Building a ski slope when you live in Denmark’s flatlands may seem like a pipe dream, but not for one intrepid cereal farmer.
Skiers are now swishing down Ole Harild’s 40m hill decked out with electric lights and a snow cannon, after he secured EU funding to turn part of his gently sloping land into a small ski resort.
Harild lives on the small island of Bornholm, which lies in the Baltic Sea between Germany and Sweden and dubbed “Sun Island” by summer holidaymakers. It’s just as flat as the rest of Denmark and there is only occasional snow, so it’s not the most obvious place to build a ski resort.
“I discovered that there’s a European Union program” that subsidizes the creation of activities for young people in the countryside, the 61-year-old Harild said. “I applied for the money and I got it!”
Harild cleared some of the trees from his little hill and a year later, in 2007, the Bornholm Ski Hill opened, which he leased to the Bornholm Ski Friends association.
Before his ski hill existed, the association organized trips to major ski resorts in Europe, but thanks to about 40 volunteers, it now operates the three pistes built by Harild.
“Ole Harild received 733,000 kroner [US$131,000], half of it paid by the EU and the other half by the state” of Denmark, the head of the association Jesper Joern Jensen said.
Harild bought material to devise a makeshift ski lift and acquired a snow making machine for 310,000 kroner. He bought skis and boots for 400,000 kroner. And he built a chalet for visitors at a cost of 500,000 kroner. He also installed water and electricity on the slopes.
“All in all, it cost almost 2 million kroner. I paid the remainder myself,” he said.
Michael, a 24-year-old who usually travels to the Austrian or Italian Alps once a year to hit the slopes, is turning in his skis, out of breath, after visiting the ski hill for the first time.
“It’s perfect! There aren’t many places in Denmark where you can find this,” he said, adding: “I’m coming back tomorrow!”
Claus, a 46-year-old father of four who moved to Bornholm from Copenhagen seven years ago because of the island’s natural beauty, said the ski hill only cemented his conviction that he had made the right decision.
“Of course, there was no ski slope when I came to Bornholm, but this place gives me at least one reason not to move back [to Copenhagen],” he said.
The Bornholm slopes were open for 35 days in 2010 and the current season opened on Jan. 29 after three days of snowmaking with the cannon.
On average, about 2,000 people visit the ski hill each year, Jensen said.
A one-day lift card for adults costs 300 kroner, including ski rental, giving the association a profit of 15,000 kroner last year, according to treasurer Kim Pedersen.
“We’re keeping this money to buy a button lift,” he said.
The current ski lift is a wire that runs between two pulleys, hooked up to the trees that line the piste. Skiers hold on to a loop and some, especially youngsters, have difficulty hanging on.
“A lot of people, especially young teens, don’t have enough strength in their arms” and they find it too hard so they don’t come back, said Harild, who added that a real lift would help boost the number of visitors.
“We’ve found a second-hand button lift in Austria for 900,000 kroner,” Jensen said.
The association has already received some pledges to help finance its acquisition, including 200,000 kroner from the EU and 200,000 from the Danish state.