As the Mora Vasaloppet cross-country ski race approached, and snow did not, we carefully monitored the race news. The lack of snow forced race officials to move the course to Knife Lake, which meant shortening the races and looping around the lake’s perimeter on a trail created on top of the ice, rather than skiing through the woods. Fortunately, there was just enough snow to cover the last 13k from the lake to Mora, allowing the race to finish on Main Street. And compared to last year, when it had to be cancelled completely due to lack of snow, we were grateful that the race was on!
In stark contrast, the weather report for race day included a Winter Storm Warning which predicted 8-12″ of snow and increasing winds throughout the day. Would it really materialize? Or would it fizzle, as so many snow forecasts seem to do these days? Only time would tell.
We were relived to find that the snowfall had not yet started when we made our way to Mora in the early morning hours before the race. But the threat was still there. Rich was the first to make his way to the starting line, as his classic race started an hour before the skate race that Erik and I had entered. As his race was only 26k and included just one loop around the lake, Rich was within 5k of the finish line before the snow started.
Erik and I did not fair as well. One of Mora’s signature features is the line of huge bonfires near the start, to keep skiers warm while waiting for the race to begin. Standing there next to the lake, we could feel the fury of the wind as it whipped across the lake. Indeed, the announcer confirmed our suspicions informing racers that the first 7k around the lake would be directly into the wind. Oh boy…
By the time we started, so had the snow. Big fat flakes came down that looked pretty in the distance, but in reality whipped into our faces like pin pricks and stung our eyes. Skiing into the wind was like pushing against an immovable force. That was compounded by the powdery, sugary snow we plowed through on the trail they had created. The depth and consistency changed frequently, with ice showing through at times, making forward progress inconsistent. Add to that being blinded by the snow, and it was like skiing into the unknown!
Relief came when we turned toward the opposite shore and rode the wind back to the beginning of the circle. Minutes lost earlier were made up sailing in front of the blast, and we had some relief from the snow in our eyes. It was even enjoyable. But our euphoria didn’t last. We’d signed up for the longest race, which although shortened to 40k meant two laps around the lake. Soon we were battling the gale once again, convinced it was stronger and snowier than the first time around. A skier next to me asked “When will this hill ever end?” Despite the flat terrain of the lake, I knew just what he meant! The lake was obliterated by the snow, and the tracks swept by the wind. With the skiers spreading out, I found myself on my own hoping I was still following the right course.
Eventually we made it off the lake for the final 13k to Mora. That final section was on the local ski trails, and we had to retrain our legs to go up and down real hills. The woods were a welcome wind break, although the snow continued to find us, adhering to our bodies, hair and eyelashes.
The end of the Mora Vasaloppet is always a thrill, and despite the conditions, this year did not disappoint. One final hill takes skiers up to an old schoolhouse, and then it’s a short ski down Main Street to the finish line. There women in traditional Swedish costumes hand out medals, and locals dish up their famous blueberry soup. There’s nothing like it – hot and sweet! I looked like an icicle by that point, but no matter – I finished.
Thank you to SkinnySki.com for the above two photos.