Vasaloppet: The biggest ski race no one’s ever heard of

What do you get when you line up 16,000 skiers to race 90 kilometers (56 miles)? Tired. No really. Tired just watching it.

Participants in this race in northern Swedish town Sälen, near the border with Norway, range from professional cross-country skiers to anyone who would like to have a heart attack wearing skis. Most take about 10 hours to finish, but Swede Jorgen Brink won the race in just over 4 hours. Varying reports say that because of the sheer amount of participants, the folks in the back have to wait about 45 minutes before even crossing the starting line. It’s at least partially an excuse for not finishing the race before everyone goes home.

This annual marathon is named after Gustav Ericsson Vasa, a Swedish nobleman and the first king of Sweden, who was believed to have jumped on skis to escape from a murderous Danish king. He stopped in the town of Mora for help mounting a revolt, but with no support from the men there, he skied to Sälen. Then men in Mora then changed their minds and brought Gustav back to lead a rebellion. The route they ski in the race today mirrors the route he supposedly took from Sälen to Mora. Most think it’s just a tale, as reports put Gustav somewhere else at the time.

I briefly entertained the idea of traveling up there to see the race firsthand, but sub-zero temperatures and a strong sense of laziness kept me at home. Given my inclinations to pick a wine-fueled dinner over exercise, I can’t imagine laboring across 90 kilometers with frozen limbs. Thank you Swedish public television for letting me stay on the couch.

(SVT, Swedish public television has a fantastic video of the start. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t like its video, so check it out here:


One thought on “Vasaloppet: The biggest ski race no one’s ever heard of

  1. Lining up with 16,000 is no great fun if you are a professional skier but if you were just in junior skis, Vasaloppet would be a great way to find new acquaintances and maybe even friends. I think the very idea of winning is not important for the participants here as I think people join the race just to commemorate the story behind the race and just to have fun, although skiing for ten hours is not my idea of fun. I would just gladly pick up my skis after having fun for four hours and drinking beer and meeting girls in the local pub while waiting for the other skiers to finish the race.

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