Vasaloppet 2021 Race Report
I left Ashby in the dark hours before dawn in order to get to Mora, MN in time for my 8:35am start for this year’s Vasaloppet. When I arrived, the town looked a bit quieter than usual on account of the events being spread out over two days, but I was happy to see they had still brought in the snow to cover the downtown streets, and I still felt a little buzz of excitement as I heard the elite race start over the loud speakers. There were, of course, a few of the typical Vasaloppet hallmarks missing in order to keep the event safe during the pandemic. Carpooling across the state, meeting fellow racers in the celebration tent, the mass group start through the packed crowds of downtown, and being cheered on by my family out on the course will all have to wait until next year. Despite all of that, the race organizers and volunteers were able to retain much of what makes this race the best in Minnesota.
The forecast promised a high of 20 degrees, but it was still a bit crisp at the start. A clear night meant the early morning temps were still 14 below as I passed through St. Cloud en route to the race, and as the sun rose, an icy mist formed over the trees. Luckily, the mist cleared and the temperature started to rise just in time for the start. The sky was bright and blue by time I was out on course. Masks were mandatory in the socially-distanced starting area, and the face-chilling sub-zero temps further encouraged compliance. There was no “Happy Trails” send-off this year, but it was a nice to get a personalized call-out from the announcers as I left the gate.
My first 23K lap felt pretty good (if a bit chilly). I was very well-rested after being stuck inside during the record-setting 2-week cold stretch preceding the race. While the snow on the course was about as cold as it can get, the track was typical for Mora -- firm and nicely groomed. Due to the staggered start, there was no rush across the lake, and for once, I didn’t see a single broken pole out on the course.
By the start of the second lap, the strong February sun meant the temperature was rising fast. I was no longer uncomfortably cold, and I was fairly confident that nothing on my body was actually frozen solid. I could even hear a few birds singing in the woods for the first time this year. Toward the middle of the second lap, I could tell that my form was beginning to slip (this 47km race was my longest ski of the season by far), and I was also getting really hungry. In interest of social distancing, I had intended to skip the soup stations and use my own drink belt, but I discovered my bottle was frozen solid. Looking ahead, I could see a sign for blueberry soup, and I decided to stop. Following the rules, I came to a complete stop while keeping my mask on to accept the drink. The volunteers used their serving platter with a 3ft-extender system (quite ingenious) to deliver a hot cup of soup and a glass of water to wash it down. It was just what I needed to make it to the end of the race. Soon enough, I could hear the bells across the lake, and yet another Vasaloppet was complete.
Thanks for the great race, Mora! See you again in 2022.