Etiquette guide to the ski trails

With ski season in high gear, and thousands of skiers taking part in some big races most every weekend, calls have gone out for better etiquette on the ski trails. Oslo residents were offered some polite guidelines last week, just before what’s now known as the Holmenkollen Ski Marathon began.

The vast majority of skiers are just having a good time, but conflicts can arise on the trails. PHOTO: Views and News

Around 6,000 skiers actually started the race on Saturday, a 56-kilometer (34-mile) event that began in the western Oslo valley of Sørkedalen and ended up at Holmenkollen. More than 100 skiers finished the course in less than three hours, with Arne Post winning with a time of two hours and 36 minutes. Solfrid Braathen was the fastest woman, finishing in three hours and three minutes.

A half-ski marathon was also on offer, and among its participants was Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre. He skied the 23-kilometer (14-mile) version in just one hour and 46 minutes, not bad for a middle-aged man who spends a lot of time sitting on jets as he flies around the world on diplomatic business. “It was a fantastic ski tour, like skiing through a picture postcard,” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten when it was all over.

The ski trails are for everyone, but sometimes you can find yourself all alone. PHOTO: Views and News

Many of the skiers are going so fast that they may not pay much attention to the scenery, and that’s often how conflicts can arise on the ski trails. There are lots of different types of skiers out making the most of winter in Norway. At one end of the scale are the near-professional racers who fly though the forests in outfits generally referred to as “condom-suits,” as they train for races. At the other end are the slower, purely recreational skiers out plodding along in parkas and carrying backpacks full of food, drink and other items for a long day out in the woods known as marka.

Officials at the ski association known as Skiforeningen say they get complaints after every weekend, from skiers irritated over the behaviour of other skiers on the trails. Conflicts have sometimes ended with skiers jabbing ski poles at one another, or even spitting. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently summed up the complaints, and Skiforeningen offered some gentle advice:

** Use common sense and courtesy on the trails. Fast skiers shouldn’t intimidate slower skiers, by yelling “løype” when they zoom down a hill or becoming violent, while slow skiers should keep to the right and never, ever simply stop in the prepared tracks. Step aside when taking a break or having a chat.

** Don’t walk in prepared ski tracks. Few things irritate skiers of all speeds more than non-skiers who go for a stroll without skis and ruin carefully prepared tracks. This is mostly a problem on trails close to urbanized areas.

** Keep control over dogs, and clean up after them. Dogs are supposed to be kept on leashes when out in the forest, because even well-trained dogs can create hazards for skiers. Some skiers fear dogs running loose, because they can cause accidents. Complaints also arise over dog droppings in the trails. It’s not pleasant to run over poop with waxed and prepared skis.

** Reconsider free-style skiing (skating) on narrow trails. Some skiers don’t understand why others insist on skating on trails that can be ruined by the technique, especially just after a snowfall. Others think the skaters can be domineering.

** Don’t blind other skiers with your headlamp. These handy gadgets enable skiing on dark winter evenings outside the lighted ski trails, but they can temporarily blind fellow skiers coming in the opposite direction. Some skiers also prefer to ski off the lighted trails and without headlamps, simply using the light from the moon or just letting their eyes get accustomed to the darkness. Meeting someone with a headlamp can at least temporarily destroy their nightvision.

Sometimes it’s best to avoid prepared tracks when skiing with a pulk, to avoid conflicts. PHOTO: Views and News

Other issues would seem obvious but obviously aren’t. They include littering on the trails, or damaging prepared tracks by pulling what the Norwegians call a “pulk,” which most often hold small children bundled up and along for the ride. Parents pulling a pulk are often advised to stay on forest roads and away from prepared tracks.

Skiforeningen officials repeat every year that the forests and hills that are full of prepared ski tracks free of charge are open to everyone. A recent survey found that nearly half of Oslo’s population uses marka for skiing during the winter months, and they all need to get along out there. Fast skiers shouldn’t take themselves so seriously, a worrisome trend seen especially among men taking part in races. “The races can mean a lot for very many,” Ole-Kristian Sørland of Skiforeningen told DN, noting that temperatures and tempers can get high on the tracks. “I’ve been ashamed to see how some people behave, especially in the fastest groups of skiers. It can create a bad atmosphere.”

Otherwise, Sørland is quick to point out, it’s mostly “fryd og gammen” (roughly translated, “sweetness and light”) on the trails. The best advice is to avoid the most popular areas like Holmenkollen, Frognerseteren, Sørkedalen and Sognsvann around Oslo and head for trail heads at Damtjern or Øyungen on the west side of marka, Mylla in the north or Hakadal and Romerike in the east. That’s where skiers can quickly find themselves alone on the trails, in the midst of marka’s majesty.

To see our guide for skiing around Oslo, click here.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • It’s good to have this in black and white, though maybe there are some gray areas. Last winter, being a non-skier new to Norway, I asked a Norwegian skier if I could hike on prepared trails. He said yes but that it might irritate some skiers. If anyone complained to me, he said, I was to smile and reply, “This is a public trail.”

  • Gibcdi

    How do you identify a prepared track as opposed to a track where someone just happened by before? For all of us to whom all snow is mostly the same, how do you tell? How do you tell if you are in a public trail or have wandered into a ski resort (as for example with Vail?)

    • A prepared track is a ski track made with a machine, i. e a skidoo or a purpose-built vehicle capable of creating a double lane “highway” for cross-country skiers. The weight of the vehicle packs the snow hard, so that skiers can cruise on top of the snow rather than sinking into it – which is what a solo skier does if he or she “happens by” on fresh snow.
      In Norway, most cross-country tracks are public. In the hills above Oslo, most of them are signposted and marked with little stripes of red pain on trees.