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Small Towns and Big Crowds

Jordan Woods
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You would be hard-pressed to find an event that unites a small town more than the Mora Vasaloppet. The Birkie might be an exception, but for the city of Mora, Minnesota, the Vasaloppet is an all-hands-on-deck extravaganza. Being from Mora, I have learned just how important the Vasa is to the community. I remember volunteering for it in my younger years, getting up at 5:00 AM to get the famous “blueberry soup stops” ready for the masses of skiers. At this time, the race was still a 58 kilometer point-to-point mass start. Skiers from all over the world would come to the town of roughly 3,600 people, staying at the one hotel on the south side of city limits or with generous host families. As the years progressed, snow started becoming an issue. After a few years of lap skiing on Lake Mora and a very unfortunate cancellation in 2012, the biggest ski race in Minnesota started to shrink. If it wasn’t for the newly acquired snowmaking equipment and dedicated work of the local “snow farmers,” the Vasaloppet might not be what it is today. A unique aspect of this race is the downtown start and finish. A majority of point-to-point races have some sort of an “in town” finish, but very few lapped races do.

With the Vasaloppet being my personal hometown race, I got to spend the night at my parents’ house (thanks Mom and Dad). I woke up bright and early to a chilly zero degree temperature. I had waxed two pairs of skis the night before for my 42 kilometer classic adventure.The first pair had a colder, harder glide wax with a fair amount of fluorinated kick-wax applied. The second pair had a slightly warmer glide wax with a little bit less kick. At the start line, I tested both pairs and they were incredibly fast. The snow had set up nicely the night before and was compact and speedy! I chose the colder waxed skis just for the fact that the wax was a bit more durable.

At the start line, the anticipation of racing slowly built. The streets were lined with spectators, waiting to get a glimpse of some of the most elite ski racers in the Midwest. The ski was blue, the wind was limited, and the skiers were ready. At the sound of the gun, we were off. As the race progressed, I settled into 10th position and stayed there for roughly two hours. I was alone for the vast majority of it, which was not the plan. Pack skiing is far easier than skiing solo, especially when trying to go at high speeds. I finished in 11th place after about 2 hours and 10 minutes of racing. This was significantly faster than my Vasaloppet from last year, but not as great place wise. Overall, I was very happy.

During my summer and fall training, I really didn’t have a whole lot of people to ski with. I believe this helped me during the Vasaloppet. I was able to mentally power through the race even though there was nobody pushing me necessarily. On long, slow roller skis in the summer, I would think about all sorts of things. While racing I am a bit more focused, but my mind still tends to wander. Once you start “feeling it” in a negative way, I always turn to counting. A friend taught me this a while back when I was first getting into distance racing. I pick a number, usually between 30 and 50, and count to that number with every pole strike. It helps keep your mind focused and keeps your technique in the right place. It also is a good distraction from the pain of doing ski marathons.

 

I am proud to say I’m from the community of Mora. At the starting line of other races, I’ll strike up conversations with other skiers and tell them where I’m from. Most of them say things like, “Oh, Mora! I did the Vasaloppet there! It is a wonderful race.” This makes me smile every time. The way the community comes together is astounding. Even people from Mora who have no vested interest in the sport of nordic skiing know when the Vasaloppet is and usually help out in some way. While skiing through the aid stations, I’ll recognize many of the volunteers as I go by. “Thanks Dan,” I’ll say in an exasperated tone as I dump Gatorade all over myself. “Go get ‘em Jordan,” he’ll say in return. While the Vasaloppet may not be the biggest race in the world, it has the biggest place in my heart.