Unofficial Race Guide to Vasaloppet 2019 [Updated Tuesday Feb 5]
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
The City of Lakes Loppet is in the books, and now it is time to look forward to the 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. After a few years with relatively low registrations and/or poor conditions due to a variety of circumstances outside of the Vasaloppet USA’s control, it is great to see the number of skiers increasing recently. With the nice conditions and good weather expected, I hope 2019 will be a big year for the Vasaloppet. I hope to see you in Mora!
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.
I was out at the Nordic center in early January, just after we went through stretch of warm weather. The snow maker was busily producing piles of snow and the the trails were firm but in good shape and very skiable. They had about 5km of trails around the Nordic Center open at that time. Since then, we haven’t had any severe thaws, Mora has received one significant snow storm, and the snow farmers have been hard at work distributing snow to any thin areas. I bet the trails will be in good shape for the race, and I’m excited to get out there on Saturday!
Weather Outlook [updated Tuesday, February 5]
The latest forecast is for about 6"of cold snow on Thursday, followed by a cold Friday and a low of -19F on Friday night. The high on Saturday is only supposed to be 5 above. All of this cold and snow mean that the race trail conditions are much less certain. You'll never hear me complain about getting more snow, and I'm sure the Vasaloppet trail team will do their best to get the new snow packed down, but there's a good chance the trail could be soft, cold, and slower than an average year. On the positive side, it should make waxing easy -- just find the coldest wax in your box. For me, that will mean a couple of layers of Start Green with a cold powder fluoro over the top.
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. I think they are calling them 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).