Ski season swings into high gear

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Skiers flocked to places like Ullevålseter in the forests around Oslo this week, to take advantage of fresh snow and days off from school and work. Cross-country skiing is more popular than ever before in Norway, with a big increase in equipment sales this year and record numbers of enthusiasts joining local ski associations.

State statistics bureau SSB reported that nearly 230,000 pairs of skis were sold in Norway this month, up nearly 30 percent from last year.

Skiforeningen , the main ski association in the Oslo area, now has nearly 57,000 members, up more than 10 percent from last year. “It’s fabulous, to put it mildly,” Steinar Eidaker of the association told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv . “Our goal is 65,000 members by 2012.”

The national association, Norges Skiforbund , is also enjoying a boost in membership. “We’re in a golden age for the sport of skiing,” the managing director for the Agder and Rogaland Ski Association, Petter Furuseth, told newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad .

It’s unclear what’s fueling the renewed popularity of cross-country skiing. Some link it to the exercise aspects, and Norwegians’ desire to be in good physical shape. Otheres cite the global finance crisis. “I think it’s made people better at using the outdoors in their own areas,” said Espen Jonshaugen of Skiforeningen.

The association has 12 machines that prepare around 2,000 kilometers of ski trails around Oslo, along with 25 snow scooters. The effort costs around NOK 14 million a year and now the association is seeking some state support.

“We want around NOK 5 million million from the health ministry,” said Eidaker, who has no plans to start charging for use of the trails. Most of the association’s work currently is covered by membership fees, now more than NOK 500 (nearly USD 100) a year.

(See also our picture series Winter in Norway .)