The Expedition Amundsen Series: Part 2

Love your ski sled: how a 120-pound woman develops a relationship with the most unruly piece of race gear.

One of my main concerns since Dan and I committed to competing in the Expedition Amundsen, a 62-mile race across Norway’s arctic tundra, is Nordic skiing with a heavily weighted sled. I have become somewhat proficient at hauling my own ass around the mountains, but honestly, add weight to me, and my movement slows monumentally. At 5'6" and 120 pounds on a good day and with lightweight gear, the idea of managing a 98-pound sled has felt, well, worrisome.

So as Dan and I scoured the web for a good sled, we came across a brand called Acapulka. German engineered and based in Norway, they are the only company that focuses primarily on how well the sled glides. While we were in Norway this autumn for a backpacking trip, we found ourselves a few hours outside of Oslo standing in a garage in the woods, talking to an Acapulka engineer in overalls. The garage walls were scattered with posters, postcards, letters, and stickers all addressed to Alex, the engineer, and signed by various Arctic explorers. Needless to say, we were convinced, and knew we found our sleds.

Back home in Colorado, after a few confused moments of assembly, we loaded up the sleds with our gear. We threw some bags of pinto beans in for good measure, bringing the sled weight to 65 pounds. We didn’t plan it that way, but our first time skiing with the weighted sleds ended up being 11 miles on a day with a high temperature of 4℉ and wind gusts of 35 mph. And we only stopped once to eat and drink. A ski tour that normally takes us three hours turned into a six-hour slog. I was completely worked.

"We didn’t plan it that way, but our first time skiing with the weighted sleds ended up being 11 miles on a day with a high temperature of 4℉ and wind gusts of 35 mph. And we only stopped once to eat and drink."

While painful, that first experience, with my entire body aching for days afterwards, was deeply motivating. Dan had not been nearly as wrecked, and I learned I needed to get stronger. The next two weeks as I took the sled out more, I increased the weight to 105 pounds and could feel myself becoming more sturdy under its lumbering weight. 

What’s it like skiing with a sled? Hilarious, until you’re exhausted, and then it’s just laborious. I’ve tried to tweak my skiing multiple times, but unless I’m going up a consistent climb, the whole thing pulls and jerks on my gut with every stride. Any little divot in the snow is my nemesis. If I ski down into a little stream crossing; all speed is lost. And that first oomph to get going up the other side is, though Dan won’t admit it, ridiculous to watch. I pant and grunt and pull and wheeze and flail around until I wonder if I’m going to pop a blood vessel in my neck, until eventually, the sled begins to work with me, and up we go again. 

Some techniques I’ve tried in an attempt to ease the burden of pulling a 105-pound sled and how they’ve worked thus far:

  • Skiing more smoothly, like I am a princess whilst balancing books on my head to practice good posture. This is obviously very draining.
  • Shortening my stride and taking tinier, gliding steps. This becomes increasingly inefficient on Nordic skis.
  • Pulling our dog Stella. While motivating and adorable, it inevitably wears me out.

Countless technique tweaks like these have helped a bit, but the reality is that after 10 miles of the sled bouncing and pulling on my gut, I’m still worn out.

Dan and Elaine Vardamis, getting in their vertical training in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness.

But I am being disingenuous. It’s not all been nightmarish. There are several saving graces of the sled. One being that it truly does glide with incredible ease. Once I get it sliding, it wants to keep on moving. Another is how it tracks. Anyone who has dragged things along behind them while skiing knows that tracking is highly important, and the sled tracks amazingly. On side hills, over strange lumps and bumps and longs, it always wants to follow right where I’ve gone. Add this to how the poles are constructed, and I can actually manage it decently on downhills. 

Ironically, I have found that I am developing a fond relationship with my ski sled. I refer to it simply as “Sled,” and talk to it as we ski along together, offering it encouragement and reinforcement when it behaves well, and coddling and cajoling it when I am struggling. I have bonded with Sled, and that reassures me.


Dan and Elaine Vardamis are self-proclaimed “Nordic nerds” living nearly off-the-grid in Eldora, Colorado. They were married at the top of Loveland Ski Area in 2010, have skied at least one day 75 months in a row, have podiumed in races like the Grand Traverse and obviously like to go on really long adventures. This series will follow their preparation and execution of The Expedition Amundsen. Track their training on Instagram @Nomadwolf360 and @elainevardamis