From 15000 to 400, and from 12 hours to 4. Today, the world’s longest cross country ski race takes place in Sweden. Called Vasaloppet, it entails participants skiing 90 kilometers from start to finish. It’s an extremely popular international race which is broadcast live on tv. When tickets to participate are released, they usually sell out in 15 minutes – it’s that popular.
This year is, however, a bit different. Normally￼ 15000 people participate in the race, but because of the pandemic, this year only 400 people are taking part. These 400 are the elite athletes.
The first Vasalopp was in 1922 and takes place annually, the first Sunday in March and it is a first sign of spring. Normal participants can take up to 12 hours to complete the gruelling course, but the elite athletes do it in a comparatively speedy time of around 4 hours.
So why is this race called ‘Vasaloppet’? Well, it takes its name from a Swedish king. The race commemorates the escape to Norway, through the forest, of King Gustav Vasa in 1521. Legend has it that he carried out the long journey on skis, but experts believe he more likely completed this escape on snow shoes. Nevertheless, out of this legend sprung the race which is so popular today. ‘Vasa’ after the king, and ‘loppet’ meaning ‘the race’.
Modern day skiers don’t see the experience as an escape, they see it as a challenge and for many of them it’s a rite of passage.