While the entirety of Sweden is blanketed in snow for the first time in decades, and some parts of the U.S. are still digging out after record snowfalls, Minnesotans are wondering whether winter forgot about them. With very little snow accumulation, the annual Vasaloppet cross-country ski race in Mora, Minnesota is keeping its proverbial fingers crossed (or, as the Swedes would say, “håller tummarna” meaning “pressing thumbs”) that more snow falls for this year’s race, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7.
The tradition of this ski race dates back to 1922 when a Swedish newspaper publisher wanted to commemorate the founding of modern Sweden — when nobleman Gustav Vasa led his fellow countrymen in a revolt against the Danes in 1522. Vasa, who had fled on skis from Mora, Sweden to Norway, was joined by a small army of Swedes and they skied back to Sälen, Sweden, where he successfully led the revolt against Danish rule — and was crowned king of Sweden.
The 90 kilometers between Sälen and Mora is the route for the Swedish Vasaloppet, the world’s oldest, longest and biggest race, having grown into seven races over a 10-day period that attracts nearly 50,000 skiers. In 1972, Sweden gave permission for Mora, Minnesota to use the Vasaloppet name; since the 1980s there has also been a Vasaloppet in Japan, and in 2002 a fourth Vasaloppet race was begun in China.
This year, the U.S. race takes place on Mora Lake, where there is enough ice for racers to be guaranteed a course to ski on, albeit a little shorter than the familiar course on the trails. It also allows it to be the most spectator-visible race ever as skiers take multiple laps around the course on the lake. Ice grinding is done in some areas to widen the trail and deepen the snow where it’s needed. The races are the classic 42 kilometers/4 laps (9 a.m. start); 58 kilometers/5 laps (10 a.m. start); 35 kilometers/3 laps (11 a.m. start); Teamloppet/2 laps (12 noon start). We hear from Minnesota correspondent Valorie Arrowsmith that some skiers might plan to partake in more than one — or even all — of the races.
The skier lunch is followed by the awards ceremony at 2 p.m. with great music, food, a new wooden tent floor and heating system. For more information or to follow the races on the webcam, see http://www.vasaloppet.us