The Finnmarksløpet dog sled race is the longest and northernmost dog sled race in Europe. It takes place in the Finnmark, the northernmost region of Norway, and traverses birch forest, river valleys, and northern fjords from Alta to the Russian border and back. The Finnmarksløpet was established in 1981 by the Alta Trekkhundklubb (Dog Sledding Association of Alta) as a 226 km (140 mile) long race. It was later extended to 1,000 km (621 miles) in 1993, and then to its current distance of 1,200 km (746 miles). In addition to the 1,200 km-long race, there is a 500 km (311 mile) and Junior division which is 199 km (124 mile) long.
There are a total of 14 stages with all checkpoints, all on the road system with the exception of Jotka. This allows mushers’ support crews to provide supplies, prepare meals for mushers and provide other support. Like other long-distance races, support teams are not allowed to assist mushers with the dogs. Two of the checkpoints, Øvre Pasvik and Jotka, are considered “wilderness” checkpoints and not only are support crews not allowed to assist their mushers, they are not even allowed at the checkpoint. This makes those checkpoints much more relaxed that the typical ones.
The Finnmarksløpet is a welcome mid-winter celebration for communities of the Finnmark. In addition to the race, the Finnmarksløpet includes a family-oriented touring festival at checkpoints located in several communities, complete with ice and snow sculptures, a stage show with live music, and local craft vendors. They even have a dramatic retelling of the story of Balto, the Iditarod lead dog who delivered diphtheria antitoxin to Nome a century ago. Everyone in Norway is familiar with Balto.
Attending the opening ceremonies and official start is quite a different experience than the Iditarod. The traveling festival opens with a bang, featuring a large stage with performing musicians, spotlights, dance numbers, and a parade of the mushers themselves. The race also intentionally starts at night, so as to ensure that the first mushers arrive at the finish in the evening when most people would be able to see the race come to a conclusion.
My journey to follow the Finnmarksløpet started with a dog mushing trip in the wilderness of Sweden in 2017. There, I met Petter Karlsson, the only non-Norwegian to win the race. I decided to follow him more when he mentioned he planned to run the Iditarod in 2020. Later, when Dallas Seavey announced he would take a second run at the Finnmarksløpet (he finished third in his rookie year in 2018), that was a bonus. Look forward for more posts from the trail of this year’s Finnmarksløpet!
Ice sculpture of running salmon on display in the Alta city center
A Norwegian pop group and dancers help bring in the Finnmarksløpet with a bit of flair
A parade of mushers with national flags on display – 10 countries in all
The Cathedral of the Northern Light in Alta
Dallas Seavey about an hour before the race start
Norwegian dog mushing tailgate party
Petter Karlsson’s team down the opening chute at the official start