Winter sports are among the least accessible athletic activities.
To go alpine skiing, participants have to buy a ski jacket and trousers, ski goggles, a helmet, poles, skis, boots, gloves and ski socks. Since slopes are usually far away from urban areas, many skiers have to pay for transportation and accommodation. They also have to pay for a ski pass to use slopes and ski lifts.
Then there’s paying for a teacher or ski school. There are similar expenses for snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ski-jumping and biathlon races. These barriers make winter sports inaccessible for many people, but initiatives in Europe are showing that sharing can change this.
Ski Klub Ogulin started in a small Croatian mountain town when the nearby ski resort burned down. Since local residents didn’t have a place to train or teach children skiing, they made their own makeshift slope. The effort was expected to last for a year or two, but 11 years later they have a functioning ski resort with ski and sledding areas and snow cannons.
“We didn’t have any big plan, we just started little by little. When we saw how happy children are, we couldn’t stop. It gave us the enthusiasm to continue. Everybody was saying you are not going to last but we are still going,” Darko Vučić, president of the Ski Club, said.
What makes the Ski Club place unique is that the facility is open to everybody and is completely free. Even the tea for warming up after skiing is free. Ski slopes are open in the afternoon and evening during the week and all day on the weekends. This is possible thanks to many volunteers. For each weekend they need 40 volunteers who all work two-hour shifts.
“We decided from the beginning that everything will be free. In our town children basically have no possibility to do sports during winter and we wanted this for them. People heard about us and started coming from all parts of the country. They can’t believe that everything is free,” Vučić said.
Although enthusiasm is mostly what is running the place, it is expensive to make artificial snow which has become a necessity in the time of climate change.
“People leave donations if they want and from that we literally buy tea for the next day. We get some donations from companies also,” Vučić said
The club is trying to get funding for a new snow cannon, which costs over $10,000.
Even though children and adults in Ogulin don’t have to pay for ski passes, there is still the issue of expensive equipment which children usually outgrow in a year or two. That’s why the club established its own sharing system. Parents exchange children’s clothing and equipment as they grow. The club also accepts equipment donations from people who don’t need it and distributes it to those who do.
In Norway—unlike Croatia—winter sports are traditional activities that people are expected to participate in. Schools usually hold ski days and if children don’t have the proper equipment, they are not able to participate and could feel left out.
This problem is being addressed by 170 different equipment lending schemes across the country. They are all part of the BUA network, a social franchise system that works like a library. These facilities lend all kinds of sports equipment for free, from snowboards to tents and bicycles, but winter sports equipment is particularly popular.
“It is very important for children to be able to participate on an equal footing with peers and experience mastery and belonging early in life. Immigrant families in particular do not have a culture of buying sports equipment for their children every year as they grow up. This tradition creates social differences and then we have to do something about it,” said Monica Vogt, BUA’s general manager.
Many different organizations operate the lending sites, including municipalities, volunteer organizations, libraries and sports clubs. Equipment libraries are created with various goals, from increasing physical activity and stimulating healthy lifestyles to creating equal opportunities and fighting overconsumption.
We want to show that it is not necessary to own everything. — Monica Vogt, BUA’s general manager
In some cases, the lending sites also operate as a work training opportunity and provide work experience for young people. The biggest challenge for the network is ensuring the funds to enable good opening hours for the service.
“Borrowing has become very popular and it is demanding to run a lending business with few resources. In some places you are dependent on volunteers and it is difficult to get enough volunteers. Opening hours are therefore a major limitation and there are often long queues of people who want to borrow equipment especially in the winter,” Vogt said.
You have to be a Norwegian resident with a Norwegian mobile number to borrow equipment, which is bought new and kept in good condition. Skis, helmets, snowboards and other items can be borrowed for seven days.
BUA network operates a common web page with all lending locations, opening hours and equipment availability. Some sites also offer online reservations.
“We want to show that it is not necessary to own everything. With better opening hours and more equipment to lend…we can bring about major structural changes in people’s consumption habits when it comes to sports equipment. I think we can make a real difference,” Vogt said.