A loppet is an unusually lonely muppet. Or so I assumed until Cross Country Canada, the umbrella organization for the country’s national ski team, set me straight.
CCC’s website describes a loppet as a “great gathering of skiers who ski on a specifically groomed trail either classic (diagonal stride) or free (skating technique) of various distances. Enormous amounts of food and drink are consumed during the event. After, there’s a party and celebratory banquet with awards and prizes.”
Wow, I was way off.
Vasaloppet claims to be the oldest of these cross-country bacchanals. Held annually in northwestern Sweden, the 90-kilometer event commemorates Gustav Ericsson Vasa, who skied his way to the Swedish throne, in a manner of speaking, in the 1520s. Vasaloppet debuted in 1922, and a decade later, Norway began its own historically relevant race, the 54K Birkebeinerrennet.
Today, loppets are everywhere. My home state of Minnesota is lousy with 'em, including the upcoming City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival in Minneapolis—a weekend-long affair with races for all ages, skill levels, and specialties (dig the skijoring and fat-tire biking loppets). Also on offer, as an ostensible reminder that a loppet is equal parts skiing and being merry: a snow sculpture contest and beer garden hosted by local brewery Surly.
“A loppet involves snow, sweat, suffering, and maybe a frozen toe or two,” says Piotr Bednarski, head coach for the racing arm of the outfit that organizes the City of Lakes event. “But in the end, it brings fun, great satisfaction, and good stories to share with your buddies.” Badnarski counts the following among his favorite loppets around the world (don’t fault him for choosing his hometown race—it really is a great party):
- Marcialonga; Trentino, Italy; January 26, 2014
- City of Lakes Loppet; multiple races; Minneapolis, Minnesota; January 31 to February 2, 2014
- Gatineau Loppet; Gatineau, Ottawa; February 14–16, 2014
- American Birkebeiner; multiple races; Wisconsin (Cable to Hayward); February 22, 2014
- Vasaloppet; Sweden (Sälen to Mora); March 2, 2014
- Birkebeinerrennet; Norway (Rena to Lillehammer); March 15, 2014
“This is a short list,” Bednarski stresses. “There are hundreds more loppets across North America, Europe, and even Australia.”
So there you have it: a grand and festive skiing tradition that has absolutely nothing to do with Muppets—or does it!?