Lack of snow chills large ski races

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As residents of southern Norway headed into another weekend with few if any prospects for skiing, because of an ongoing lack of snow, the organizers of major annual ski races are losing out as well. Registration is down by as much as 70 percent, and they blame both the warmer weather and a general decline in interest.

Norway’s annual Birkebeiner race still attracts skiers, but not in the huge numbers of earlier years. Others have also seen registration fall, by as much as 70 percent. PHOTO: Birken AS/Geir Olsen

“We’re seeing that cross-country races aren’t so super-trendy as they were in 2012 and 2013,” said Svein Granerud, leader of Vester-Gyllen, the biggest ski race in Asker and Bærum that attracted nearly 1,650 skiers five years ago. Last year, registration fell to 494, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week how the lack of snow this winter has forced its postponement until March.

Vester-Gyllen used to experience registrations pouring in as early as September. This year marks the third in a row that the actual date of the race had to be changed because of poor snow conditions. That resulted in only a few dozen registrations when the original deadline passed in January.

No snow makes it hard to train
The traditional annual Holmenkollmarsjen, a lengthy ski race through the hills of Nordmarka in Oslo, has also suffered because of the uncertainty over snow conditions. Last year its organizers at Skiforeningen (the Oslo area’s large ski association) had little choice but to move it to the professional track that winds around the Holmenkollen Ski Jump itself, with skiers making repetitive runs on it. That only attracted around 2,000 participants, a steep decline from the days when it ran through the hills above Oslo and drew more than four times that.

The lack of snow doesn’t only jeopardize the races themselves but it spoils skiers’ ability to train for them. No one can ski the lengthy races like Holmenkollmarsjen or the legendary Birkebeiner race over the mountains from Rena to Lillehammer, without being in good shape. It’s hardly been possible to go skiing anywhere around Oslo this year, and even the mountains of southern Norway have offered little snow and little skiing possibilities.

Let down by the ‘bucket-list generation’
Race organizers fear another factor is at play. Younger participants aren’t as loyal as their parents or grandparents who raced in Birkebeiner, for example, year after year. “Now we have the ‘bucket list generation’ who only do something once,” Ole Kristian Sørland, who’s in charge of Holmenkollmarsjen, told DN. “Men in their 50s have gladly gone Birkebeiner 10 to 15 times. Now more just want the recognition of having done it, while others think it’s almost embarrassing to post a photo showing them with 3,000 other people. They’d rather have a photo from Trolltungen (the unique and hard-to-get-to mountain formation) alone.”

Participation in Birkebeiner fell from 14,348 in 2013 to 8,784 last year, down 38 percent. Skienern in Sør-Trøndelag fell from 1,473 to 560, Stenfjellrunden in Hedmark fell from 1,018 to 620 and the Trysil Skimaraton in Hedmark fell from 782 to 485. The trend is repeated in other races as well, and several have been cancelled.

State meteorologists, meanwhile, predicted some light snowfall in Southern Norway on Sunday but not enough at lower elevations to improve skiing conditions very much. Skiers longing for exercise outdoors have resorted to skating on frozen lakes and hiking in the hills and forests without snow, wearing studded boots in the event of ice.

“I miss the winter,” state meteorologist Bjart Erikssen told weather website yr.no on Friday. “There is nothing positive with the mild weather we have now.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund