Free skiing tracks under threat
January 10, 2011
UPDATED: Norwegian cross-country skiers have long enjoyed the privilege of crisp, cost-free ski tracks to lead them from waffle to waffle during the winter season. Some of those burdened with the task and price tag of preparing the tracks want to start charging fees, but are unlikely to succeed.
Newspaper Aftenposten reports that while cross-country skiers have previously not been asked to pay for the preparation of tracks, several ski resort managers are now looking to develop a system of financing that would shift fiscal responsibility to users. The question then becomes, are ski-happy Norwegians willing to pay to use prepared tracks?
Traditionally, the cost of preparing these tracks falls on the limited funds of local governments and volunteer efforts. In the Oslo area, for example, ski trails are groomed by both the city parks and recreation department and by the local ski association Skiforeningen. The association and its activities are funded by membership fees, and Skiforeningen is constantly appealing to people’s conscience to join and pay the fee, if they’re using the trails.
Alpine ski resorts, meanwhile, are forced to shoulder a good deal of the expenditures for their own groomed cross-country trails in order to offer hotel guests a varied ski experience. The details of a proposed user payment system must still be hammered out, but current suggestions for pricing are modest, around NOK 30 or USD 5, about one-tenth the cost of a lift pass at an alpine ski resort.
“A reasonable solution would be if those who use the tracks pay for them,” Atle Hovi, director of Resort Beitostølen told Aftenposten, “just like alpine skiers must pay for the use of hills and lifts.” An estimated NOK 1.5 million is spent on track preparation in the Beitostølen area every year. These are funds collected from willing contributors such as cabin owners and local industry.
While user payment for prepared tracks is standard in several other countries, it becomes an issue in Norway as Norwegian law (Allmannsretten) allows for all citizens to freely take advantage of public areas in the great outdoors. In 1996, when the Norwegian Parliament re-evaluated the law (friluftsloven) that guarantees free access to the outdoors in Norway, politicians decreed that it must not cost anything to “move around” in the nature. It is not legal, Aftenposten reports, to demand payment for use of skiing or hiking trails. It is legal, though, to charge for parking at trailheads.
The Trysil alpine ski resort in eastern Norway introduced the idea of charging users for ski track preparation as early as 1992, but the proposal quickly failed when it met heavy resistance. Norwegians are accustomed to using ski tracks for free and the open access law was in effect then as well.
Trysil’s tourist director, Knut Løken, believes cross-country skiers are more willing to pay now than they were 20 years ago, but is cautious in once again introducing the concept. He told Aftenposten: “I still believe a system of user payment will have to emerge in preparing cross-country ski tracks.”