British skier Andrew Musgrave shot to fame in Norway this January by winning the freestyle sprint at the Norwegian Championships, in what is essentially the national sport of Norway, cross-country skiing. But this was no flash-in-the-pan.
Andrew moved to Norway four years ago and has improved dramatically year-on-year. He lives right here in Trondheim and as soon as he got back from Sochi, he was kind enough to meet with me and chat about the sport, the Olympics, and of course, his life in Norway.
You’re British. Why cross-country skiing?
It’s a long story! My dad worked for an oil company so I ended up living for five years in Alaska from the age of 5 to 10. Bizarrely enough when we moved back to Scotland the place we moved to, Huntly, has one of the two cross-country ski clubs in the whole country.
I wasn't any good at skiing but I was looking for a way to meet people so decided to try it out. Through the ski club I got more and more involved. Cross-country skiing is only really popular in Aviemore and Huntly because the clubs are there, outside of those clubs it's difficult to get into the sport in Britain.
When do you decide to seriously pursue the sport?
Up until I was 15-16 I wasn’t really a racer, but once I reached 17, 18 I would do a trip or two abroad to Austria or Norway to race against other Europeans. That’s when I started to do a lot better. When I finished school I took a gap year focused fully on skiing.
After my gap year I had a place at Bath Uni but being on snow for a full winter made such a massive difference that I managed to come in the top 10 junior championships. I decided after that to sack off my place at uni! I was invited to train with the Norwegian ski school at Hovden and that was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. It's basically been an extended gap year since then!
What are you doing in Trondheim?
I spent one year in Hovden and a couple of years in Lillehammer just basically full-time skiing with a few language courses so I could apply to university in Norway. I passed that autumn 2012 and started studying Civil Engineering here at NTNU.
At the moment skiing is definitely my priority! Most semesters I’ve been doing 50% so taking two courses and with the Olympics this semester I’ve just taken one course so it’s not been too draining at all!
What do you think of Trondheim?
It’s awesome, I couldn’t think of a better place to live. Trondheim is not a big city by any means but there's everything you need here. It’s a really good student town and its so easy to get out into the ski trails or the mountains. It’s perfect for me.
Even with almost no snow in Trondheim this winter?
To be honest I haven’t really been here that much. In the winter I’m away travelling so much. From the start of December until after the Olympics I wasn’t in Trondheim for a single day. This is my first week back so it’s really good to be back home and not living out of a suitcase.
What was it like to represent your country at the Olympics?
I was really young (18) at Vancouver which is young for a cross-country skier so that was more as a learning experience, I wasn’t expected to do anything there. This time I went in feeling I was a worthy competitor and with a good day would be fighting amongst the top group. It’s an awesome experience.
I remember watching the Atlanta 96 Olympics and it's a bit surreal to think back and remember watching all those people on TV and here I am now, one of them! I had a bit of a terrible time in Sochi and didn’t race as fast as I could, but even so it was a great experience.
Describe winning the Norwegian Championships?
That was really cool, its a big thing to win the Norwegian Championships. There was a bit of media coverage back home because it was in the run-up to the Olympics and I beat Norwegians who were medal favourites for the Olympic Sprint, so suddenly I was being talked about as someone who could possibly take a medal. It was good for the sport to get some coverage and maybe a few more people will be interested in trying it out.
Any advice for a beginner? 🙂
It depends. If you’re in Norway then you just get your skis on and plod around. The first few days you spend more time on your hands, knees, and butt than you do on the skis but after a few days it gets easier.
In Britain, roller skiing is the way to try it out. There are actually a few places to try it out, I know there’s a guy in London who runs roller ski courses and at the club in Huntly too. (rollerski.co.uk for info)
How did you find learning Norwegian?
I found it easier than French at school! I think I was lucky because when i came to Norwya i lived in a house with 15 Norwegians which forced me to learn the language. I was so immersed in the culture so i found it fairly easy. If you come to Norway and want to learn the language then you have to spend as much time with Norwegians as possible and you have to tell them to stop speaking English to you because they love to practice it with a native speaker!
I use Norwegian most of the day. My girlfriend is Norwegian and I race with a professional Norwegian team so all my teammates and coaches are Norwegian speakers.
A huge thank you to Andrew for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk! You can follow the progress of all Britain's cross-country skiers at British Nordic.