Roller-skiers call for safer paths

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The tragic death last week of a 12-year-old boy who was out roller-skiing with his father on a road in western Norway has set off calls for construction of more dedicated paved paths for the growing numbers of roller skiers. The calls join similar long-standing demands from cyclists and pedestrians.

Roller skiing isn't only popular in the summer and is an all-year sport in many areas where there's not a consistent supply of snow. This photo was taken outside Tromsø in August. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Roller skiing isn’t only popular in the summer and is an all-year sport in many areas where there’s not a consistent supply of snow. This photo was taken outside Tromsø in August. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It was perhaps predictable: Just days after 12-year-old Olav Hovda was killed by a hit-and-run driver near his home in Klepp last Friday evening came the first articles in Norwegian media calling for more paved paths adjacent to roads and reserved for recreational users. Hovda was buried on Thursday, just as a local court was ordering two suspects in the case to be held in police custody.

Roller skiing has become an increasingly popular sport in Norway, and not just during the summer. In areas with little or erratic snowfall it’s a passion for many during winter as well, when darkness adds to the danger of skiers competing with motorists for space on often narrow roads.

Both young Hovda and his father were wearing reflective vests but that didn’t prevent the 12-year-old from being struck by the hit-and-run driver. Roller skiers also complain that roads tend to be rutted and strewn with gravel. They want dedicated paths, especially for those who are involved in organized training that often involves groups of roller skiers out skiing together.

“In Oslo you go roller skiing with your life in your hands,” Kristine Wange, the head of cross-country skiing for an athletic club in Røa, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Cars don’t even slow down around you, they just speed on by.” Many clubs use schoolgrounds, large parking lots or the few pedestrian and cycling paths that already exist, and clubs demand use of reflective clothing.

“But we have no control over those who go roller skiing alone,” Gulbrand Bakke of Oslo Skikrets, the local chapter of Norway’s national skiing federation (Norges Skiforbund). Oslo Skikrets encompasses 46 clubs with around 10,000 members who ski competitively in downhill, cross-country, freestyle, ski jumping and Telemark skiing, and are among those who go roller skiing.

Lots of the individual roller skiing in Oslo occurs on the roads leading into the valleys of Sørkedalen, Maridalen and up to Grefsenkollen. Bakke doesn’t recommend it, because of the traffic danger. “We try to tell parents not to take their children out into the traffic,” Bakke told Aftenposten. “Many aren’t good enough, and you can reach high speeds on roller skis.”

In places like Klepp, where the 12-year-old was killed, the traffic isn’t nearly as heavy but roads are narrow and motorists can still tend to drive fast. Even though plans are on the drawing board many places, including in Maridalen in Oslo, local government officials are slow to come up with necessary funding and the roller skiers are competing against much longer-standing calls for narrower bike paths all over the city.

Per Elvestuen, the Oslo government politician from the Liberal Party (Venstre) in charge of sports and transportation, admitted to Aftenposten that “we have no strategy specifically for roller skiing.” He thinks the ski clubs need to ask that roller skiing be made a higher priority.

That frustrates the skiers who have asked for safer paths and think the politicians are supposed to be the ones setting priorities. Bakke doesn’t see any quick solutions. “The worries will be there for many years to come,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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