Each year, at the end of February/start of March, Sweden hosts the world’s largest cross-country skiing race, known as the ‘Vasaloppet’ (Vasa Race). It covers a 90 km route through the Dalarna province and includes a team relay event. For my Swedish colleagues from Gothenburg and Svenljunga, taking part is a long-standing tradition but for my wife and me, both newcomers to cross-country skiing, it was a real adventure.
I myself am a native of Tuebingen and in our part of the country, the closest access to snow and skiing is the Swabian Alp. All that changed a couple of years ago, though, when I took the chance to work at the MANN+HUMMEL Service Center Scandinavia in Gothenburg. The winters in Sweden are long and there is frequently snow on the ground from October to May, so it’s hard to avoid it here! In addition to this, Swedes are real outdoor fanatics, whatever the weather is like outside. So if you want to blend in with the locals, you have to get involved in events like these.
This year, my wife and I took part in the renowned Vasa Race for the first time or, to be more precise, the ‘Vasa Relay Race’ (StafettVasan) The 90-kilometre race runs between Saelen and Mora, and is split into five stages of different lengths, ranging from 9 to 28 Kilometres. This has the welcome side-effect that in principle anyone can take part, from beginners to experienced athletes. This year, our colleagues from MANN+HUMMEL Vokes Air AB in Svenljunga entered two relay teams each consisting of five people.
The two MANN+HUMMEL teams at the Vasa Race 2017. Team 1: Daniel Turesson, Joakim Baklund, Tommy Sandberg, Anton Lydell, Simon Stoli. Team 2: Mats Örstig, Per Ericsson, Magnus Johnsson, Ivanka Poljak, Mike Schmid.
The right wax is essential
When it comes to cross-country skiing, my wife and I are complete newbies. We have only been on such skis maybe five times before. Nonetheless our colleagues still welcomed us into the team, the idea being for everyone to do the best you can. The stages are distributed accordingly, with handover areas in between where the “baton” is passed from one team member to the next.
Although it is important to have specific training to be prepared for an event like this, there is also a technical aspect to cross-country skiing. When using the classic style in particular, it’s extremely important to properly wax your skis, otherwise you won’t be able to climb the ascents. My Swedish colleagues are true experts here, and master the art of waxing perfectly.. Per, who earned himself the title of ‘wax king’, had his own mobile workshop with him – a small workbench, a flat iron and a small case containing a huge array of different kinds of waxes – and he ensured that all team members’ skis were properly waxed for the race.
Garden refreshment stations
On the morning of the race, I was of course nervous. For one, I didn’t want to let my colleagues down but I also had a few concerns about how well I would cope along the way. The individual stages are very demanding: many times there are steep inclines and fast and treacherous descents to cope with. You literally fly down on your narrow skis. Meaning you need to expect some suffering when throwing yourself into the various downhill sections.
The cross-country route largely passes through the vast Swedish forests with its unspoiled nature. Along the way, you catch sometimes a glimpse of the road where spectators gather to watch and cheer on the racers. The Vasa Race is truly an event for the people. The Swedes are extremely hospitable, providing small snacks and tea from refreshment stations in their front gardens here and there.
The 90-km route runs from Sälen to Mora, both located in the province of Dalarna in the heart of Sweden around 500 km north of Gothenburg. When I reached the finish line, I was relieved, euphoric and full of adrenaline from my exertions. In moments like this, you can make nice experiences. Even the most reserved Swedish lads come out of their shell, suddenly relax and start chatting away with anyone nearby. Even as a non-Swede, this makes you feel a part of it.
The traditional warm blueberry soup (Blåbärssoppa), along with a sweet bun (Bulle) after the race is a must – it’s fair to say that without that you haven’t really participated in the Vasaloppet 😉