Going 90 miles via human power is a significant distance. That’s 56 miles or about the mileage from Laramie to Cheyenne.
Laramie resident Even Brande, who is also chairman and founder of Handel Information Technologies, Inc., plans to cover that distance under his own power – via cross-country skis. Instead of going from Laramie to Cheyenne, though, his adventure begins in Sälen and ends in Mora – in Sweden.
On March 1, Brande joins 15,800 other skiers from around the globe to compete in the Vasaloppet Nordic ski race. The Vasaloppet is the world’s oldest and biggest cross-country ski race.
In Nordic skiing, there are two techniques: classic and skate. The later came into being in the 1980s while classic technique is much, much older. Skate skiing, which resembles the movement of ice skating, is considerably faster, and is quite popular at groomed ski trails across the United States.
The Vasaloppet allows only one mode: classic. Brande said that’s not unusual, especially in European countries, where classic technique remains quite popular. One aspect of classic is the focus on waxing, to allow the ski to glide forward, but also “stick” when weighted so the skier can push off. Getting the balance between the two is an art – and also a bit of luck.
Brande said waxing on the Vasaloppet is a challenge, especially due to the distance.
“Not only does wax wear off, but conditions change dramatically over the course of the race,” Brande said. “It can be very tricky.”
Brande said the long distance is the key challenge of this marathon race, rather than the terrain. While it starts with an initial uphill, the bulk of the route is fairly flat. With that in mind, Brande said he’ll wax to focus on the glide to maximize his movement forward with each stride.
If all goes as planned, Brande hopes to finish in less than eight hours. With the race starting at 8 a.m., that means he’ll finish in daylight, even in the far north of Sweden.
The course is vastly different from the ski race Brande completed two years ago in Norway when he took on the Birkebeinerrennet or the Norwegian Birkebeiner. That race covered 54 kilometers but it went up and over two mountain passes. Not only that, but in keeping with the tradition of the race, each competitor had to carry a backpack with supplies weighing a minimum of eight pounds.
“The terrain made that race very challenging,” Brande said. “The difficulty of the Vasaloppet is the distance.”
The Vasaloppet and the Norwegian Birkenbeiner are two of 20 long-distance ski races in Europe, America, Asia and Oceania that are part of the Worldloppet. This is an international sports federation of cross-country ski marathons. According to the federation’s website, the aim of Worldloppet is to “promote the sport of cross-country skiing, by focusing on popular skiing through the various ski races around the world.”
One of the objectives of the association is to recognize dedicated long distance cross-country skiers who have completed the required number of Worldloppet races during their lifetime and have become Worldloppet Masters.
To become a Master, a skier must complete at least 10 of the 20 designated races. Each race is in a different country, and at least one of the races must also be on another continent.
To record each race, those attempting to become a Worldloppet Master obtain a special passport. This passport, which looks similar to a regular passport, contains a special page for each event in the Worldloppet series. After each race, the skier gets an official stamp for that race.
To date, Brande has three stamps in his passport; the Vasaloppet will be his fourth event. His goal is to get to that magical number of 10 and earn the coveted Master’s status.
So far Brande completed the American Birkebeiner, held in Wisconsin, the Gatineau Loppet in Canada, and the Birkenbeiner in Norway.
“After this one, I’ll have six to go,” Brande said. “On the plus side, I’ve completed the tougher ones, based on terrain and distance. I think my plan next year is to find two Worldloppet races in continental Europe that I can do on back to back weekends.”