This article has been updated with comments from race organizers regarding the three North American World Cup stops later this month, and with additional information from the Holmenkollen website.
* * *
A hundred thousand or so Norwegian ski fans will need to change their plans this weekend, after Oslo health and government officials decided Thursday to hold this weekend’s Holmenkollen races without fans due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
A Thursday Instagram post to the official page of FIS Cross-Country stated, “The local authorities of Oslo … have decided that the Holmenkollen Skifest will take place without spectators. This safety precaution is taken due to the current global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.”
An update to the Holmenkollen Skifest webpage later Thursday states that the main Holmenkollen arena “will be closed for spectators from Friday 6 March to Sunday 8 March,” and that spectators “will not be granted entry to the area.” Regarding spectating on trails outside the central stadium, race organizers wrote, “Will [I] be denied access to watch the event from the areas outside the arena? Spectators are encouraged not to watch the event from the areas outside the main arena.”
According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 86 people have so far tested positive for coronavirus in Norway, an increase of 30 cases from the day before. 18 of the 86 people are in the Oslo region.
Switzerland’s Engadin Ski Marathon, scheduled for this Sunday, was previously cancelled, after the health ministry in this region of Switzerland had called for the cancellation of all public events. The 2020 Masters World Cup, to be held in Cogne, Italy, starting today, was quietly cancelled a few days ago. A statement on the Masters World Cup website dated February 28 reads, in full, “The Masters World Cup 2020 in Cogne/ITA, scheduled for March 5-14, 2020 is cancelled. More details will follow in the next days.” No additional information is currently available on the website.
This weekend’s races at Holmenkollen, which typically draw 100,000 spectators per day to the woods above Oslo, are the final European races of the 2019/2020 World Cup season. This season is currently scheduled to end in North America, with sprints in Québec City on March 14 and 15; a sprint in Minneapolis on March 17; and distance races plus a mixed relay in Canmore on March 20-22.
“The Minnesota World Cup Organizing Committee is monitoring the situation closely,” wrote Loppet Foundation Executive Director John Munger in a Thursday email to FasterSkier, “and consulting with FIS, US Ski & Snowboard, and public health authorities. We are taking precautions so that fans can fully enjoy this event, including installing hand sanitization stations and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for large events. At this point, we are moving forward for the 2020 FIS Coop Cross Country World Cup in Minnesota.”
Officials with Canmore sounded similar themes. In an emailed statement to FasterSkier, the Canmore organizing committee wrote, “As host of the 2020 COOP FIS Cross-Country World Cup in Canmore, the safety of our spectators, volunteers, athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority. The Organizing Committee is monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely, and working in conjunction with Alberta Health Services to ensure precautions are taken to create a safe environment. We are also working with our International and national sport partners to review necessary countermeasures required for the event.”
Organizers added, “Currently, we are moving ahead with the 2020 COOP FIS Cross-Country World Cup Finals in Canmore. We look forward to staging a safe and great competition for the World’s best on March 20-22, 2020.”
Finally, organizers for the Québec City races, which start a week from tomorrow, provided the following statement (emphasis in original):
“Quebec Winter Events Corporation and event producer Gestev continue to work in conjunction with the International Ski Federation, Nordiq Canada, the municipality of Quebec City and local public health authorities to closely and actively monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 coronavirus with a view to ensuring the FIS Cross-Country World Cup is held as planned on the Plains of Abraham this coming March 13–15, 2020. Currently, there have been no indications to advise against sporting events being held in the country. As a result, no cancellation measures are expected to be taken with respect to this event. However, the organizing committee has confirmed that practical measures will be implemented during the event in order to minimize any risk. Additional hygiene precautions will be in effect throughout the event and advisory information will be shared with athletes and their teams as well as event volunteers, employees, medias, partners, suppliers and the general public in order to boost awareness. These precautions will include the distribution of antiseptic gel dispensers and disinfectant wipes, an increased frequency of cleaning in public spaces and extra awareness-raising efforts. In spite of this concerning global situation, we remain committed to working within the context at hand to deliver a world-class event and a signature Gestev experience as always. We will keep you updated if this statement changes in the next few days prior to the event.”
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.