Connecting to the Natural World with Nordic Skis and a Passport

This is a summary of a presentation made at Topsham Public Library on February 25, 2020, as part of CREA’s Fourth Tuesday series.

Tyler DeAngelis needs to get outdoors. This much was apparent from his above-titled presentation at CREA’s Fourth Tuesday series at the Topsham Public Library on February 25.

Tyler used a captivating mix of still photos, video, websites, and music to describe his overseas travel and, by extension, his approach to the outdoors. He spent the winters of 2016 and 2018 racing and playing on Nordic skis across Europe and beyond.

Tyler views nordic skiing as a bridge that connects him – and many others –  to the natural world. In Norway, he discovered that there are more ski trails than roads in winter. In the Dolomites of Italy, a race course winds up the length of a valley, then returns, ending on Main Street, where residents swarm outside to offer racers food and drink and cheer them on. The sport brings people together and it brings them outside.

The 90 km Vassalopet in Sweden attracts 16,000 racers and (similarly) finishes on Main Street which is covered with snow for a week in preparation for the race. During this week, countless events take place outside on the snow-covered Main Street, bringing people outside in winter to celebrate together.

In Oslo, Norway, Nordic skiers on the subway is a common sight. They take the subway to the edge of town where they can ski onto 1500 km of free ski trails.

For Tyler, hard work and nature go hand in hand. He relishes physical challenge, but takes the most pleasure in being active outdoors. If he’s going to push himself to the limit, he wants to do it in nature. He described the Birkebeiner, a 54 km race in Norway, that re-enacts the spiriting away of the one year-old heir to the Norwegian throne to protect him from an interloper. Every racer is required to carry 3.5 kg backpack – the weight of the infant.

The elite racers are very competitive, like the young man behind Tyler who warmed up with an impressive (and intimidating) array of one-leg pushups, tricep presses, and more. Yet, after the race, there is terrific camaraderie among racers, even the aforementioned young man, despite finishing after Tyler.

Tyler thinks of skis as a tool for exploring and appreciating the environment. He described his own need to ‘get into the woods’ and the ease with which he can do that on skis in winter.

He admires the Norwegian ‘Right to Roam’ – a legal code under which people are allowed to roam wherever they wish (on other people’s lands) as long as they are respectful. Communes (the equivalent of our municipalities) can put ski trails on anyone’s property. Tyler showed countless photos and videos of beautifully groomed trails passing by farmhouses, through fields and woods.

Tyler and his travel buddy raced on weekends and played in the snow during the week. They climbed mountains on mountaineering skis, explored remote areas fluffy with new powder, and skied miles of groomed trails running from village to village. Go-Pro videos of Tyler and his buddy exuberantly swishing through untouched fresh snow made most in the audience yearn to pack up their skis and head for the mountains.

Tyler finished with some sobering, but unavoidable, thoughts on environmental issues he encountered during his travels. The Nordic ski community has discovered that the most common waxes (PFAS) are ‘forever’ chemicals that accumulate in the food web. Even at low levels, PFAS waxes are adversely affecting the reproduction and hormones of nature’s creatures and are likely harmful to human lungs during the waxing process. Collegiate and other organizations are beginning to ban their use, but people should be aware of their impacts.

Tyler also talked about the impact of climate change on snow conditions in Europe. He had to change his plans numerous times due to lack of snow – in parts of the world where lack of snow is very unusual. He showed many photos of snow-covered race tracks (man-made snow) surrounded by bare earth. Many areas are making snow to meet demand and cultural expectation, but snowmaking is energy intensive. In one area, the Swedes are making snow to preserve a rapidly melting glacier. Yikes.

Park parkTyler’s presentation reinforced the point that there are countless ways to experience and enjoy the natural world. CREA hopes you have found your pathway into nature!