There’s no business like snow business
The past few snowy winters have boosted interest in both cross-country and alpine skiing in Scandinavia.
More than two million Swedes go downhill skiing every year and almost half of Sweden’s adult population (46 percent) say they’re interested in cross-country skiing.
Jon Svensson, marketing manager for the Vasaloppet, the world’s largest ski race, says cross-country skiing has never been so popular.
“Vasaloppet’s 16,000 starting spots were filled in 96 seconds this year,” he says.
Sweden’s major alpine resorts have invested more than €65 million ahead of this winter’s ski season. Cross-country skiing facilities are also being developed to include digital trail maps and cross-country training camps.
“People hit the trails in the morning, switch to the alpine slopes halfway through, and finish the day with snowshoe hiking, yoga, or a spa treatment,” says Elisabet Jansson-Strömberg, CEO of the Swedish Association of Ski Resorts.
Skiiers have also upped their game. Parkas, baggy ski overalls, and thermoses with hot chocolate have given way to slimmer clothing, a heart rate monitor, and drink belt. Exceutives talk more about waxing tips and off-piste runs than golf swings.Having the Vasaloppet on your CV is nowadays a status symbol.
“Ten years ago, most Vasaloppet skiers would sleep in school gymnasiums or simple chalets, and eat simple food. Today, people want three-course dinners with a glass of wine,” Svensson says.
Anders Blomqvist, a commentator for Sweden’s SVT Sport, won the Vasaloppet in 1988 and says he has noticed a marked difference in skiers’ behavior.
“Ten years ago, most Vasaloppet skiers would sleep in school gymnasiums or simple chalets, and eat simple food. Today, people want three-course dinners with a glass of wine“
“People want to improve their quality of life and health, with many of them choosing to focus on long races such as the Vasaloppet,” says Blomqvist, who was formerly CEO of Funäsfjällen, Europe’s biggest cross-country facility.
“In recent years, Norway has seen the same increase in interest as Sweden in races such as the Birke-beinern – the Norwegian equivalent of the Vasaloppet.”
Jansson-Strömberg at the Swedish Association of Ski Resorts lived and skied in both Chamonix and La Grave in the 1990s, and notes that the same trend can also be seen in the Alps.
“There has been a noticeable shift toward cross-country skiing and other winter activities,” she says.
In France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, snowshoe hiking and “Nordic walking” have become increasingly popular and are now an integral part of tour operators’ programs.
Ski tour operator UCPA runs special weeks for seniors. The program features high altitude cross-country skiing as a complement to downhill. And you have to be at least 55 if you want to go off-piste.
Everybody’s doing it – and so can you.
Text: Cenneth Sparby
Published: October 20, 2015