Winter holidays may soon melt away

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Scenic landscapes, crisp cold air and lots of snow for skiing have created the tradition of winter holidays for millions of Norwegians over the years. As many headed home over the weekend from mountain cabins and hotels, though, they were acutely aware that the tradition is under threat because of the lack of the most essential ingredient – the snow itself.

Kvitfjell

Scenic winter landscapes like this one near Kvitfjell are becoming especially precious to Norwegians, who’ve experienced an alarming lack of snow in recent years. PHOTO: Frithjof Jacobsen

This has been one of the most snøfattige (literally, “snow poor”) winters since state meteorologists started compiling statistics. There was hardly any natural snow in Southern Norway during the Christmas holidays, even at relatively high elevations, and there was precious little snow when the two annual week-long periods of vinterferie (winter holiday) began in late February.

“Will my children be able to go skiing in the winter?”  wondered a young candidate for Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV), Kari Elisabeth Kaski, in newspaper Dagsavisen last week. “It’s been winter holiday time, but the snow isn’t as deep as it normally is, if there’s any snow at all. In Oslo, we’ve lost a whole month of skiing in the past 30 years.”

It was almost ironic, then, that the second of the two weeks ended this past weekend with wind and snow storms that closed many mountain roads in southern Norway on Sunday. Motorists whose travel plans were disrupted would likely have seen the snow come a lot earlier.

Bankruptcies loom
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported last week that warmer weather and the lack of snow is now likely to lead to bankruptcies of some alpine ski centers. Many have invested heavily in lift systems and artificial snow-making equipment, but the latter can’t be used if it’s not cold enough. Hotels and restaurants that have attracted winter holidaymakers for years face concerns as well.

These are problems worrying ski center operators elsewhere in Europe and around the world as climate change takes hold. “Some alpine facilities will have to close,” Robert Steiger at the University of Innsbruck told DN. That’s also because many don’t have the economic capacity that’s demanded to invest in the snow-making equipment that might save them if the weather just gets cold enough.

State meteorologists confirmed Friday that this winter in much of Norway has been measured as being a full month shorter than normal. Steiger has recently completed a report in cooperation with Norwegian and other international researchers showing that Norwegian alpine centers face even less snow by 2030, with the need for artificial snow-making rising by 81 percent. Steiger is convinced that it will thus become increasingly expensive to operate alpine skiing centers.

Some skiing areas in Norway can expect to see the season with natural snow cut from the current 154 at Strandafjellet in Møre og Romsdal, for example, to just 60 by 2080. Others in Stryn and Ørsta may have only 11 natural ski days to offer guests. Nils Magne Nedreberg, manager of the Harpefossen ski center in Sogn og Fjordane, said it needs more than 100 ski days with paying customers to turn a profit. The new report predicts there will only be 36 in 2080.

Heading for the highest elevations
Real estate agents, meanwhile, claim that Norwegians still keen on investing in holiday cabins and homes (hytter) in the mountains are now most interested in those at high elevations that seem assured of snow for years to come. Those located around Hemsedal, Kvitfjell and Skeikampen, for example, are still selling well because their snow prospects are good. Sjusjøen in the hills between Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen has also had snow most of this winter and remains a popular destination.

These areas are also where developers Petter Stordalen and Anders Buchardt are planning the most new cabin and condominium projects. DN reported that a major new hytte development will start at Kvitfjell as soon as this year’s snow melts. “We’re experiencing how people are coming here precisely because it’s snow-secure,” Odd Stensrud, manager of Stordalen’s and Buchardt’s development firm Alpinco, told DN. He also operates at Hafjell, not far from Sjusjøen, and claims that area seems “snow-secure” as well.

Buyer interest is still there, with local newspapers once again carrying many ads for hytter during the past two winter holiday weeks. The lack of snow in low-lying areas, also around Oslo, has sent prospective buyers into the hills and mountains, with some brokers claiming record sales.

Or heading south
Many Norwegians seem to be dropping ski holiday during the winters and heading south instead. A recent survey conducted by several outdoor recreational organizations showed that fully 40 percent of Norwegians questioned have not and will not go skiing this winter, because of the lack of snow. Another 16 percent who hadn’t gone skiing yet were uncertain. With the Easter holidays coming late this year, in mid-April, flights to southern climes are booking up. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that 328,000 Norwegians traveled to the Canary Islands last year, setting a new record,

“Climate change over time will influence our outdoor traditions quite a bit,” Lasse Heimdal, secretary general of Norsk Friluftsliv, told newspaper Aftenposten. “For many, our Norwegian ‘winter holiday’ will become an early ‘spring holiday.’” Others are investing in studded boots in order to do early hiking in hills and forests that can now be covered only by rain that turns to ice, instead of snow.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund