This weekend, thousands of cross-country skiers gathered in Dalarna in central Sweden to take part in one of the country’s biggest ski events of the year – the Vasaloppet, or Vasa Race.
See photos from the Vasaloppet here.
In 1520, Sweden was embroiled in a fight to evict the occupying Danish army and their leader Kristian the Tyrant. During the Stockholm Bloodbath of that year, 80 Swedish nobles were killed, forcing one of the organisers of the rebellion, a young man named Gustav Eriksson Vasa, to flee for his life. He found himself alone in the town of Mora in the central Swedish county of Dalarna. His pleas to the locals to join his cause were unsuccessful, and he continued his journey west toward the Norwegian border.
But when news of the massacre in Stockholm reached Mora, two skiers were sent to intercept Vasa. They finally caught up with him in the small town of Sälen. Today, this journey, which led to the eventual expulsion of the Danish forces, is commemorated in the Vasaloppet, one of the most important sporting events of the Swedish winter calendar.
Since 1922, when just 119 men made the gruelling journey between Sälen and Mora (the race follows the route in the opposite direction), the Vasaloppet has been run in memory of the epic 90km journey made by Gustav Vasa. The young Swede became a national hero and was later crowned king in 1523 after victory over the Danes.
One of the longest cross-country ski races in the world, today the Vasaloppet attracts around 15,000 competitors a year fuelled by 34,000 litres of blueberry soup, and is watched by around 50,000 spectators and another 2.5 million Swedes (around a third of the population) on television.
This year’s race was won for the third time by Oskar Svärd, aged 30 from Ulricehamn, in 4 hours 43 minutes and 43 seconds. The course record stands at an incredible 3:38:57. Since Oskar also won in 2003 and 2005, he joked that he may just decide to skip next year’s race and return victorious in 2009!
If you’re not a competitive skier, you can still ski in the historic tracks of Vasa and the messengers so long ago. The Öppet Spår (“Open Track”) event gives everyone the chance to ski the course without the stress of competition, while the HalvVasan (the “Half Vasa”) provides a warm-up opportunity at 45km. The whole family can take part in the KortVasan, or “Short Vasa” – a 30km tour over the final stretch. There are three other variations on the race itself – the StafettVasan, a relay race, the SkeijtVasan, a free technique race, and finally the TjejVasan, a 30km event open only to women.
For those who have the courage, stamina and strength to go the distance in the Vasaloppet, an inspirational motto awaits at the finish line: I Fäders Spår för Framtids Segrar – “In the Tracks of our Forefathers for the Victories of the Future”.
The Nature Travels Team