Unofficial Race Guide to Vasaloppet
The Birkie may be the biggest race in the Midwest, but the Vasaloppet is my favorite and the one that I’ve participated in most often. The people of Mora and all the volunteers make this race great. From the snow farmers to the registration volunteers to the race officials, it seems like all the residents have a role to play in putting on the race. As for the course, the combination of the downtown finish and the fast trails through scenic woods, ponds, and lakes make it a fun race.
Note: This isn’t meant to replace any of the good info on the Vasaloppet website (make sure you read that too — things can change). These are just my observations from several years of skiing the race.
Parking and Getting Around Mora
Parking in Mora is not an issue as there is plenty of space in the center of town and under the water tower. If you get to Mora about an hour early, you should be able to park within a block or two of the start. Also, it is a good idea to pick up your packet the night before the race so that you don’t have to deal with that on race morning. Note: On excellent snow years, the race runs from Warman to Mora, which requires getting to Mora a little earlier so you can catch the bus. In recent years (including this year), the race is a loop that starts and finishes in downtown Mora.
Before the Race
The lake is a good place to warm up and test your skis before the race. Follow the trail from the starting area to the lake, which is just a few blocks from downtown. After you've tested your skis, head back past the start area and hang out in the warming tent until about 10 minutes before the race starts.
The starting pen is usually a relaxed atmosphere, with racers discussing their plans for the race and speculating about the upcoming Birkie. The Vasaloppet uses a self-seeding system (no waves), so just try to find a place to start that is approximately where you expect to finish (for example, I start about 1/3 back from the front, and I skate ~3:15/km on this course). In my experience, the system works well, and any additional sorting that needs to happen is done on journey across the across the lake, where the track is wide enough to allow for easy passing. Just remember, there are over 50km ahead of you, so make sure you don’t start too fast. After the start gun fires, they traditionally play "Happy Trails to You", and it's quite fitting for the fun race ahead.
About the Course
The trail is FAST (on a normal year -- see weather update above) without big hills! My watch showed just 110m of climb over the entire 54k race (using data from 2017). The course is comprised of a loop that is repeated multiple times, with the number of repeats based on the length of the race. Some people may say that the race is easier than other races because there aren't that many hills, but really that just means there's no downhill glide to provide a chance to rest -- you just go all out from start to finish. Also, the course has a number of tight turns, so if you can practice keeping your speed through tight corners, it will save you a lot of time over the course of the race. Most years, there’s a lot of artificial snow mixed in with the natural snow, which means that you should wax one step colder than the temperature would indicate. Since it looks like it will be cold in 2019 anyway, it just confirms the Start Green (or similar). In past years, there have been a couple of feed stations on the course. One at the Nordic Center, and a second out at the farthest point on the trail.
I’ve done the 35k and the 58k versions of the race -- the Vasa and the Dala with the new naming scheme. There’s also a shorter race available and a classic race. All the races run on the same morning, which works well if you’re with a group. Different people can choose different races, but you can still ride together and hang out together before and after the races.
If you haven’t done a cross country ski race before, this would be a great one to start with. Many distance options are available and there aren’t any huge hills to worry about. There’s a wide variety of skill levels represented at this race, so you’ll be sure to see other people that ski about as fast as you do. And the race is on a loop course, which means that there will always be people around you.
The three main areas to watch the race are downtown, at the Vasaloppet Nordic Center (1.5 miles outside of town), and on the lake. Downtown is very busy with bells ringing, racers coming in, and names being announced. It definitely has a party atmosphere. The lake is more open and a bit quieter, but on certain days it can be very cold and windy. There’s always a lot of activity at the Nordic center, and it's a place where you can see skiers going both directions (which means you will see your skier pass more often than at any other spectating spot).