Swedish ski festival ends with annual 90km hike

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The Independent Online

The 90km Vasaloppet ski marathon is the jewel in the crown for Sweden's annual Winter Week ski festival. Over 15,000 skiers are expected to bundle up at the starting gates on the first Sunday in March for a race that is as much national rite of passage as it is a test of speed.

Those Winter Week festivities encompass a host of short, middle, and long-distance alpine races over various distances, but soon enough all attention turns to the Vasaloppet itself, a 90km ski marathon between the towns of Sälen and Mora which is the oldest of the 15 Worldloppet long distance events and one of three remaining races in the 2009/10 FIS Marathon Cup.

While the 86th Vasaloppet can trace its history back to the story of nobleman-king Gustav Vasa, and further revival of the route stemming from 1922, this particular celebration of Scandinavian scenery has more recently attracted a TV audience approaching 2 million, a significant number in a country whose inhabitants number just under 9 million.

The trek translates into a minimum 5 hours of Nordic Skiing for most participants, but not without some comforts as race stewards stationed at control points throughout the course are armed with portions of blåbärssoppa, a warm blueberry soup, along with other essential items.

Still, unlike some of the more forgiving ski events during Winter Week, the Vasaloppet itself employs a seeding system in order to allow abler athletes to escape the pack. The Vasaloppet is not just the oldest surviving ski marathon, but also one of the final events in the FIS Ski Marathon season.

That hasn't prevented a total 16,368 skiers from registering, for though the prestigious event pulls in plenty of long-distance experts, it is still accessible for locals and visitors wanting to join in with one of the region's long-established leisure activities.

Weather forecasts made close to the event indicated that temperatures will be relatively mild, with a clement 1°C dropping to -8°C under cover of darkness. Even taking into account wind chill, the daytime low is expected to be merely -4°C, though after sunset the perceived temperature will dip to between -13°C and -16°C. That's generally enough incentive to finish the course before nightfall, or comply with officials' requests to delay completion until the following year.

Sveriges Television have carried broadcasts of the event and Sony Ericsson have also been getting in on the act, leveraging their mobile phone technology to allow a further diversification of broadcast options - spectators and participants at the event have been able to send live video straight to the SVT channel's operatives using Ericsson's Me-On-TV initiative.

A select few competitors are among the elite that have completed the endurance test over 30 times, and Vasaloppet's internal TV crew caught up with Erik Erlandsson, president of the Veterans' Club, on the Vasaloppet YouTube Channel.

The official event website is http://www.vasaloppet.se

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