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When people talk about skiing, they usually refer to the alpine variety, where sportsmen turn their tips downhill and rip across slopes. While that provides quite the adrenaline rush, little else beats cross-country skiing when it comes to truly appreciating a wintry countryside.
The question remains, though, where is the best cross-country skiing? The answer comes easily in the form of Olympic medals. With more Winter Olympic gold, silver and bronze than any other country - as well as the most in cross-country skiing - Norway is the sport's obvious home. That's none too surprising, given that skiing finds its origins in the frozen expanses of the Nordic nation, and that the word ski derives from Old Norse. Travelers looking for a cross-country skiing vacation should book their flights for Oslo.
Born of necessity
It seems clear that the Norwegians would be so good at the sport because it was an invention of necessity. According to the International Olympic Committee, skis were a way of hunting game and collecting firewood throughout the winter. Given that communities were once small and isolated, skis became a way of quick transport between towns. It also developed into a mode of transportation for Norwegian army units. By the 19th century it had become a sport, and made its official debut in the Olympics in 1924.
Today, Norway offers hundreds of miles of trails. A jury of famed skiers recently named the town of Sjusjøen in Hedmark county as the top spot for cross-country skiers, citing plenty of varied track through forests and over mountains, according to Norway's official website. The crown jewel is the Birkebeiner Trail from Rena to Lillehammer, which intersperses downhill sections with flat, expansive terrain for an afternoon of challenging but rewarding exercise and sightseeing. However, that's just one of many skiable regions from Trondheim to Svalbard.
One of the most convenient places to go cross-country skiing is Oslo, the capital city of Norway. Its nearby forests boast 1,600 miles of trails as well as dozens of cabins for evening retreats. The best part about Oslo skiing, however, is its proximity to city life. Getting to trails is as easy as hopping on public transit. When it's time for a break, travelers can explore all the city has to offer, from historic marketplaces to hip boutiques.
Look down in wonder at Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster and St Paul’s Cathedral from your glass-walled pod on the London Eye, then gaze out over the Louvre and the Champs-Elysees from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The scent of rich pine forests lingers in the breeze as the 13th-century ruins of Turaida Castle are revealed before your eyes in the lush Gauja River valley in a medieval sanctuary untouched by the march of time.
The aroma of dark roasted Viennese coffee hangs thick in the air as you tread the cobblestone laneways and bask in the elegant architecture, atmospheric cafes and refined restaurants in one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe.
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