Basics of Orienteering –

Before, I thought cross-country skiing was a niche sport. Any self-proclaimed Nordic skier can relate to telling someone they’re a “skier” and automatically assuming you’re talking about downhill skiing. And if you take the trouble to explain what type of skier you really are, chances are they still have no idea what you’re talking about. Now combine Nordic skiing with the similar niche sport (though better known in Europe) of orienteering and you have a very special sport – ski orienteering.

An athlete navigates harsh conditions in Kääriku, Estonia for the 2021 World Ski Orienteering Championships (Photo: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

Orienteering is something that has always interested me. I like the added intrigue to a running race of having to find specific points along the way. It helps that I consider myself proficient with maps and directions. However, I knew very little about the realities of orienteering until I moved to Europe and discovered the world of orienteering. For readers who haven’t heard of orienteering, races don’t have a marked route or set distance. Instead, races involve athletes navigating with a compass and detailed maps of an area to find waypoints in the landscape and complete a course. I should note that the sum total of my orienteering experience had been using hand-drawn maps and cryptic clues to find points around my hometown during the team’s fall workouts. arid lands.

Turns out that’s not how the pros do it.

Ski orienteering includes the same elements as traditional foot orienteering, but is done on Nordic skis. an official orientation map is quite detailed and in addition to marking the route with the checkpoints that must be visited, it also provides detailed information on terrain such as hills, ground surface, and notable features such as rocks, logs, or cliffs.

An old orienteering map of Kääriku Estonia from the European Orienteering Championships 2006, the map does not show checkpoints.

The race route is only revealed to competitors at the start, which means they cannot plan their route in advance. These events place great importance on the ability to navigate. the definition of ski orienteering says: “Skiing and sailing skills should be tested in such a way that sailing skill is the deciding factor. In ski orienteering, the course must be done mainly on skis. Parts may be completed on foot, in which case the competitor must wear appropriately sized skis, ski poles and ski boots.

Winner of the 2021 World Pursuit Championship, Audun Heimdal (NOR) consults his map on the go. (Photo: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

Ski orienteering is both mentally and physically challenging, requiring mathematical and spatial abilities and short-term memory while performing the physical demands of a cross-country ski race. Compared to a traditional cross-country ski competition, ski orienteering takes place on technically difficult, narrow and soft tracks. Athletes are required to read a map and make route choices while maintaining ski speed.

Read on the move (Photo: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

As in other Nordic skiing competitions, ski orienteering races can be started in intervals, en masse or in pursuit. Instead of distance, events are ranked by time as competitors will take different routes to finish. For example, the long distance events should last between 85 and 95 minutes, while the medium distance event should last between 40 and 45 minutes. The courses are designed to require a range of different orientation techniques and require concentration throughout the course, requiring detailed map reading and frequent decision making. As athletes find each checkpoint, marked by a distinct flag, they use an electronic scoring system to track their progress along the course.

A Finnish athlete passes a checkpoint, scanning his moving GPS. (Photo: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

The sport of orienteering native at the end of the 19th century in Sweden and has a long history in Scandinavia. What began as military training in land navigation became a competitive sport for military officers and then civilians. The first contest open to the public was held in Norway in 1897.

The Ski Orienteering World Cup started in 1989 with the first event held in Austria. In 2012, the first stop of the World Cup season was held in Lake Tahoe, California, despite the lack of American competitors in the sport. While most of last winter’s events were canceled due to COVID, the Ski Orienteering World Championships took place in Estonia and brought together participants from 17 countries. Looking at the World ranking list it seems that, as in cross-country skiing, Russians and Scandinavians dominate. Among the men, the top three athletes are all Russian, followed by three Norwegians and a Swede. On the women’s side, Daisy Kudre of Estonia leads the standings, followed by Sweden and Russia.

Tight corners and little snow make for difficult conditions in Estonia (Photo: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

the Orienteering season 2021/22 will begin in December with the Winter Universiade in Switzerland, followed by the World Cups in Austria and the World Championships in Finland. If you’re looking to spice up your Nordic routine and try something new, ski orienteering might be for you.

Juniors race for the line in Kääriku Estonia at the World Junior Championships (Picture: WSOC 2021 Facebook)

Dino J. Dotson