Many urban skiers dream of combining wintertime business and pleasure, of maintaining their city pursuits yet have skiing at their doorsteps. Few fulfill that dream, as city living and snow sports usually are distant from each other, and travel between them is time consuming.
There’s an exception: Oslo, the Norwegian capital, where snow sports are part of life in the city. Rucksacks are as common as briefcases most weekdays, and public transit vehicles have racks or spaces where skiers can stand holding their skis. Within the city limits, Olympic Winter Games and World Ski Championships have been held, polar explorers have trained for their expeditions and world-record skier-days are set every winter. Yet few residents would call Oslo a ski town. It’s just a city that skis, in a big way. Aside from the Norwegian penchant for skiing, the reason is that the city is flanked by one of the most extensive ski areas anywhere. Called Oslomarka, literally “Oslo lands,” it consists of nine contiguous woodland preserves that together cover some 370,500 acres, about twice the area of New York City.
In the vital statistics of the country, there’s little that sets Oslomarka apart from other forest areas in Scandinavia. It has rolling hills and marshes, cliffs and meadows, lakes and watercourses. Sturdy strains of conifers dominate, though there are stands of birch and other deciduous trees. Understandably, lumbering is the area’s leading money-maker. But unlike lumbering elsewhere, Oslomarka is a multi-use area where outdoor recreation shares the land and its waters with lumbering and farming. That use dates from 1889, when the city council bought the first 2,000 of its holdings of 42,000 acres of Oslomarka that now are set aside for year-round recreation.
When snow blankets Oslomarka from late November through March and sometimes April, it becomes a giant ski area. With more than 1,600 miles of marked ski trails, a dozen Alpine ski and snowboard hills with lifts, small as well as large ski jumps, and 44 trailside lodges open to the public, there’s something for every snow sport preference. And it’s all accessible from downtown, by public transit, commuter rail, or car. In that, it’s nigh unique, as Oslo is the only capital city where you can take a streetcar or a subway train to go skiing. Moreover, if you live beyond Ring Road 3, the outermost beltway that, save for the fjord to the south, encircles the city, you may need only shoulder your skis and walk to the nearest feeder trail to the woodland network. But even if you live in the more densely built-up area within Ring Road 3, you may be able to walk to ski, as, whenever snow cover is sufficient, cross-country ski tracks are set in the seven largest parks in the city.
Aside from the lifts on ski and snowboard hills, skiing is free, because it’s cross-country on trails maintained and prepared by the city recreation department and by skier service organizations. At 60°N, the winter sun sets early, so some 60 miles of the cross-country ski trails and all the ski and snowboard hills are illuminated, so you can ski round the clock if you wish. Snow conditions on trails and hills routinely are reported in newspapers and online, along with weather forecasts and the times of the tides, sunset and sunrise.
Though soccer is as popular as it is elsewhere in Europe, skiing remains the competitive sport of preference. There’s historical precedence for that in Oslo, as ski meets have been held at Holmenkollen on the hillside above the city since 1892, predating the modern Olympic Games by four years. This year, the Nordic World Ski Championships will be held for the fourth time at Holmenkollen, from February 24 to March 6. It’s expected to be the biggest-ever Championships, with 21 events in cross-country, jumping and Nordic combined and 650 competitors from 60 countries.
One attraction at the northeast edge of the Holmenkollen arena says more about the city’s penchant for skiing than any statistic or facility. It’s a statue of King Olav V (1903-1991), who, when Crown Prince, jumped at Holmenkollen in 1922. He was a regular spectator at the annual jump meets held there, watching from the Royal Box in the jump stadium. For recreation in winter, he went cross-country skiing on the same trails as did the people of the city. So, in the statue, he’s depicted as the citizenry fondly remembers him, cross-country skiing, accompanied by Troll, his dog.
The city of Oslo: www.visitoslo.com , click on the British flag icon for pages in English.
The 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships: www.oslo2011.no , click on the “English” link for pages in English.