It’s been called “a monument to climate change,” but the manager of the Oslo area’s new indoor skiing center called Snø (Snow) insists it “neither can nor will replace winter.” It’s just a coincidende, apparently, that the huge facility adjacent to the busy E6 highway at Lørenskog opened in the middle of the warmest January on record.
“This year is absolutely extreme,” Morten Dybdahl, leader of what’s billed as an “all-year arena for experiencing snow,” told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I hope it will be another hundred years before we get such a bad winter again.”
He denies Snø aims to benefit from snowless winters, even in Norway. “Kids will go play football instead of skiing, and lose interest for playing in the snow,” Dybdahl said, claiming that Snø actually relies on still having the real thing outdoors. He also stresses that Snø simply offers skiing indoors, year-round, for those who also want to continue training in the off-season.
Dybdahl said he understands that some commentators have called Snø “decadent” and “for the elite.” It costs NOK 350 (USD 38) to spend the day skiing, snowboarding or otherwise playing in or on Snø’s snow. Once inside the entry gates, winter sports enthusiasts can ride a chairlift up to the top of a downhill slope or, as a smiling guide told one visitor, “take an escalator up to the fourth level” to go cross-country skiing on a one-kilometer-long mezzanine-like trail that hangs from the roof.
“We have certainly never heard that sentence before,” wrote Dagsavisen’s sports editor Reidar Sollie after trying out the center on an otherwise snowless weekday just after Snø’s grand opening last month. “But that’s the way it is when there are only green forests outdoors.”
He noted that he felt quite out-of-place carrying skis and poles up the escalator past sporting goods stores, cafés and a restaurant. But a large panorama window beckons to Snø’s slope and ski trail in a winter wonderland, however artificial.
“Can this be so smart,” wondered another sports writer from newspaper Aftenposten, “to build winter indoors at a time when it looks like winters, as we remember them, are disappearing?” Yes, claim both those who invested in the facility (a member of the family behind real estate development firm Selvaag and the investment company Canica, controlled by one of Norway’s wealthiest men, former grocery tycoon Stein Erik Hagen) and professional skiers.
“This is a big plus for us,” Claus Ryste, alpine skiing chief at Norway’s national ski federation Norges Skiforbund, told Aftenposten. “Now we can continue to train more than others.” Eirik Myhre Nossum, head coach for the Norwegian men’s national cross-country ski team, agreed: “We won’t train here all the time, but it will be an important supplement.”
A group of young skiers from the Trondheim club Freidig were using the cross-country løype (trail) when Aftenposten visited, before traveling on to a weekend competition. They skied around and around the short trail and claimed to be pleased, also with the snow conditions and temperature set at around minus-6C. Outdoor temperatures so far this winter have been much more like spring, well above the freezing mark.
Sollie of Dagsavisen noted how the trail was designed by the highly acclaimed Hermod Bjørkestøl, who has also designed most of the trails used in recent Olympic competition. Right after the first swing was an uphill portion, followed by more around the next swing, resulting “in a total of 14 swings to the right and left before we’re back at the start.”
The trail was prepared for both classic and skating, with a downhill portion “that wasn’t very challenging but ends in a swing that can be a bit tense if there are lots of skiers on the trail at the same time.” Sollie counted only 15 skiers on the day he visited Snø, which he reported has set a maximum of 200 at a time. Then it can be crowded, Sollie predicted.
Where the elite can meet
The alpine skiers also seemed pleased, with Ryste noting that the national ski federation has rented offices in connection with the arena. “There are ski halls many places in Europe now that perhaps haven’t been used by many at the top levels of the sport,” he told Aftenposten. “We view this as an opportunity to go skiing in an area where we otherwise live and train” on a slope that’s 550 meters long. “There may be fewer travel days” to the mountains, he said.
Others trying out the facility, which already has closed on occasion to accommodate special groups and arrangements, noted that Snø is for “people with resources,” even “the elite.” Equipment producers can also use it to test new products.
It’s all a far cry from the hills and forests around Oslo, with their nearly 3,000 kilometers of groomed ski trails when there’s plenty of natural snow. That’s where folks can just put on skis and head out for no charge at all.
Sollie’s conclusion: “Indoors okay, but outdoors best, when there’s snow!”