The Ullevålseter Line and other theories of the ski trail…

When on the trail, are certain kinds of people more likely to greet fellow skiers than others?

Simon and Jørgen enjoy skiing in Normarka
Simon and Jørgen are crosscountry skiing in Nordmarka while observing who greets and who doesn't

by Simon Kennedy Beames and Jørgen Weidemann Eriksen

Norwegians – like outdoor lovers in many countries – often greet each other while hiking, cycling, picking mushrooms, or fishing.  This is especially so while out skiing.  On a day trip through the Oslo greenbelt in February, we two researchers in outdoor studies at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences began to unpick this phenomenon of greeting on the trail.

Encounters on the trail

As we skied back to Sognsvann, a young man in a tight-fitting ski suit was travelling towards us at a clip.  We (the authors) turned to each other and nodded knowingly, as if to say, ‘watch this’.  Sure enough, despite our smiles and hellos projected to the would-be racer, he flew past us without acknowledgement.  A few minutes later, while taking a break, an older woman in loose wool clothing approached us.  Again, we nodded and winked at each other.  Almost on cue, the woman responded to our greetings, stopped, and told us about the fantastic snow conditions she’d experienced that morning on the trails. 

Some googling (in Norwegian) on the notion of the trail greeting – the hilse – quickly reveals that a number of people have written about its importance, in terms of mutually affirming shared practices – particularly while out cross-country skiing.  We couldn’t agree more.  What interests us, however, are the conditions under which people greet each other on the ski trails in the Nordmarka, to the north of Oslo.  Why are some people more or less likely to greet their fellow skiers than others?  Thus began our journey into a playful inquiry on the factors influencing greetings on the ski trail.  Over a number of weeks of being on the trail and gathering our own informal empirical data, and then discussing this at the office lunch table, we developed a conceptual framework to explain some of the factors behind people’s decisions ‘to greet or not to greet’.

The four elements

Our framework features four elements:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Distance from a busy parking lot or train station
  • Clothing

Before going any further, it’s important to state that what follows are some gross generalizations that being shared to stimulate discussion and debate; they are not being presented as truths. We also acknowledge that there may be other factors at play here, such as race, ethnicity, skill level, finances, accessibility, and personal motivation. Now for some explanations and examples to illuminate our position.

Element number one is age: the older a person is, the more likely they are to say hello on the trail.  Element number two is gender: women are more likely to say hi – at least to us male skiers.  Number three is one we have all experienced and one that has been written about before: the further one is from civilization, the more likely one is to greet someone they meet – we don’t usually nod to strangers in shopping malls, after all. We joke that there is a line at Ullevålseter (about 6km from the trailhead) beyond which people tend to say hello a lot more. The final element has to do with clothing: both its fit and the fabric.  People wearing looser fitting clothing that is made from natural fibers, such as cotton and wool, are more likely to greet others than lycra-clad speedsters.

When taken together, these elements suggest that when out on the ski trails, there is a higher likelihood of being greeted by an older woman, in a less travelled area, who is wearing a waxed cotton anorak and sporting a woolen hat and mittens. If you flip that around, a young man wearing tight-fitting synthetic clothing, on a trail that is close to the city, is less likely to say hello.  If he is wearing earbuds or headphones, the chance of him acknowledging your presence is further reduced – but that is a discussion for another day. 

Try this yourself!

If you think our conceptual framework has some flaws, then we challenge you to put it to the empirical test. The next time you are out skiing, say hello to everyone you meet and note their age, gender, and clothing, as well as the location of that encounter.  We invite you to let us know about the degree to which you think our four concepts are accurate predictors of people greeting each other on the cross-country ski trails.

As researchers in friluftsliv and the outdoors, we are, of course, trying to more deeply understand why people do what they do. Beyond that, however, we aim to positively influence outdoor life practices.  To that end, we humbly propose that you – the reader –consider where you are located within his framework and if you are the kind of ‘trail greeter’ you want to be.  See you on the trail!