The fully lit Hammarbybacken is quite a sight against the backdrop of the Swedish capital and in front of the urban development known as Hammarby Sea City along the Sickla canal. In addition to the Djurgården club that trains there, Hammarbybacken is home to many ski fans and nowadays even to an annual FIS World Cup event. Nevertheless, few know that the hill at Hammarbybacken boasts a storied history – from being a ski jumping hill to closing down due to financial challenges to becoming home for some of the world’s best skiers.
The Audi FIS Ski World Cup Stockholm has been taking place annually at Hammarbybacken since 2016 and the event is now a season highlight for the racers and ski fans alike. Yet it has not been long since the hill had neither a lift nor a snow-making system. Indeed, it has not been long since Hammarbybacken had a completely different appearance.
– I can remember when we drove by with my mom and dad and there was a ski jumping hill but nothing more, says Mats Flodin, one of Djurgårdens IF’s most loyal club members.
Mats Flodin moved with his family to a high-rise building in Rågsved in 1972 and could see the tip of Högdal from his apartment in the eighth floor. Following a tip from a neighbor, there’s been countless trips up the hill for a few turns in the snow. Mats Flodin is badly struck by the skiing virus.
– As soon as the first snow fell, we went through the woods and under the fences to take a few turns. One run was often enough to turn the entire hill green, recalls Mats Flodin.
Djurgårdens IF moved to Hammarbybacken in 1973 and the hill has been the club’s home ever since. Years have passed and Mats Flodin has now completed his 50th season of ski racing. Despite the mild winter in Stockholm, he already has 17 ski days in the 2017/2018 season, not to mention his insatiable interest to drive the sport of ski racing forward.
A man climbs the Hammarbybacken ski jumping hill.
Photo: Jan Ehnemark, 19 December 1950
– I have witnessed the development of Hammarbybacken and been a member of the board since 1990. Today, I am responsible for FIS World Cup preparations as well, and that’s great, says the 62-year-old ski fan.
Flodin has seen how Hammarbybacken has been changed and rebuilt. However, the history of Hammarbybacken extends much beyond 1972. The original ski jumping hill was already built in 1919 and it was a center of ski jumping in Sweden at that time when interest for the sport was high and Sweden had some 150 jumpers around the country. In 1955, the Stockholm Ski Games took place, following the examples of Holmenkollen and Lahti Ski Games in Norway and Finland, respectively, but the snow conditions were poor. To ensure that the ski jumping competitions could be held at Hammarbybacken, snow was brought in by train from Jämtland and Dalarna and carried up in baskets by off-duty firemen who were paid 10 Swedish crowns a day.
After interest in ski jumping subsided in Sweden whilst alpine skiing found many new fans, things started happening at Hammarbybacken. A ski lift was installed in 1966 and in the 1970’s, discussions regarding the development of the facility commenced.
The work to elevate the hill began in 1983, using the rubble from the construction site of the indoor arena known as the Globe among others. Two anchor lifts were installed at Hammarbybacken, as well as a low-pressure snow gun, floodlighting and a number of service facilities.
– The hill raising works were financed by lottery money, as was the snow-making system and a few other things, says Mats Flodin.
Sadly, at the time of the planned inauguration, the weather gods ceased cooperation.
– They were hoping to have everything ready before the hill opened but then unseasonal weather prevented the facility from opening even for a single day all season long.
The hill had grown from 55 to 87 meters above the sea level but it remained difficult to finance the operations and maintenance despite the new facilities. The only thing not in short supply was engagement.
– On Christmas Day, it was 4am and it was finally below freezing so we went out and turned on snow-making, describes Mats Flodin.
World Cup Stockholm 2017
Photo: Jonas Kullmann
Djurgårdens IF that had the right to drive winter sports for the public and ski clubs at Hammarbybacken assumed responsibility for operations and maintenance of the hill and all facilities until 1998. After another warm winter in 1999, high operational costs made it difficult for the owner City of Stockholm and various entrepreneurs who’d tried to keep the operations going. The hill was closed due to the significant road construction next door.
The Southern ring was being built to reduce traffic in central Stockholm and so Hammarbybacken remained closed from 2000-2003. At the time of the reopening in 2004, the finances remained challenging.
