Vasaloppet classic skiing race or how to ski 90km in a day

The end of an intense and beautiful journey, like hundreds of thousands skiers before us.

In June 2016 I started my journey to complete a Swedish classic. Nine months later, on a dark morning of February, I was on the starting line of Vasaloppet, a 90km journey where thousands of participants aim to reach Mora from Sälen on nordic skis in one of the most famous classic skiing race in the world. In this article I am sharing my journey to completing Vasaloppet, from beginner to {spoiler alert!} crossing the finish line, along with tips I picked on the way.

Skiing the 90km of Vasaloppet is considered an integral part of being a Swede. It is usually said that either you have completed Vasaloppet, either you are training for it or you think about doing it one day. Since its the first edition in 1922, 550.000 skiers have taken the journey from Salen to Mora, along a 90km trail. located in the middle of Sweden. Cross country skiing is usually regarded as one of the most intense endurance sport and powering yourself on skis for 90km is quite a challenge.


Out of the 4 challenges, this was the one I was fearing the most. Maybe because I went for the first time on nordic skis just a couple of years ago, because it was my first skiing race or maybe because well… let’s say I was not a good skier. With the new goal, I would definitely need to start training seriously.

There is no “can’t”

Meanwhile, our unexpected move to London – far from any snow- provided the perfect excuse to bail out. But stubborn (or idiot) as a mule, I decided I will take no excuse and would make it work. For the 4 months before the race I Iived at the pace of the training (see my training plan further in the article). Some evenings I would break down in tears of anxiety, some days I would not believe the progress I had already made but also how far I still had to go. Quite a few were doubtfull but overall the support of the friends, colleagues and fellow rollerski club members was fantastic. My motivation remained intact.
As the date of the challenge approached, I had grown more and more worried. Reading, researching and looking at my training stats again. What I usually like the most with taking on new challenges is that the pressure is off, the only thing you usually care about is to “just” finish. But would they even let me? Vasaloppet has cut off time all along the way, forcing the participants to keep moving and to complete the total course in less than 12h.

The start of Vasaloppet, thousands of skiiers setting off! (Credit: Vasaloppet official website)

Vasaloppet open trail, 26 February 2017

The journey started with breakfast at 2.30am after a sleepless night. At the start line, a sick feeling in my stomach, I tried to focus on the goal. This was the last piece of the Swedish classics, and I could not not finish, I had to stay on track with time and not miss any cut off. And off we went.


It was only after the first 10km that I started to relax and to enjoy the journey. The sun was out, the conditions were great and the skis perfectly prepared – gripping when they should, gliding as fast speed on the long stretches of downhill. As the day went by, I surprised myself of how far I had gone, only falling a couple of times to avoid other skiers.


At the halfway point, I got greeted in French by the presenter, telling me that there was “only” 45km to the end. It made me laugh: “only” is not exactly what you think of when you have already spend 6h on skis? I was already extremely tired but there was no time to loose. Another snack, another zip of blueberry soup and here we continue.


As we reached the last checkpoint, I was overwhelmed by emotion, I was going to finish this! The night was falling, my arms and my legs were exhausted but I only had to ski the 9 last kilometres, which I did with a big smile on my face. By the time I finally arrive to Mora, almost most of spectators were gone, with only the staff and presenters remaining to greet the finishers. But it didn’t matter. I was not even close to anything fast (that day the fastest finished in 4h48min) – but I did it. 90km in a day.  11h02min later, I raised my arms and as I crossed the finish line in Mora almost an hour before the cut off time, completing Vasaloppet and the Swedish classics!

Training for a ski challenge with no snow

Your new friend: meet the Ski Erg

The Ski Erg is to the nordic skier what the rower machine is to the rower.  It replicates quite well the skiing movements and the most recent ones allow you not only to train double polling but also alternating arms. This allows you to build up condition in a record time in the conveniency of your gym. Ask an instructor to check your technique the first time you try it. I cannot emphasise enough how useful this has been for me. I did 1 to 2 sessions a week of around 30min for 3 months, see good examples of training sessions here and here.

In Sweden you can find these machines in any gym, this may be more challenging outside of Scandinavia. Alternatively, you can rent one ($50/month) perfect for the garage.


Rollerski sessions

Exactly as it sounds: skis on roller! Good to train the technique, classes highly recommended to get started on these as tarmac is way less forgiving than snow! Ouch!
In London I can highly recommend the friendly roller ski club, which gathers twice a week in Hyde Park and Victoria Park. Instructors are competent and the club gathers experienced roller skiers who can give you great tips on the race you are aiming for but also new comers. You have the option to buy a membership which includes rental of the kit. I joined the club from November till the end of March and attended 1 to 2 sessions a week.

Others tips for training

  • Running is a good cross training, especially if you run hills and train with poles.
  • General strength and balance exercises: 7min workout on the morning (especially plank, push ups and abs). I practiced one leg balance every day while brushing my teeth to improve my balance.
  • Time on snow. I won’t lie, especially if you are fairly new to the sport, a few days on snow will provide you with invaluable experience, even if it is just a week-end! You will feel much more wobbly once on skis and you need to experience the contact with different types of snow. For me, it was one week in Are, dedicated entirely to cross-country skiing! Include a couple of sessions with a private coach to maximise your time on snow


My Tips for beginners racing Vasaloppet

The official website is a fantastic resource (in Swedish and English).
Which race and day to choose?
  • Vasaloppet – The “real race”, with the pros: Tickets sold in seconds, crowded.
  • Less experienced skiers or those who prefer a more relaxed atmosphere choose the “oppet spar” (“open trail” sessions) held one week earlier but featuring exactly the same course. The Monday one is less crowded than the Sunday.

Smågan, the first check point on race day. Why are we doing this again?

What equipment do you need?
  • Clothes: Windproof ski trousers, windproof jacket (your downhill equipment would be way too warm, think about what you would wear for a run)
  • Accessories: hat, sunglasses, good gloves
  • gels / snacks / small insulated bottle
  • skis / boots / poles / ski wax / ski scraper
Planning your week-end
  • Book early! Swedes are organised and plan ahead. Book your accommodation more than 6 months in advance. Staying close to the Mora is the best option.
  • Getting there: If you stay in Mora you can get there by train from Stockholm. If you say in the villages around, it is probably easier to rent a car. From Mora buses are organised to bring skiers to the start.
  • Preparing your skis: Professional waxing service (not the one you may think ;-)) will make a big difference. You don’t want to spend the day trying t fix your skis for the perfect grip and glide.  Cost: around 800kr+ per pair of skis.
Tips for skiing Vasaloppet
  • Vasaloppet is famous for its first steep big uphill. You will likely get stuck there as people slowly make their way up. Be patient, smile and you will eventually make it.
  • The last part of the course is relatively easy – relatively as you already have 60km in the legs! I didn’t had enough energy left to double pole but indeed if you are still going strong it is probably the best gear to choose for that part.
  • You will get plenty of energy drink, blueberry soup and buns, I still recommend to pack some of your own nutrition (energy bars, gels).

It has been tough, but what a journey! There is nothing you can’t do if your put your mind to it!

More challenges? Learn more about the Swedish classics, about Vätternrundan cycling race (Sweden) or the Dart 10km swim (UK).

Share your thoughts!