As the Easter season approaches and winter prepares to melt away, Oslo residents are bustling to escape into marka, the wooded hills surrounding the city, to enjoy one of Norway’s most favored forms of recreation: cross-country skiing. This final pilgrimage of the season typically results in vacationers crammed elbow to elbow in commuter trains, enjoying the journey out to the wilderness together—very close together.
But it is now early 2021, and things are anything but typical. For one, strict social distancing rules are still very much in place in Norway, and the need to avoid crowds in close quarters presents a hurdle for travelers. But a more fundamental problem is that you need snow to cross-country ski. Oslo and the surrounding area have had a nearly snowless winter—a testament to a disturbing trend of changing weather patterns. So, what can be done?
City officials decided it was time to get out the cannons. Snow cannons.
“For three months, we’ve had very strict corona restrictions in Oslo, but we can still go outside,” says city council member, Omar Samy Gamal. “Since we haven’t had a lot of snow this winter, we’re doing what we can to bring it to the people. We’re bringing them a little bit of marka.”
Perched high in the hills above the city, the snow cannons stream out arching plumes of artificially manufactured (but still very real) snow. Tons of the white stuff is loaded onto biodiesel trucks, carried down into the city, and then dumped in great drifts on to urban parkland. The very welcome blizzard is tamed by grooming machines, which pack it into sledding hills, snowboarding venues, and most importantly cross-country ski trails.
Residents are taking full advantage of the winter wonderlands that have suddenly manifested in four Oslo parks, including one belonging to the royal palace. On any given day, passersby might see preschoolers on excursions with their daycare classes, office workers taking ski breaks while working from home, and retirees out enjoying what used to be taken for granted in Oslo: a snow-laden winter.