No snow in winter? Norwegians make it instead

OSLO (Reuters) - Children slip by on their cross-country skis, skidding around on artificial snow sprayed out onto on the otherwise bare ground by six huge blowing machines in Norway’s Oestmarka forest.

Slideshow ( 7 images )

Any other winter, the lanes would have been laden with natural drifts, said 30-year-old jogger Marie Sten, back from a run along the forest’s snow-free paths. “This is the first January in my life I have ever seen without snow. I really hope it is a one-off.”

She may be disappointed, according to data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Many of her compatriots are already starting to face up to the new reality and adapt.

The Institute’s modeling forecasts forests around Oslo may see just 50 days of snow deeper than 30 cm in 2050, down from 80 days today and 140 days in 1900 - a slump it puts down to climate change.

It’s a serious business in a country which has snow at the heart of its culture. Norway topped the medals tables in the 2018 Winter Olympics, even though it fielded a team only half the size of the United States.

Some kindergartens have been investing in snow cannons to make sure their charges can keep building snowmen during playtime.

“It is a really boring winter for the kids if there is no snow: the sand pit is hard,” said Ine Kvaleng, manager of Svenstuen kindergarten in Oslo.

Her establishment owns a 6,000-crown ($671) snow cannon as well as a high-pressure water hose. “It is a way to keep winter going: you can add three weeks on each end of it,” she said.

Happysnow, a company based in Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics, says it sells small canons to families, kindergartens and sports clubs.

“A typical customer is a very eager dad who likes machines and wants to make sure the kids can play in snow in the garden,” said co-founder Asgeir Linberg.

And when outside temperatures get too warm for even artificial snow, there’s always “Snø”, the country’s first indoor ski center, which opened on the outskirts of Oslo on Jan. 15.

“We complement the winter season, we do not replace it,” said the center’s CEO, Erik Hammer.

Its systems keep the temperature between minus two and minus four Celsius year-round. But some of its customers had mixed feeling about using the facilities.

“It is a way to practice the sport when there is no snow,” said Anne Marte Solberg, 48, a tour operator who heads the local cross-country skiing club. On the other hand, “it is tragic because you don’t go skiing to go indoors.”

Editing by Andrew Heavens