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Oslo's rights of winter: skiing for everyone

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Skiing in Oslo is like walking the dog in any other city. Residents can get to trails on a short tram ride. Some ski out their back doors. The city is two-thirds forest with 1,250 miles of ski trails.

Here, people ski after work on lighted slopes until 11 p.m. There are free saunas and showers for anyone who wants them, and cross-country skiing is free.

It may sound luxurious, but to Oslovians, skiing is a way of surviving.

''Winter in Norway is dark, long, and cold,'' says Knut Moberg, who is acting head of Skiforeningen, Oslo's ski association. ''We have to adjust to it.''

In fact, the sport is considered so crucial to winter well-being that Skiforeningen used to have a special fund to buy skis for the needy. Now it is unneccesary, because, thanks to a program of used-ski exchanges, everyone in Oslo can afford to ski.

Nearly every Oslo resident owns four pairs of skis for different types of snow and skiing, estimates Anne-Marie Taraldset, manager of Oslo's city guides.

Children, who get skis as their first Christmas present, need longer ones as they grow up. So Oslo's sports clubs organize used-ski sales. Parents sell outgrown skis and buy longer ones, saving about 50 percent of the price. Buying the more expensive slalom skis this way, says Mrs. Taraldset, one can save up to 75 percent. The role model for this frugality may have been Norway's former monarch, King Haakon VII, who, it is said, used to repair his own skis.

Skiing was always an important way to get around in the snowbound, rocky country, where the valleys were so isolated that each valley population made its own distinctive style of skis.

''I remember when my father was young, he had to go skiing to go to school because they didn't have buses,'' says Moberg, who is also editor of Norway's Sno and Ski magazine. ''Today, we do it as a pleasure.''

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