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The elusive Greenland speed ski record: Three Norwegian dark horses

Posted: May 29, 2012 09:02 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) They nearly broke the Greenland speed ski record this month with an impressive performance thwarted at the end by Greenland’s infamous high winds; only 70 km to go and enough time to bag the record. Surely the men with so much speed and energy should be in their 20’s or 30’s, one would think. But no, they are in their “best age”, they told ExWeb: 50-something.

Norwegians Viggo Sandgrav (50), Jan Gunnar Næss (51) and Geir Kristoffersen (53) left Point 660 near Kangerlussuaq on May 5 and ended on the east coast 9 days and 18 hours later; with the 10-year-old, 8 days 9 hours record over the classic, horizontal 540 km route still intact.

The team

Who are these men, what is their previous experience and what was their game plan on Greenland, ExplorersWeb wants to know? Jan Gunnar explains, “Viggo and I had no expedition experience; Geir has done Norway along on skis over 60 days and therefore had good experience especially with the camp.”

“For us, advice and tips from Sjur Mødre and Svante Strand were important. Svante gave us tips on sleds, skis, diet and rest intervals.”

“Sjur has crossed the Greenland ice 12 times and has given us the necessary input on the selection of equipment and how to minimize the weight of what we took with us. We also navigated by Sjur's points, which was important to get the shortest and easiest route.”

“Geir had primary responsibility for the camp, stoves and navigation, which was also his strengths,” adds Jan. “Viggo is an artisan and made the sleds and fixed what we had done with various adaptations of the equipment (tents, ski poles, sleds, etc). I am the initiator, a former cross country runner and was responsible for skis, pulled the heaviest, sometimes two sleighs, co-navigator and was the motivator!”

Bad start

Jan Gunnar, Viggo and Geir departed from Point 660 with the intention to cover 45 km on the first day, but the weather and ice conditions were not on their side. “It was rainy, wet, and a lot of blue ice. It was difficult and often impossible to ski. We have used ice spikes for 30-40% of the day,” says Jan Gunnar to ExplorersWeb.

“After 17 hours extremely hard work, we got through, but only 22 km from the start. According to plan we should have been about 45 km away. We had a bad start.”

Day 2 the struggle continues. Jan explains, “The problem in day 2 was not the weather, sun and up to 10 degrees Celsius, but wet snow. This gave us very poor skiing conditions. We could not go fast, so we had to continue to compensate for the low speed by running for several hours.”

After warm and sunny conditions on days 2 and 3, the team had to deal with two days of white-out conditions. “Day 6 and 7 were okay overcast weather,” says Jan. “Then the storm!”

Tent bounded and crawling outside

Ready to start their final push with 70km to go and an ample 16 hours to finish, they had to stay put because of the storm. “We were obviously very disappointed and I must admit I was very sorry,” recalls Jan.

“However, it had been agreed beforehand that if we were in doubt in relation to weather or hazards, we should not take unnecessary chances. The storm was so strong that we had trouble standing. To put in place the tent, we had to crawl.”

“Time in the tent went quickly. Even though the wind blew a lot and it was very noisy, we were so tired after only sleeping for 3-4 hours per night the last week, so we went to sleep without a problem!”

With the wind still blowing strong on Day 8, the men tried to walk again in the morning to the finish in 8 days, “but we had to stop after a few hours and go camping again in a storm (we've certainly got plenty of experience at rigging camp in a storm),” says Jan to ExWeb.

When they reached the finish line at the end of the glacier, at a cottage above Isortoq fjord, Jan recalls, “We were influenced by not beating the record but happy because we know that we could have set a new record if the weather had been with us!”

Daily routine and speed

Every day from Day 1 to 7 they woke up at 3:00 am and started skiing at 04:30.

Skiing sessions were 50 min with 10 minutes resting, drinking and eating in between for 8 hours. Then Viggo, Jan Gunnar, and Geir took a 1 hour lunch break while sleeping on their Arctic bedding for 30 minutes. [Ed note: Arctic bedding is a bag containing each skier’s spread out mattresses and sleeping bag.]

“Then a new 8-hours skiing with 50/10 rhythm,” Jan continued. “At 21:30 or 22:00 we rigged our camp, made dinner, melt snow for water and go to sleep at 23:30.”

Their speed was approx. 4 km per hour up to 6-7 km per hour, says Jan. “During Day 2-7 we skied an average of 74 km per day. Day 6 and 7 were the longest with about 80 km.”

Jan explains about the temperatures, “We had wet snow the first 2.5 days, then it became colder as we reached the summit where it was about 20 degrees below zero in the morning.”

Equipment

The team used custom-built sleds with skis made by Viggo. Jan explains, “The skis were fastened to the sled with aluminum brackets. This worked very well. They were very easy to move. The weight per sled was about 35 kg at the start. We had all the baggage in the sled, but had a backpack with us in the sled.”

“The skis we used and those on the sled were Fischer Superlight, clean ride cross-country skis without steel edges. All skis were prepared with Kuzmin.”

For breakfast the men had a ready-mixed oatmeal mix, and a second breakfasts for some days, says Jan. “Also a Herbalife associated bags with Herbalife bars, crackers, nuts, dried fruits and more. Each bag had from 7,000 to 10,000 calories. For lunch we ate either a second breakfast or a dinner. Dinner was the Real Field meal with different flavors.”

Advice

They now have the experience, will they try again, ExWeb wants to know, and what advice do they have for other skiers?

Jan answers, “If we are going to try again, we will consider going from east to west (i.e. the opposite way than this time). In addition, we will bring more variety of food. Equipment was generally good so we will use the same again, except for the boots. However, we have no plans to try again!”

“Our advice to others who want to try is probably primarily using the easiest possible equipment, focusing on the sled weight and have effective and structured intervals, skiing and rest.”

Jan Gunnar Næss and Viggo Sandgrav are neighbors in Lørenskog outside Oslo. They exercise a lot, particular skiing and cycling. They also have children in the same class at school. Viggo is originally a Danish citizen, but resides in Norway for the past 25 years. Geir Kristoffersen lives in Alta in Northern Norway and is a good friend of Jan Gunnar although they live far apart.

The current record for the west-east / east-west route, more or less routing along the Arctic Circle, was set in late August, early September 2002 by three Norwegians, Trond Hilde, Ivar Tollefsen and Odd Harald Hauge. They got to their start point at the Nagtivit Glacier (east coast) by boat, started skiing up the Glacier and across the Inland Ice, and finished at Point 660 in 8 days and 9 hours.

Sjur Mørdre crossed Antarctica Oct - Dec 1990 from Berkner Island to Ross Island, skied from Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole in 1992 and crossed Greenland 12 times. Svante Strand skied to the South Pole in 2009/10, assisting Devon McDiarmid with leading an Indian Army team from Hercules Inlet to the Pole.


#Polar #interview



Skiing sessions were 50 min with 10 minutes breaks for 8 hours. Then Viggo, Jan Gunnar, and Geir took a 1 hour lunch break while sleeping for 30 minutes before continuing for another 8 hours. In the image just after finish in Isortoq, Jan Gunnar Næss, Geir Kristoffersen and Viggo Sandgrav.
courtesy Jan Gunnar Naes
"The storm was so strong that we had trouble standing. To put in place the tent, we had to crawl.” ‘Before’ image: Departure in Copenhagen, from left, Viggo, Jan Gunnar, and Geir.
courtesy Jan Gunnar Naes
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