[NOTE: Since this article was submitted, event organizers have notified WCCO that this year’s edition of the Vasaloppet has been canceled for only the fifth time in the event’s history. Read more here.]
It’s one of only four that take place around the world each year: the Mora Vasaloppet USA. And in 2012, the U.S. version of the Swedish ski race turns 40.
The original Vasaloppet began in 1922 in Mora, Sweden, sister city of the Minnesota Mora. In 1973, with Sweden’s permission, Mora launched its own Vasaloppet. Today there are just four locations that have Vasaloppet events: Sweden, Mora, Japan, and China.
The races themselves are held on the second Sunday in February each year. You have your choice: 58 km freestyle, 42 km classic, 35 km freestyle, 13 km freestyle, and the Vasaloppet Relay, in which a team of 5 relay along the 58-km course. The male and female winners of the 58km course wins a trip to Sweden to compete in the 90-km Swedish Vasaloppet, which is the longest in the world. (If the winner doesn’t want to travel to Sweden, the prize changes to $1,000.)
This year, with such an important anniversary, there are numerous other events for skiers and non-skiers to enjoy. No word yet if there will be an event like last year’s first-ever Vasaloppet wedding.
Events kick off on Feb. 10 with the Friendship Tour, a non-competitive ski of about one mile, leaving from Mora’s Vasaloppet Nordic Center and traveling by lantern and candlelight along Lake Mora to the city’s Library Park gazebo, where snacks and hot chocolate will be waiting.
On Sat., Feb. 11, there are two very different races: the Miniloppet for kids 13 and under (with choices of 1.5 km, 4 km, or 7 km courses), and the Eldris Sprints, a 1 km high-speed race for high-ranking skiers. Both have plenty of interest for onlookers.
Sun., Feb. 12 is the day for the major Vasaloppet races. Besides the grand prize of a trip to Sweden, what’s in it for the winners?
The winners of the individual races are met at the finish line and given a wreath by the “Kranskulla” (Swedish for “wreath girl”) and King Vasa. There are trophies too—authentic Dala horses, handmade in Sweden.
How big is this event? It attracts nearly 2000 skiers each year. The Vasaloppet enjoys enormous community support, with private property owners allowing skiers on their property; homeowners offering up room and board to visitors; the city makes sure the roads through town have fresh snow laid down; and hundreds of residents volunteer to make sure this rare international event goes off without a hitch.
And all because of a sister city in Sweden that also likes to celebrate the winter art of skiing.
Amy C. Rea lives with her family in the Twin Cities. She’s the author of Backroads & Byways of Minnesota and Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes: an Explorer’s Guide. She can also be found chatting about Minnesota travel topics at flyover-land.com.