It was supposed to be a festive winter sports party, but this year’s Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo turned into a foggy, wet and, by some accounts, even frightening experience for quite a few spectators. The thrill of two Norwegian athletes’ victories on Saturday and Sunday was dashed by the agony of those claiming later on social media that it was the most badly organized event at Holmenkollen in years, with drunks and a lack of crowd control ruining an “after ski” party. And then fog forced cancellation of the festival’s main attraction on Sunday, the men’s World Cup ski jumping competition off Holmenkollen itself.
“Terrible arrangement,” wrote one disgruntled ticket holder on the Holmenkollen Ski Festival’s own Facebook page. “Complete chaos,” wrote another. “Where do I go to get my ticket refunded for an after-ski event we couldn’t get into, because it was full?” Others complained of poor sound quality from the announcers’ booth and long lines at everything from kiosks to the toilets, which many claimed simply lacked capacity to handle the crowds.
Norwegian cross-country skiers Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Therese Johaug once again out-classed their competition and won decisive victories in the men’s 50-kilometer race on Saturday and the women’s 30-kilometer race on Sunday. Spectators braved thick fog, rain and some sleet to cheer on the skiers from the sidelines of the track set up between the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Frognerseteren.
‘After-ski’ party ‘went wrong’
The problems arose after Sundby’s victory on Saturday afternoon, when festival organizers and sponsor SpareBank1 in Oslo and Akershus opened their “after-ski” party tent at 2:30pm. Many of those trying to get in reportedly were already intoxicated, apparently after drinking alcohol while camping out along the race route. They also stormed the entry of the SpareBank1 tent in the “afterski arena,” leading to what newspaper Aftenposten (also a Holmenkollen Ski Festival sponsor) called “a people’s party that went wrong.”
“Much worse than the fog was the fact that organizers invited to an afterski (party) that for many seemed more like a nightmare,” wrote Aftenposten’s culture editor Sara Sørheim in a commentary in Monday’s edition. She went on to describe spectators and ticketholders in despair who were badly frightened when they became caught in a rowdy crowd that was “completely” out of control.
“It’s fine if alcohol is sold and consumed within bar areas, but the arrangers have clear responsibility to keep the drinking under control,” Sørheim wrote. Instead, she added, spectators spoke of men urinating on the floor, guests bursting into tears and a “generally aggressive mood.” Aftenposten’s commentator called the “afterski” event “unprofessional,” and that it “should have consequences” regarding its permits for serving drinks on subsequent occasions.
The event had been billed as “the year’s best Afterski” at what also was billed in advance as “the world’s best ski festival.” Many participants strongly disagreed. “When you finally got close to the front of the line (to get into the tent), the press from the crowd was so strong that we were squeezed up against the wall,” ticket-holder Marius Iversen told Aftenposten. “Lots of people had trouble staying on their feet. The worst was when the discomfort became so great that folks started hammering on the door to be allowed in.”
Emilie Nordskar, communications chief for the Holmenkollen Ski Festival, later said that organizers “understand that some people had a bad experience, and we’re sorry about that.” She promised that the organizers, affiliated with the ski association Skiforeningen, would “take all reaction under consideration when we evaluate” the event.
She denied, however, the accusations that organizers “lost control” at any point. “We had ongoing dialogue with the police and security guards,” she told Aftenposten. “Safety is the most important, and we made all necessary evaluations together with them.”
Rune Ullsand, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, confirmed there were “challenges regarding disturbance of the peace, and some fist fights. Two people were removed from the scene and face charges.”
Public transport agency Ruter, which arranged extra bus and metro service to shuttle crowds to and from Holmenkollen, also reported problems with drunks. “We’ve had reports about a lot of alcohol,” Ruter spokesman Øystein Dahl Johansen told Aftenposten. “Our guards have had to help people who couldn’t take care of themselves.”
Organizers had sold 23,000 tickets to events at the four-day Holmenkollen Ski Festival five days before it began, up from 15,500 but still far below the crowds of up to 100,000 who used to attend Holmenkollen in years past. The festival has struggled for years to reverse declining attendance, to attract sponsorship funding and deal with the ever-more unpredictable weather and mild winters that are having severe consequences for winter sports events.
Holmenkollen’s organizers have, of course, no control over the weather and deeply regretted that the ski jumping jury felt forced to cancel the men’s ski jumping on Sunday afternoon. The fog was so thick and the wind so strong that after first delaying competition several times, the jury decided it would be irresponsible to continue. Only two jumpers were allowed to jump, and neither the judges nor spectators could see them, hearing only the bump of their landing.
“This is of course very sad for those who wanted to see ski jumping,” Norwegian sports chief Clas Brede Bråthen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s also too bad for all those who worked for a full year to organize the festival, and, of course for the ski jumpers.”
“Yes it’s sad, I think everyone wanted to jump today,” Alexander Stöckl, coach of the Norwegian men’s ski jumping team told news bureau NTB. “But it unfortunately wasn’t possible.”
Ever-upbeat organizers conceded on their website that “the weather gods weren’t playing on our team” this year. “We’ll hope for better weather next year. Welcome to a ski festival March 10-12, 2017!”