Gearing up for Vasaloppet

February 16, 2024

What’s the deadline for buying new gear prior to a long race like Vasaloppet? Why poles are such a big deal, and the insider’s guide to the best stuff at the race expo. 

With Vasaloppet coming up in just two weeks, it’s time to take a hard look at your gear: Do you have everything you need for the legendary 90-kilometer ski race from Sälen to Mora in Sweden? Is there a deadline for when you can buy new equipment such as skis and boots and still have time to break them in before the event? And why are poles such a big deal? 

Madshus caught up with Vasaloppet guru Erik Wickström, who shares his best advice on all of the above-mentioned issues. 

Wickström has written several books on cross-country skiing, training, equipment, gives lectures, and hosts the podcast "Lagom Kondition" aimed at beginners and recreational skiers. Now, he also offers training guidance to athletes at all levels (except for top-level elite skiers) through his company, Wickström Coaching.

What’s the “deadline” for buying new gear prior to a long race like Vasaloppet and still have time to adjust and tune your gear before race day?
“I’d say there isn’t really a deadline for this. It used to be more important years ago, when boots really needed to be broken in to avoid major blisters and foot pain, and you needed quite some time to figure out how to wax your skis for different snow conditions and course profiles. But these days, boots are generally quite comfortable right out of the box, and your skis are pretty easy to dial in – especially if you are using skin skis or choosing to double pole the event,” says Wickström. 

“Most people sleep better if they have had at least one long workout on their new equipment before they step up to the start line. But really, you’ll probably be fine even if you don’t.”

Related coverage: 
Training for Vasaloppet: Who said there are no shortcuts?

However, when it comes to poles, it’s a whole different story. 

Wickström repeatedly sees a lot of skiers with ill-fitting poles, which can lead to both pain and frustration as well as valuable time lost on the course. 

“I don't think people are aware of how much they lose by having the wrong length of poles, especially with too short poles,” says Wickström, elaborating: 

“For every centimeter you cut down on pole length compared to the FIS maximum limit, you lose a significant amount of time doubling poling. For elite racers and many dedicated recreational skiers, long-distance races are all about double poling, so it means a lot to them. However, that group tends to be good at having the right pole length. But more and more people, even at lower levels, are incorporating more double poling into their skiing, so this affects everyone.”

In Wickström’s experience, the maximum length allowed by the international ski- and snowboard association (FIS) in classic races is typically spot-on for almost everyone, from elite to recreational skiers. 

“The FIS maximum limit is defined as your body height in centimeters with ski boots on, multiplied by 0.83. Some may feel that diagonal skiing is a bit more challenging if the poles are right up to the FIS limit, but it's very little compared to the gains of having the right pole length for double poling,” Wickström adds.

Wickström also points out that pole straps are a big deal. 

“It's not just the length of the pole that matters when you're buying ski poles. Take some time to find the right size for the strap as well.”

“The thing with pole straps is very individual. It's not just about the size but also the shape of the strap. And I would say it's even more individual than ski boots,” says Wickström.

“Some people have large hands; others have small ones. Some like to ski with the thinnest gloves, while others prefer lobster gloves or mittens. This will affect how large the straps should be. But the wrong size of the straps is a bad idea for several reasons,” Wickström explains: 

“If you have the wrong size for the straps, you can get blisters on your hands, put the wrong strain on your hands and wrists, and you may experience an awkward return on the pole swing, where the pole doesn't fall back into your hand correctly after each pole cycle,” says Wickström, continuing:

“Often, the straps are too large. This means you must hold onto the pole throughout the pole cycle, unnecessarily tensing your forearm at the end of the cycle instead of relaxing. I would say that more than half of those who have been to our courses have straps that are too large. I personally use size 8 gloves but have straps in size S.”

Photo by: Nordic Focus

What about the race expo: What are the deals and steals you typically find there? Is there anything you recommend steering clear of?
“I would say definitely swing by the race expo! It’s a great place to see what’s new in equipment, learn about new technologies and rub shoulders with the industry,” Wickström says. 

“It’s a great way to get inspired, scout out things you might want to get next season, and talk to likeminded people.”

But don’t expect rock bottom prices. 

“The prices at the expo generally aren’t that special. There might be some closeouts on discontinued items, and some things are slightly discounted, but most are not. On the other hand, you won’t pay more than regular retail either, and many of the vendors will run various contests, raffles and giveaways where you can enter to win cool stuff for free.”

Photo by: Nordic Focus