In the 16th century, future Swedish king Gustav Vasa voyaged from the western village of Sälen to the central municipality of Mora. From there, he led the fight for Swedish independence. Four centuries later, 119 skiers retraced those steps at the inaugural 1922 Vasaloppet. Today, this event isn’t just the longest cross-country ski race on Earth, it’s the biggest and oldest of its kind. More than 15,000 competitors complete Vasa’s journey each March, and during that trip, they drink more than 50,000 liters of bilberry soup.
Bilberries are wild, deep purple berries that flourish in Northern Europe, similar to the blueberry in North America. Scandinavians in Finland and Sweden swear by a soup based on the sweet-tart fruit as a remedy for colds. They serve the vibrant liquid hot or cold, depending on the season, and use it as sauce for porridges and desserts.
Skiers refuel with cups of piping hot blåbärssoppa (“bilberry soup”) made by a company called Ekstroms. Some attendees even carry it in a flask. Swedes also prepare less sugary, homemade renditions, but the soup is so connected to Vasaloppet that the mini-version of the event, which runs the last 5.6 miles of the track, was named Blåbärsloppet. Blåbär is a nickname for those participating in the competition for the first time.