Last Easter free of snowmobiles

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Anti-snowmobile activists warned this would be the last peaceful Easter in the mountains before more than 100 municipalities can introduce public snowmobile licenses next year. A state government pilot program allowing local authorities to create trails and issue permits will shatter the outdoor peace and quiet, claimed one of Norway’s largest outdoor organizations. Meanwhile, Red Cross rescuers said they’ve been attacked on their snowmobiles by angry skiers.

Outdoor organizations said this would be the last Easter skiers could enjoy the mountains in peace, before a recreational snowmobile pilot program is extended to more than 100 municipalities next year. FRIFO warned it would lead to more illegal driving on ski trails and around cabins, and said Sweden's experience showed there would be deaths. PHOTO: Emily Woodgate/newsinenglish.no

Outdoor organizations said this would be the last Easter skiers could enjoy the mountains in peace and quiet, before a recreational snowmobile pilot program is extended to more than 100 municipalities next year. FRIFO warned it would lead to more illegal driving on ski trails and around cabins, and said Sweden’s experience showed there would be deaths. PHOTO: Emily Woodgate/newsinenglish.no

Recreational snowmobile use is heavily regulated in Norway. Last year the former government expanded a snowmobile pilot program from eight to 40 municipalities, and from next year the new government will controversially allow more than 100 municipalities to join in. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported 87 municipalities were granted the requisite permissions last week, while 14 others will get a similar preliminary license.

“Of the 108 municipalities who could have joined up, only three have withdrawn – Hemsedal, Nord-Aurdal and Skjåk,” said Siri Meland from the umbrella group for Norway’s outdoor recreation organizations, Friluftslivets fellesorganisasjon (FRIFO). The group campaigned against the expansion of the program, arguing it would open large areas of peaceful ski trails and quiet cabin communities to noisy snowmobiles.

“When it’s adapted for more snowmobile driving, there will also be more illegal driving,” Meland said, fearing drivers wouldn’t stick to the allocated areas. “There is therefore going to be much more noise, also near cabin areas.”

Meland also warned that opening up public snowmobile use would increase the risk of accidents. “We currently have no national overview of snowmobile accidents in Norway, but what we know from Sweden is that on average, 12 people died in snowmobile accidents in the period from 1999 to 2006.”

State secretary Jardar Jensen from the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization said in an email to Dagsavisen that municipalities were required to take measures before snowmobile trails could be established. “There must be a municipal planning decision that gives consideration to, among other things, noise and other inconveniences to outdoor recreation, biodiversity, residential and cabin areas, cultural heritage and cultural environments,” he wrote.

Volunteers attacked
Red Cross rescuers who rely on snowmobiles to quickly reach injured outdoor enthusiasts know exactly the kind of conflicts that could arise on the trails. Valdres area manager Oddvar Fremgaard told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) he has been attacked by angry skiers, and two of his volunteers were  targeted just in the past week.

While Fremgaard said it’s not a new issue for the Red Cross, the snowmobile debate has flared up tensions. “On Sunday one of our crews was out helping a patient, where the air ambulance was also involved,” he said. “Then our man was attacked afterwards with a ski pole.” A member of the Red Cross youth organization was also harassed for allegedly damaging ski tracks, and also hit with a ski pole.

Fremgaard said he’d been abused too. “That time I had to drive over the edge of the track, and then a man came after me and broke my scooter,” he said. “It seems like people lose their heads when they see and hear a scooter.”

He urged skiers out this Easter to be mindful of the fact the Red Cross provides a critical rescue service. “I believe that it is an attack against a public service, we are there on a mission,” Fremgaard said. “With patients on board we actually function as an ambulance, and we are also out on rescue operations for the police. We are well marked,” he said, pointing out that the large red symbol should be clear to any skier.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate