On the first Sunday in March, Vasaloppet takes place in Sweden. Vasaloppet is a 90km (56 miles) long-distance ski race from Sälen to Mora. It is the oldest cross-country race in the world, with the highest number of participants. Not only is Vasaloppet a notably gruelling endurance test, but it holds an extremely interesting and important history.
A Brief History of Vasaloppet
The history of Vasaloppet began as early as 1520 with Gustav Eriksson of the Vasa Noble Family, who would become the future King of Sweden.
During this time, Christian II ruled the Kalmar Union, which consisted of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The discontent for Christian II was great all across Sweden due to his drastic reforms which often suggested the standpoint not of an elected ruler, but of a monarch by divine right. Christian was aware of his opposition, and in a move to silence them, he invited the Swedish aristocracy to a reconciliation party in Stockholm. The party became dubbed the Stockholm Bloodbath, as Christian II massacred the guests, including Gustav Eriksson’s parents.
Gustav decided to flee as he feared for his life. He set out on a long march North, trying to convince men that he met on his way to join him in a rebellion against King Christian II. He urged farmers and villagers to revolt against the King, but this was met with silence. Gustav was chased by the Danes as he made his way through Dalarna, but the people of Dalarna sheltered him and hid him from the soldiers. After a month in Dalarna, Gustav stood outside a church in Mora and spoke to the people, urging them to start a rebellion. Once again, he was refused.
Gustav then began his journey west, wanting to find refuge in Norway. Eventually, the men of Mora changed their minds and they sent two of their best skiers after Gustav. They caught up with him in Sälen, and in 1521 the men of Dalarna and Gustav began their battle against Christian II. Two and a half years later, Sweden was a free land.
On 6 June, 1523 Gustav Vasa was crowned King of Sweden. His coronation also resulted in the dissolution of the Kalmar Union. Sweden has since been an independent nation and June 6 is now recognised as Sweden’s National Day and Gustav Vasa not only became the King of Sweden and grandfather to the great Gustavus Adolphus, but also the unlikely symbol of one of the world’s great sporting events.
The Start of Vasaloppet
The very first Vasaloppet was held on 19 March, 1922 where 136 participants registered for the event, and 119 started. The 80th race was held on 7 March, 2004 with 15,500 participants. Over 40,000 participated in one of the seven different races which are now held during the first week of March.
It was Anders Pers, a Mora native, who instigated Vasaloppet. He wrote a piece about contemporary skiing and what a huge interest it held across the country. He then linked this to Gustav Eriksson Vasa’s journey on skis from Mora to Sälen. His article was published in his local newspaper on the 10th of February, 1922. The article was reprinted in bigger newspapers and there was immediate support for his idea. The first race saw some of Sweden’s foremost skiers compete. The winner finished in 7 hours, 32 minutes and 49 seconds.
This year it will be 500 years since Gustav Vasa’s flight in Dalarna, and it will be the 98th year of Vasaloppet. The last decade has seen the number of participants double for this endurance test and it is watched from all over the world. Many Swedish families gather in front of the TV on this specific Sunday, and enjoy a special breakfast whilst watching the start of Vasaloppet.
Both current king and prince of Sweden have competed, the prince alongside his Danish counterpart, demonstrating old differences now thankfully long-forgotten!
The average winning time is 5:11:38 and the record winning time is 3:38:41, which was set by Jörgen Brink of Sweden in 2012.There have only ever been 10 winners who have finished the race in less than four hours.
Anyone can register for Vasaloppet, however, if you do plan to participate in the event, watch out for the ‘Dreaded Rope’. Vasaloppet starts at 8:00am CET and the finish area is closed at 8:15pm CET. There are a series of ropes drawn across the track at certain times to prevent participants who have no chance of getting to Mora before the area is closed, to continue. If one of these ropes is drawn in front of you, you must surrender the race.
During the race each participant is offered different kinds of refreshments, including the legendary blueberry soup (blåbärssoppa). Ekströms blueberry soup has been served during Vasaloppet since 1958. During Vasaloppet week, approximately 50,000 litres of blueberry soup is served.
Fun Fact: There is a 15 minute time penalty for any participant who litters along the course. Participants may only dispose of their litter in the bins at the different checkpoints, in the marked littering zones or where you, as a participant, know that an associate will pick up your litter.
This year, Vasaloppet will take place on 1 March at 7am GMT.
You can find more information (or perhaps register for next year’s race!) here: https://www.vasaloppet.se/en/