35 times he has skied Birkebeinerrennet, Tronsmoen boasts around 70 gold medals from the veteran world championships, which he has participated in almost every year since 1988. This year, however, Trons­moen will be dropping the world championships to focus solely on his double-poling training for the legendary Norwegian race.

On March 19, Tronsmoen will be among the oldest participants and certainly the oldest to attempt to double pole the whole 54 kilometers.

Double poling is a difficult but effective cross-country skiing technique where both poles are used simultaneously, and the technique is becoming more and more common in modern skiing, especially among professionals. Since the skis are not pushed against the snow—only the poles are—no kick wax is used.

“In the old days we went much further forward with the arms and went further back. Now we bow properly in the elbows and use the upper body more,” said Tronsmoen as he demonstrated his improved technique.

The idea to attempt the race using this technique came to Tronsmoen after Petter Elliassen won the race last year without using kick wax.

“It was almost a joke. I started saying that it wouldn’t be any problem to double pole the Birkebeinerrennet,” he said to NRK. “So then I thought, yeah, I better do it then.”

Photo: Alexander Nordby / NRK

Photo: Alexander Nordby / NRK

“Double poling Birken is something that I must do before I die, and now I’m almost 87, so I’d better hurry,” he said to the organizer of the race.

He started practicing the technique in the summer on roller skis and has maintained a vigorous training regimen since. In the weeks leading up to the big race, he will focus on double poling uphill.

“An average exerciser would have trouble completing Birkebeinerrennet with double poling, but I think Tronsmoen is actually going to make it. He is tenacious, has it in his head, and has trained a lot over a very long time,” says NRK’s cross-country ski expert commentator Fredrik Aukland.

And even though Tronsmoen is attempting such a difficult feat, he still has his sights set on the gold for his 34th class victory. “I don’t train to be number two,” he said.

“I will manage to get over the mountain. The goal is to reach the finish in Lillehammer at around four and a half hours. Maybe a little faster if the conditions are excellent,” said Tronsmoen to local newspaper Østlendingen.

Long-distance skier Øystein “Pølsa” Pettersen—who is also working hard on his own double poling—is amazed by the abilities and stamina of the 86-year-old.

“This is totally awesome! I have strong faith in Tronsmoen,” he said. “But for us who have thought that it will be nice to ski with kick wax again when we get older, this is terrible. We must double pole until we are 90!”

Tronsmoen certainly is setting the bar high—for skiers of any age!

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.