Race Report -- Reistadløpet

 So what do you do if the conditions at Seefeld just weren't that much fun but you're not ready for ski season to be over?  If you're Rune, you head north, WAY north, to the far northern tip of Norway, where you find some serious snow ...

... and you jump into the Reistadlopet.  One of the Visma Ski Classics races, this one is billed as the toughest one in the series, thanks in no small part to this eye-catching elevation profile:

Here is the official race description:


Reistadløpet race course profile is known as one of the hardest in Ski Classics. The race starts in Setermoen, which is in the municipality of Bardu in Norway, and goes through arctic landscapes and mountain tops before reaching the finish line in Bardufoss in the municipality of Målelv.

Most pro skiers use kick wax and diagonal striding when skiing from Setermoen to Bardufoss because of the challenging climbs on the course. The race has a long history that dates back to 1958, and it commemorates a local ski legend Colonel Ole Reistad, a Norwegian champion in pentathlon in 1922 and the leader of the ski patrol that won the Olympic championships in St. Moritz in 1928.

And here is Rune's report of his fabulous adventure outside this gorgeous city.  I told Augustina I'm ready to move there, like, tomorrow!

 Reistadløpet 2023

After watching the sad strip of ice melting away day by day in Seefeld, it was time to head north in search for some real wintery conditions; specifically, Tromsø in Northern Norway.  We arrived on a Tuesday in beautiful sunshine, temps in the 20s and not a single sign of spring.  Fortunately, the rental car had studded tires and 4wd so driving on the snow-packed roads was easy.  I am sure Seefeld would have loved to be the recipient of a few of the abundant number of snow storms which have blanketed Tromsø this winter and I have no doubt Tromsø would have been more than happy sending a few snow storms south, but that is not how nature works.  While Seefeld is looking at a shorter and shorter ski season, Tromsø is looking at record snow falls this season.  Huge snow piles everywhere and two-lane roads down to one lane, using the side walk as a shoulder when passing cars.

The City of Tromsø actually sits on an island with most of the structures along the waterfront all around the island and a network of tunnels underneath, making for easy passage from side to side of the island, preserving the top of the island (100 meter above sea level) for recreation.

This is where I found Tromsø ski stadion in the center of the island, from which there is a vast network of trails, all groomed daily and lit for the dark winter months.
  The island is only 12 k from south to north and the ski from tip to tip the next day was really beautiful, skiing close to neighborhoods, down to sea level at each end, on super wide trails which were also used as walking and biking trails (fat bikes) throughout the winter.  Everyone stayed in their lane, so to speak, so no conflict between the various user groups.

Then it started snowing and it snowed hard more or less until a couple of hours before the Reistadløpet three days later.
  On our second day, I saw on the grooming app that they had just groomed a nearby trail on the main land, right across from downtown Tromsø.  It was snowing hard, quickly covering the freshly groomed tracks but still a beautiful ski following a valley between two of the majestic mountains surrounding the city.  I thought it was really bizarre to ski in light fluffy snow basically at sea level on March 30; is the winter ever ending up here!?!

Two of the main tourist attractions in Tromsø this time of year are the Northern Lights and ski mountaineering, or mountain top skiing, as they call it: basically, skiing untracked areas on skins to the top, then downhill skiing back down.  The peaks can be as much as 1,200 meters above sea level, skiing right back down to sea level. Unfortunately, this has become a very dangerous adventure due to the unprecedented avalanche danger.  The Friday we left for Reistadløpet, there were four major avalanches around Tromsø, killing five people and injuring many others.  Three communities had to be evacuated as the avalanche danger has spread to areas that haven’t seen an avalanche in 100 years, kind of like the 100-year flood we were dealing with in Seattle.  This is a function of unprecedented snow falls, unusual wind directions which pile snow in new areas, and temperatures that are shifting more quickly.  Talking to our local friend Trine, who is an avid mountaineer, she said that most of the popular routes are now too dangerous and that terrain above 30-degree incline is prone to avalanche.  Looking around, it doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that avalanche dangers are everywhere!

Bardufoss, the finish of the Reistadløpet, is a two-hour drive from Tromsø towards the east away from the fjords going inland.  Here we stayed at Bardufoss Hotell, where many of the Visma Ski Classic teams stayed as well. Not that I was snooping on the nutrition of some of the top skiers, but I couldn’t help but notice the choice of simple carbs (will not mention names):  i.e. a six-pack of chocolate bars and a liter of soda for night snack, or four slices of white bread with jam and a sugary soda for breakfast.

The start of the race is in a nearby town called Setermoen, a 30-minute drive from Bardufoss. Setermoen is a military town where I was stationed to serve my one year in the Norwegian Military in the mid-80s. At the time, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and back south to warmer (or less cold) weather, but this time around, I could appreciate the dramatically beautiful landscape surrounding the town.  I guess that is the difference between being forced vs choosing to go somewhere.

Reistadløpet is the last race in the Visma Ski Classic season, with all the elite long distance skiers present in addition to some World Cup skiers, like Rosie Brennan, Erik Valnes and Martin Nyenget, to name a few.  It is a 40k race with some brutal climbs.  It is the only race in the Visma series that has never been won by double poling only.  The conditions were just what one could hope for, minus 1 C at start and the sun starting to peek through.  

There were just shy of 800 people registered for the race, with close to 200 of those being in the Elite divisions.  

Like Emil Persson:

And Erik Valnes:

The women elite started first at 10 am with helicopters, snow mobiles and cameras everywhere (the race is broadcast live on Norwegian television).  Then everyone else going at 10:30 with the Elite first and then the rest of the participants.  There was some sort of seeding system, although I am not sure how it worked, and I ended up starting in the middle of the pack.  The first 8k of the race is moderate to flat and it took about 5k before I had passed enough people that I felt I could ski at a decent race pace. I had a vague memory of the trail from my military days and from studying the course profile, I knew that from 8k to 14k was one continuous hill, climbing about 650m of elevation. In my mind, I thought of it as skiing to the top of Amabilis.  True, but not exactly.  The Amabilis trail is rarely ever steeper than a 10% incline.  This course, however, has several long herringbone hills at 15 – 20% incline.  There is a 1k stretch that is pretty much consistently 15%+.   I had excellent kick, but the tracks were so chewed up in the steeper sections that herringbone was the only option.

At about 500m above sea level, the vegetation ends and it was the naked mountain with a strong headwind to the final peak, 14k into the race, 700m above sea level.  I figured that the next 26k to the finish would be mostly gentle terrain with gradual downhills.  This was mostly true except that many of the remaining uphills were surprisingly steep and again…. herringbone hills.  I don't think I have ever herringboned as much in a race.  After the peak and a couple of long downhills, the trail was now below the tree level winding between and up and down smaller peaks. With the sun shining, this was an absolutely gorgeous part of the course.  With 7k to go and still skiing at an elevation few hundred meters above the finish area, I figured the rest of the course ought to be moderate, only to round a corner and staring right into another long herringbone hill (think strawberry hill on the Viking, but three times as long).  I admit I let out a loud “WTF!!” when I saw the hill.  But, one step at a time and soon this hill was behind me as well.  The downhills were fast (my fastest speed was 60k/hr) but never dangerous.  
The last few kilometers were mostly downhill (about time!) and I ended up finishing 5th in my age group (50 – 59) out of 76.  My time was close enough to medal that I think a 2nd or 3rd would have been within reach with a better start position.

All in all, a wonderful experience and a race I would highly recommend, just practice a lot of herringbone beforehand.  Augustina, my wonderful wife who is such a trooper going to all these remote places with me, asked if I would do this race again. My answer was…. Absolutely!