Inner City Snowboarding Sweden; Stockholm's Urban Slopes

Words and photography by Andrew O'Sullivan
Published April 2007

SnowSphere heads north to Scandinavia, to explore inner city snowboarding on Stockholm's slopes of Hammarby Backen, one of Sweden's urban ski areas.

Blade Runner meets piste, urban ski slope cityscape; Stockholm

Mondays are pretty ordinary in most people's book. You could go so far as to say that Mondays are considered by many as the end of a mini holiday and the moment a postponed hangover kicks in. They are the day to do your weekly shop, to wash your laundry and change your bedding. If there was a Fame Academy edition created for 'Days of the Week', chances are that Monday would get voted off first (much to the smug amusement of Friday and Saturday). Yes, Monday is the wooden spoon of the week and there is not much that it can do about it… until now.

Today I am as excited as a badger at the start of the mating season. Today I am going snowboarding, and this time there is no long distance flight to numb my enthusiasm. There will be no cramming boards and gear into a pal's transit van before enduring a half day drive across Europe. Nope… Stockholm, the city of water, has a special place in its cold heart for us winter sports enthusiasts. Stockholm has inner city ski slopes.

urban rail slide, Stockholm style

I pre-pack my snowboard bag with essential items; warm clothing, thermos, camera and scuttle off to work as normal on Monday morning. Something strikes me as different; something is better. There is a warm glow of anticipation in my stomach, and this Monday feels special already. When 5pm comes I am hitting the slopes for five uninterrupted hours of fun for less than a tenner and I can already taste the adrenaline.

I have arranged to meet a couple of friends at the slope at 17:00, and I don't want to be late. I get a flyer from work (doesn't everyone anyway on Monday) and I take the subway a couple of stops south. OK, it is rush hour and you may think that carrying a stuffed board bag could be a sweaty nightmare, but London this ain't. There are few people travelling on this transport network, and it delivers me to my destination with a smooth practical efficiency that I have come to expect from Swedish designers.

flying high in the city sky at Hammarby Backen

I hook up with Johnny and Brian, barmen at my local and sponsors of my newfound football team. The slope is relatively deserted, and I count on one hand the helmeted heads in the unisex changing room. I introduce myself to the rental and lift attendants, and unprompted they hand me a FREE lift pass. Result! Although the pass comes with a warning that there could be a little bit of ice around; this winter has been a particularly warm one and they can only use the snow canons when the temperature drops below -3 degrees C.

I am impressed. I accept that the slope is not a mountain, but then I did not expect it to be. For those of you who have been to Milton Keynes Snow Dome in the UK, this is 10 times that, with a fun park to make your mouth water - I strap in and skate through the empty gate to the T-bar lift and begin my ascent. While concentrating on my footing, I nearly forget to look around me as I move steadily up the snowy hill. The sun has not long gone down, and as I rise above the trees and local buildings I am stunned by a cityscape as clean and precise as a piece of flat pack furniture. There is an eerie silence to the place when I reach the top and I wonder to myself how it is that I can own this small piece of heaven for just a few moments. I wait. I suck in the cleanest breath of air and consider my first move.

local Stockholmer's were keen to show off their goods

Suddenly something brightly coloured zips past me at waist height…and then another. Children! Thousands of them, and they can't be more than four or five years old. Their helmets shining like tracer bullets as they fly down the slope on miniature skis. I dodge a couple and wave enthusiastically. They ignore me and I know why… they are in a trance that only kids can get away with. They are having too much fun.

There are a couple of different routes down, at varying degrees of both width and angle. The snow is wet, but certainly not impossible and I cover the slope in just over an hour. I'm breathless as I break for coffee with my buddies and we discuss with fervor our 'best Monday ever'. I realise that I need to think about getting some pictures, so I grab my tripod and climb back up the slope taking a few snaps of the city as I go. I notice that the place is filling up, but the people are friendly and they shout and wave as my camera clicks and flashes.

ski resort meets city

I head over to the fun park, and am fascinated by the range and variety of ramps and jumps and rails available. If Lego had designed a giant snowboarding kit, then this was not far off it. There were even shovels and spare parts available for you to build your own adventure, and I watch in fascination as a lad studiously rebuilds a rail two feet from its original placement to get the right landing on his reverse rock and roll grind.

I talk to a few locals, explain what I am doing and ask to take a few snaps of the action. Before long a small crowd has gathered around me, as likely lads from all over town want me to capture their latest move. It's all good fun, and I am impressed with the dedication and precision that the youngsters show when implementing their tricks. The approach and landing is meticulously planned and there is an orderly and supportive atmosphere surrounding the whole affair. I am slightly surprised to see more freestyle skiers than snowboarders but then I remember the miniature skiers and realise how young they must start out here… I guess old habits die hard.

on the road to snow where

I wrap up with some words of encouragement to my newly adopted crew, and drain the rest of my coffee before setting off down the slope. By my reckoning I have got another good hour cutting shapes in the snow and still get home in time to catch the late grocers and do some laundry…  Not that I care. You can take the boredom out of the Monday chores by combining a fiberglass board and some flakes of frozen water. Mondays will never be the same again.

For more information on Stockholm's Urban Slopes, check the Hammarby Backen website.

Andrew O'Sullivan is a freelance photographer based on Södermalm, the world famous southern island on Stockholm's archipelago. In recent years his passion for photography has been matched only by his enthusiasm for snowboarding. View Andy O'Sullivan's portfolio and commissions here.