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Winter sports in Norway

What do Norwegians do in winter while snow and ice cover large parts of their country? They go cross-country skiing, ski-jumping, downhill skiing. At weekends, during their holidays, after work. When the snow melts in the lowlands in spring, they retreat with it, up to the mountains. And if there really is no snow anywhere within reach, skating is always an option ...

Over the years Norway has been the world's second most successful nation at winter sports: only the former Soviet Union has won more Olympic medals. This success can be attributed to winter sports' long traditions and broad-based popularity in Norway.

Norwegians have practically unlimited access to skiing and skating. About 30,000 kilometres (three times the distance between Norway and Australia) of marked ski trails wind their way through unspoiled scenery. Even in the capital Oslo, a city of 500,000 inhabitants, the ski tracks are never far away. Tracks are prepared up in the mountains, too, where skiing may be enjoyed until well into the month of May.

It gets dark early in winter, but that is no obstacle. Some 2,500 lit tracks all over the country provide welcome recreation and good opportunities for serious exercise after work. Alpine skiing has gradually increased in popularity in Norway, though it is by no means as universal as cross-country skiing. Resorts for alpine skiing have been developed throughout the country, and four gondolas, some 425 lifts and 250 smaller tows serve Norwegian slopes. Ski-jumping has decreased somewhat in popularity in recent years. Nevertheless there are about 600 ski jumps in Norway.

Nowadays, skiing is the Norwegians' winter sport number one. No sports event in winter Norway attracts such crowds as the Holmenkollen Ski Festival. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump, now over 100 years old, is a national monument, and one of the country's prime tourist attractions: over a million visitors each year make the short journey up from the centre of Oslo to see it. Whereas in 1892 the longest distance jumped at Holmenkollen was 22 metres, modern skiers can jump about 100 metres further. The world's top cross-country skiers also compete in races at Holmenkollen every year. And several thousand children participate in the annual Children's Day at Holmenkollen.

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 Photo: Oslo Promotion/ Kai Thon