Dogfights in the ski tracks

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Clashes over pet policy in the ski tracks are increasingly common in Norway. Some are vexed by the presence of pups, complaining that they ruin freshly groomed tracks with their deep paw prints, leave their calling cards behind, and simply get in the way.

A skier out with his dog on a trail near Frognerseteren in Oslo. PHOTO: Kurt Haugli

The most popular weekends for Norway’s beloved pastime, cross-country skiing, are upon us. With ideal conditions, and excess holiday calories to burn off, the great outdoors surrounding Oslo and Akershus can become crowded and chaotic.

Some skiers are bothered by others who bring their dogs along for the run through the woods, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), complaining that they’re a nuisance. Not only can the dogs disturb and soil the tracks, they can create the occasional hazard. Some skiers have stumbled over their four-legged friends, while others have become entangled in their leashes, leading to some unhappy collisions.

But just as Norway’s open access law called Allmannaretten prevents charging for prepared ski trails, it also gives dog owners the right to enjoy the great outdoors with their pets. It is the responsibility of dog owners who wish to bring their pet along, of course, to ensure that it is properly trained and harnessed. Dogs should run alongside the ski tracks, and owners are expected to always clean up after them.

The problem is that often doesn’t happen, leading to all-out dogfights between skiers. Avid skier Heidi Olsen, for example, told DN that her English setter is now afraid of ski tracks after being repeatedly poked by skiers’ poles.

“As a rule, the conflicts come up when dogs stop in the ski tracks to lick their icy or sore paws,” Olsen told DN. Skiers zooming up behind the dogs need to get them out of the way. Olsen has started using insulated socks for her dog, to keep his paws ice-free and discourage frequent stops.

Odd-Bjørn Hjelmeset, Norway’s world champion known for skiing long distances, said he’s often been “scared to death” many times by dogs that either stop in the tracks while he comes skiing fast, or by hostile dogs that chase him.

“There are a lot of dog owners who don’t understand that some of us can be afraid of their dogs,” Hjelmeset told DN. “They think their dogs are so nice, but it’s no fun being chased by a large German Shephard.”

Some skiers just don’t think dogs belong on the prepared trails that wind their way through the hills and forests that surround Oslo, while others think their dogs are the best companions to have out on the tracks. The dispute has become such an issue for some dog owners that they have gone to the drastic measure of signing up their dogs with the local ski association, so they can prove their membership rights.

Mette Øinæs Habberstad of the ski association Skiforeningen told DN that pooches now pop up on membership lists on a regular basis: “Dog owners claim it is an efficient way to face aggravated skiers.”

Views and News from Norway/Liv Buli
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