So perhaps you’re new to Mora, or considering a visit – but you aren’t quite sure what all this Vasaloppet business is about. What’s the significance, and what should you expect if you come out this weekend?
The Vasaloppet is a cross-country ski race – the largest in Minnesota, and one of the largest in the nation. Skiers from around the world flock to Mora each year to participate.
The first Vasaloppet took place in 1922 in Mora, Sweden. With a name that literally translates to “king’s run”, the event was established to commemorate one significant event in Swedish history. According to Vasaloppet.us, the story went something like this:
Sweden back in 1522 was ruled by Denmark, but a Swedish nobleman named Gustav Vasa was attempting lead his fellow countrymen in revolt against the Danes.
Gustav told the people around Mora of a Danish massacre of Swedes in Stockholm, but his story was not believed and his attempt to raise an army failed. With Danish troops after him, Gustav Vasa fled on skis to Norway. But soon afterwards his fellow countryman heard news that Gustav was telling the truth, and they sent two skiers to catch Gustav and have him return to Mora. They caught up to him near Salen, Sweden; Gustav then returned and successfully led the revolt against Danish rule.
Today, the Swedish Vasaloppet has grown to include seven races over a ten-day period that attracts nearly 50,000 skiers.
In 1973, Mora, Minnesota (sister city to Mora, Sweden) launched its own version of the Vasaloppet. Races in Japan and China were also established in later years.
The American Vasaloppet is always held on the second Sunday in February. Five races are run: the 58km, 35km, and 13km freestyle races; the 42km classic race; and the Vasaloppet Relay, in which teams of five skiers relay along the 58km course.
All races start north of Mora (in Warman, Minnesota) at 10am on Sunday, and share a common finish line in downtown Mora. A blast of dynamite is the traditional signal for the race’s hundreds of participants.
Along the course are several “soup stops” – stations manned by volunteers which provide water, sports drinks, and the traditional hot beverage known as blueberry soup.
For the day of the race, snow is trucked in and deposited on Maple Avenue, from the library east to Union Street; and on Union Street from Maple south to Forest Avenue. The “home stretch” runs across Lake Mora, up the hill behind the library, and then onto the snow-covered streets before crossing the finish line.
The bell tower near the library is put into service on Vasaloppet Sunday, ringing out across the lake to assure incoming skiers that they’re nearing the race’s finish. Students and other volunteers also line up along Union Street to ring smaller bells, welcoming the skiers to the finish line.
The winners of each race are met at the finish line and given a victory wreath by the Kranskulla (“wreath girl”) and King Vasa. Winners also receive a trophy – an authentic Dala horse, hand-made in Sweden and painted by local artists.
In addition to the wreaths and trophies, the male and female winners of the 58km race are each awarded a trip to Sweden to compete in the 90km Vasaloppet race there. (If the winner declines the Swedish trip, a prize of $1,000 is offered instead.)
How big is the Mora Vasaloppet? Pretty big – it attracts around 2,000 skiers each year. The race has a self-imposed limit of 3,000 skiers each year.
Making all these things happen is hard work, and community involvement is always a critical piece of the Vasaloppet’s success. Over 100 private landowners allow the course to run through their properties. Various homeowners around Mora offer up room and board to visiting racers. The city closes streets and lays down snow for the finish line. And hundreds of residents (along with dozens of local businesses) volunteer to do everything from keeping the trails in tip-top shape, to handing out refreshments at “soup stops” along the course. Nearly 1,000 volunteers participate on race day, and many others remain involved year-round.