The Long Distance Ski Championship


Written by Teemu Virtanen

The seventh season of Visma Ski Classics was quite an undertaking for all teams, the management and the events as it was longer than ever before reaching out to a new territory in the east, Vasaloppet China. Finland was integrated into the mix for the first time in history and Ylläs-Levi became the final race of the series. There were ups and downs throughout the season like in any other year with the usual fights against Mother Nature, some technical challenges in new places and some extremely hard courses for mass starts. But there were a lot of joy, excitement and awe in the air with new locations, new races and new teams.

Overall, the Season VII turned out to be the greatest success of the tour so far making it an international phenomenon in the Nordic skiing world. In the Northern countries, its brand value was solidified by the nationwide broadcasts of the EBU affiliates in Norway, Sweden and Finland, NRK, SVT and YLE respectively. Long distance skiing has become a respectable sport on its own alongside standard distance skiing and other Nordic sports.

The calendar for the next winter has been published, and the Season VIII looks as intriguing and challenging as the one before it albeit a bit shorter in terms of the number of events because two of the races are not part of the cup anymore and the prologue has been changed to a pro team tempo race (11 km).

Another interesting addition to the cup is a new competition for those who love climbing up the hill. This “King of the Hill” idea comes from the cycling world where mountain sections are a pivotal part of any tour and the athletes with climbing abilities are considered to be the greatest heroes of the sport. Now, the new lumberjack bib will present an exciting flavor to the ever-growing long distance ski world championship with eight different climb checkpoints each on the top of a hill.

You can read about the changes and new additions to Visma Ski Classics on this website and find out how the prologue differs from the ones that came before and how this new climbing competition actually takes shape. You may find that the upcoming season seems to be a bit more evenly balanced as there are some weekends off for the teams to go home and focus on their training. Speaking of the teams, it would be interesting to know about their thoughts on the changes and how they feel about the new season with 11 races. So, without further ado, let’s give them a chance to have their say. 

Magnar Dalen, the director of the number one Team Santander, is ready for the next season and his team will have a kick-off training camp in Oslo next week where they will announce their team roster. Magnar says that there will be some great surprises and he urges us to stay tuned. But what about the new season in general?

“We are quite happy that there are less races this year,” Magnar states. “Both Vasaloppet China and Årefjällsloppet were great races, but the upcoming season will give us and all the other teams a bit more room to breathe as there are some free weekends from racing.”

Martin Holmstrand, the leader of the rising Team Serneke (6th in 2017), seems to agree with Magnar when saying that less races work for everyone’s benefit.

“We think it is good with a shorter season and the fact that Visma Ski Classics focuses on higher quality in the remaining races. I think it will increase our possibility to market the brand and make it more appealing.”

Lars Ljung from Lager 157 Ski Team, the second best team of the last season, replies in unison with his two colleagues and states that having a smaller number of races will boost up the overall quality because all the teams can now fully focus on every race in the upcoming season and make sure all the best skiers are present.

All of the team directors are extremely happy to see the new climbing competition in the cup. They unanimously agree that some of the popular cycling sport features could successfully be applied to long distance skiing as well.

“It is exiting to have a new competition and we are sure that it will add another dimension to the cup, which is great,” Martin comments enthusiastically. “I have been lobbying for this, and it will also move us closer to the Pro Tour in cycling. It will be interesting to see which athletes will go for the bib.”

“I think it will be very good for spectators, commentators and the whole brand to have another competition like this,” Magnar continues with the thought. “Our team is certainly geared up to fight for that jersey. It is good news indeed!”

Lars gets somewhat analytical with his answer to the question about the new competition.

“It’s great that you separate the hill competition from the sprint one. It makes the sprint more sprint-like in nature, which means high speed and man against man. The hill competition itself is interesting and it will be compelling to see how it evolves over the season and in the years to come. Right now, the strongest skier of the day is often the best climber but that may not be the case in the future.”

Then, it is finally time to put the last season to rest and gaze upon new challenges that lay ahead, but how would the team directors look back on the longest season in history and what are they expecting from the winter of 2018.

“We had a very good season this winter,” Magnar acknowledges happily. “We had many great victories and a clear win in the overall team competition. We got both yellow and green jerseys, so there’s nothing to complain about there. Our goal for 2018 is to be the best team again, but we know that our opponents are also working hard, which means we are up for an exciting year again. As it was apparent last season, Ylläs-Levi is the perfect place to end a long season of skiing and we are looking forward to it again.”

 Martin is on the same page with his colleague and says: “We had a great season and we keep the momentum going. We are in full work with the release of the team for this season. There will be some interesting changes and it is inspiring to increase the performance level of the team. We will a force to be reckoned with come 2018!”

Lars sounds as confident as Martin and Magnar when describing his team’s goal for the next winter.

“Last season was a good one for us! We are continuing to improve on basically all the areas both on the ski tracks but also outside of the tracks. Vasaloppet was the main goal last year and we managed to pull off a great performance that Sunday in March. We are looking to up the ante on all parts of the game in the upcoming winter. Racing stronger, smarter and even more together as a team. Aiming for the yellow, pink and green bibs in the end of the season.”

To finish this article and to give some food for though, Lars and Martin offer some great suggestions for bringing forth some new value to the brand and the sport itself.

“We like the fact that there are podium places in all different bib competitions and we like the fact that the team competition has the similar format as the rest of the categories,” Lars admits sincerely. “We think that generally speaking Visma Ski Classics has done a great job in listening to the feedback from us. In the future, the collaboration between the teams and the management of Visma Ski Classics can be even more improved so that we can build an even greater product together.”

Martin even gives a concrete example on how this cooperation between the teams and Visma Ski Classics could materialize. 

“To spice things up a bit, there should more content and stories focusing on all kinds of things outside of the actual races. I think people want to know what happens behind the scenes. Maybe we should let our audience see how we work with our teams before races. I mean we could let them into our waxing buses and such to see what it really takes to be in Visma Ski Classics.”

Indeed, Martin is right on the money and that is certainly something we can look forward to when the new season kicks off in Pontresina, Switzerland, in November. That said, stay tuned for more stories and content on our social media sites!