Thomas Burmeister / McClatchy-Tribune News service

AMSTERDAM — A project to create an artificial mountain piste, or ski run, in the Dutch flatlands was initially only a joke.

But now it is increasingly being taken seriously — and has begun worrying Swiss tourism professionals.

“Het was een grapje!” (It was only a joke!) is how Thijs Zonneveld, a former professional cyclist and now a sports journalist, describes his idea of building a 2,000-meter-high piste for skiing, tobogganing, hiking and mountain biking.

“It doesn’t matter, we want our alpine mountain now,” is the general consensus.

And on an almost daily basis, experts of mixed credibility offer suggestions for its name, on what “De Nederlandse Berg” could look like, and on where and how it could be erected.

In his proposal, titled “Mountain!,” Zonneveld complained that the Netherlands were too flat.

“This land is flat. Booooringly flat,” he wrote.

That might not be a bad thing, he reflects, were it not for the lack of mountains which results in devastating consequences for Dutch sport.

Zonneveld laments the plight of the Dutch cyclist, who looks as pale at the mountain stages as the alpine athletes — yet Holland is in other respects such a successful country behind the dikes.

In no time, the column was posted on the Internet. And increasing numbers of Dutch were laughing over sentences like this: “It is no surprise that Dutch lugers panic at the Olympic Games when standing at the top of the track; such a mountain is damned high for people used to living under sea level.”

Then something happened that the sports journalist had not reckoned with: many Dutch winter sports enthusiasts began to love the idea.

Drawings and models of what the mountain could look like, and where it could be erected, started to circulate.

Estimates put it at more than 200 billion euros ($280 billion), nearly twice as much as the second financial rescue package that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have granted to Greece.

Such a mountain, probably located by Bergen aan Zee, would consume around 77 billion cubic meters of material — sand and stones from the depths of the North Sea.

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