Trail conflicts can mar winter holidays

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It’s winter holiday time for tens of thousands of Norwegians, with many schools closed this week or next. Winter sports fun can be marred, however, by one of those “only in Norway” sorts of conflicts: Do cross-country skiers have special rights to trails that are carefully groomed with ski tracks? Or can non-skiers set out for a stroll on them as well?

Ski trails have been groomed to perfection all over Norway in recent weeks, like here at the lake call Mylla north of Oslo. Sometimes non-skiers want to use the trails, too, and that can lead to conflicts. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Those questions have been nagging Norwegians from Tromsø in the north to Oslo in the south and many places in between. Debate has been raging all winter, especially because of all the snow this year that’s made skiing conditions excellent. Folks have been flocking out on the ski trails and slopes, but arguments have broken out between skiers and walkers, with the latter accused of ruining the tracks and smoothed-out surfaces for skiing.

In the mountain country of Sunnmøre, hikers got angry recently when they came upon signs informing them they were not welcome on the ski trails. In Alta, in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark, a man out grooming ski trails was yelled at for allegedly designating them for skiers only. Many folks out walking use groomed ski trails anyway, frustrating skiers because boot prints ruin the tracks and leave gaping holes in the snow.

“I think it’s egotistical when they just walk there without skis, especially when the trails are newly groomed,” Ole Kirkeeide, a skier heading out at Stryn in central Norway, told state broadcaster NRK. In some cases, the snow around boot prints can melt if the sun shines and then freeze at night, creating hazards for skiers the next day.

This photo of a classic Norwegian ski trail, open and free for use, was taken last week at Bislingen in Hadeland, about an hour north of Oslo. Trails are generally groomed by local ski associations or municipal governments as a public service. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Many trails are groomed on forest roads that are popular for hiking or cycling when there’s no snow. Those without skis in winter feel they’re denied access they arguably have under Norway’s unique friluftslov, the laws that ensure public access to the great outdoors even when it’s under private ownership.

Conflicts have also broken out over those who still want to use snow-covered forest roads for cycling, often on bikes with broad studded tires. That can also spoil ski trails, as can dogs who run next to their skiing, walking or cycling owners and leave big paw prints or worse on groomed trails.

One foreign student in Oslo told NRK that skiers started yelling at her when she set off for a walk on a sunny Saturday last month on the popular trail around Sognsvann, located adjacent to a large student residence complex. “They were shouting at me to get out of the tracks,” she said. “But where else could I go walking?” The snow in the forests is much too deep for hiking on narrow summer trails, while most forest roads get converted to ski trails in winter. Those plowed for vehicular traffic can be icy or unsafe.

Solution in Stryn
Arvid Hatledal, who’s among those grooming trails in Stryn, took matters into his own hands after observing conflicts break out between skiers and walkers. He made an extra round with his grooming machine that simply widened the area to the right of the ski tracks.

“Now it’s possible to walk along the right side,” the local so-called løypekøyar Hatledal told NRK Sogn og Fjordane. “There’s enough room to walk off to the right,” he said, without needing to tromp through the tracks or the area smoothed between them. It’s a solution that may be repeated around the country, as Norwegians head outdoors during winter holidays when they’re not glued to screens watching the Winter Olympics from South Korea.

It was snowing lightly again in Oslo Tuesday morning, with state meteorologists now reporting “stable winter weather,” some sunshine in the forecast both in the north and south and sub-freezing temperatures that also reduces the risk of avalanches in the mountains.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund