The outgoing season o 2016/17 was the year when the popularity of night/dark racing has exploded.
It’s not like the nordic racing enthusiasts the world over didn’t figure out how to put their silvas and petzls to good use before, but the future historians would likely name the last season as the one when night skiing became a true sport.
Because the last year two of the most popular cross country skiing festivals in the world both were nocturnal.
First Vasalappet franchise gave birth to NattVassan, arguably the most challenging Judge for yourself – instead of the usual for Vasaloppet’s checkpoint per every 10 kilometers, only one, halfway through the 90 kilometer course was organized ( with a few more basic feedstations along the way).
Instead, all the participants were told to wear a backpack containing food, change of clothes and of course, a GPS tracker – and checked for compliance, Birkebeiner style.
Since gliding through the night forests between Sälen and Mora might not be every even tough racer’s idea of fun, the participants had to compete in the teams of two – after all, the “original Vasaloppet” back in 1520 had also featured two skiers, brothers Lars and Engelbrekt.
Appropriately, it was a Jörgen Aukland, a younger half of, arguably, the most famous brother-duo of the modern cross country skiing who won the very first Nattvasan – together Staffan Larsson, Vasaloppet winner of 1999 ( Anders Aukland still actively competes for Team Santader and was preparing for the ‘real Vasa’).
Says Aukland: “It was an unbelievably good atmosphere with torches and lot of people along the way, so it was an incredible experience“.
How popular the first Nattvasan? So popular that every slot of 1600 available in the first race was taken and the online application quota for 2018 was bought in less than 3 minutes – even faster than the main Vasaloppet.
…The other mass event of the nordic skiing, the Engadin, couldn’t possibly stay out of the fad. The Swiss didn’t go nearly as ambitious as the Swedes in their first-ever night race, but some 500 people did light their headlamps at the frozen vastness of the Sils lake on Thursday , March 9th, 2017.
Unlike NattVasan, the participants only run roughly half distance of the ” real Engadin”, from Maloja to Pontresina – but that, we gather, is more of a matter of safety precaution than the lack of ambition – who wants for navigate steep and curvy post-Pontresina downhill sections at night?
As is, the local St.Moritz girl Annina Iseppi-Berri and the Swiss international Curdin Perl won the inaugural Night Race.
The Engadin organizers said they were rather shocked at the last minute surge in demand for the starting bibs at Night Race despite unusual rainy conditions of the night. Get prepared, the next season there surely would be more.
But not just developed brands of Vasaloppet and Engadin that are staging races after dark.
Some 200 people went to the start of a 50k in the Russian city of Vologda this past Febrary…
There is a 20k night race in Austrian Ramsau now…
There’s even something called Totally Dark Cross Country Ski Racing Series, held and promoted by enthusiasts at Cabin Creek, Wa. in the US…
So, the nocturnal racing is really on upswing. Did you, our reader, run one this past season? Share your thoughts and observations right here, at The Daily Skier