– We were making a loss every year and finally agreed that SkiStar should take over.
The ski resort operator SkiStar took over the operations at Hammarbybacken from Djurgårdens IF after the approval of the City of Stockholm in 2006. Today, SkiStar is managing an all-year facility for ski racers, ski fans and, in the summer, for others such as runners who like to take advantage of the hill that now measures 93.5 meters in altitude.
Despite the many twists and turns, the passion of Mats Flodin has not dissipated. He will be ready for the 3rd edition of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Stockholm on 30 January 2018
– In some way, this place is part of my soul. I am here at 4am on Christmas day and my wife wonders if I am all right… Ski racing is my life and I am strong-willed, which is why I am still on the board, says Flodin and continues:
– I suspect that some of my ashes will end up on Hammarbybacken as well.
The ski jumping hill at Hammarbybacken is built and becomes a center of ski jumping in Sweden. The hill record is set at 63 meters, although the recommended jump distance was “only” 50 meters.
Djurgårdens IF takes charge of the hill thanks to an arrangement with the City of Stockholm. The Stockholm Ski Games take place in 1955 on the basis of the folk ski festivals in Norway and Finland. In Sweden, the first ski games are held in 1947. When it was Stockholm’s turn to play host to the event, serious lack of snow forced the snow being brought in by train from Jämtland and Dalarna. In the 1950’s, there were some 50 jumping hills in Sweden.
In the 1960’s, the popularity of alpine skiing began to grow and the number of practitioners increased significantly both in Stockholm and the countryside.
The ski jumping hill is closed, but a private initiative helps finance the start of ski lift operations at Hammarbybacken.
Plans begin to expand! A group of Djurgårdens IF members suggests to take advantage of various construction projects in Stockholm and use lottery income to finance a ski hill in the city.
Several assessments are conducted concerning hill options in Stockholm and the City of Stockholm eventually selects company called SIAB to implement the idea born in 1967.
The development of the hill commences including two anchor lifts (with capacity of 2 x 1200 persons / hour), low pressure snow guns, floodlighting, a service building with a kiosk, toilets, and other facilities. Three slopes are planned with an estimated completion in 1987.
Hammarbybacken ski area opens (a year behind schedule). Lack of snow in 1987 postpones opening until 1988. Djurgårdens IF that’s been following the reconstruction closely returns to Hammarbybacken from a temporary location at Högdalstoppen. Hammarbybacken reaches a new top height: 87 meters over sea level.
Djurgårdens IF gains the right to ”drive winter sports and other leisure activities for the public organised by itself or other associations.”* DIF is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the area that is owned by the City of Stockholm. *Quote from the website of Djurgårdens IF
The City of Stockholm is not able to ensure financing during the mild winters, let alone the technical upgrades that are necessary to ensure continued operation. Some entrepreneurs try to keep the project going but fail.
The building of the Southern ring, which is intended to redirect traffic from central Stockholm, begins and Hammarbybacken is closed. Construction continues until 2004.
The City of Stockholm and Djurgårdens IF cooperate to find a solution for sustainable hill operations and maintenance. The financials turn out to be challenging and the ski resort operator SkiStar enters the party.
Following approval from the City of Stockholm, SkiStar assumes operational responsibility for Hammarbybacken from DIF and several enhancements are made. The facility becomes a year-round operation.
The hill grows again and now measures 93.5 meters above the sea level.
Hammarbybacken is awarded a FIS World Cup event in 2016, to be carried out by organizers of the Åre 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
The first edition of the FIS World Cup Stockholm City Event is held at Hammarbybacken. The parallel slalom competition becomes an immediate crowd favorite with a sell-out audience as Swedish ski fans cheer Maria Pietilä-Holmner, Frida Hansdotter and André Myhrer on the podium.
The second edition of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Stockholm at Hammarbybacken takes place on 30 January. The sold-out event rejoices Mattias Hargin as the home crowd favorite thanks to his third-place finish. Hargin calls the event as ”one of the highlights of the World Cup tour.”
For more information about Hammarbybacken and the Audi FIS Ski World Cup Stockholm, visit worldcupstockholm.com. Tickets are available online here for the 2018 edition of the Hammarbybacken City Event on 30 January 2018.