Home Case Studies Vasaloppet Thousands of personal stories. One grand history.
Vasaloppet drives new connection and engagement through the power of data and storytelling
Mora, Sweden, home of the Vasaloppet (the world's oldest long-distance cross-country ski race)
Back in 16th century Sweden, when the now-nation was still part of Denmark, two intrepid skiers undertook a breakneck race between the villages of Mora and Sälen, with national independence as the prize.

The skiers were in pursuit of revolutionary leader Gustav Eriksson Vasa. And when they reached him, they convinced this future king of Sweden to return to Mora with them and lead the fight against the current Danish monarchy. Two and a half years later, the revolution was over, and Sweden was a free land.

This rich history is embroidered in the very fabric of the annual Vasaloppet races, named after Vasa and held in the Mora and Sälen region of Sweden. And each year, roughly 100,000 participants compete in at least one of the more than a dozen ski, foot and bike races hosted by the Vasaloppet organization in the summer and winter months.

“Our races have been occurring for a hundred years,” notes Marcus Berndt, Technology Coordinator for Vasaloppet. “And our history extends far beyond that. So competing in one of our events is often a really big deal for the majority of our participants. In Sweden, more or less everyone has someone in the family that is connected to Vasaloppet.”

And wanting to continue and even strengthen this level of cultural and personal connection, the organization began looking for a way to better communicate with race participants.

“We wanted to create an emotional connection to their race experience that lasted throughout the whole year,” adds Berndt. “And we knew story was the perfect container for those emotions. We could connect all of these different data points about their experience, and each of these digital moments would help tell the story of their day—would help them remember their personal journey.”

Of course, Vasaloppet already captured some moments for its racers. But it wanted to better integrate these snapshots into a unified narrative. For example, the race organization worked with various vendors and sponsors over the years to take photographs and even video footage to share with competitors. But these videos and images were always sent by the outside organization that captured them rather than Vasaloppet, meaning the story of the racer’s journey arrived piecemeal and often out of order.

35,000 stories


Boosts engagement and builds interest through 35,000 stories shared in just the first year

~30 minutes


Accelerates post-race communications to ~30 minutes—a marked improvement over the previously-required hours or even weeks

We could connect all of these different data points about their experience, and each of these digital moments would help tell the story of their day—would help them remember their personal journey. Marcus Berndt Technology Coordinator Vasaloppet
Chronicling a personal history

As the 100-year anniversary of the Vasaloppet races approached, the organization wanted to do something special that would help build stronger connections with participants. And after an IBM Design Thinking Workshop in late 2021, Vasaloppet had a clear plan.

“We’ve been teaming up with IBM on different things for 50-plus years,” notes Berndt. “They’re one of our key sponsors, and we participate in these workshops with them two or three times a year. And we were exploring what we called ‘moon shots’—transformative, innovative changes—for the anniversary races, and that’s where we came up with the idea for Vasastory.”

Rather than communicating through disjointed emails and social media posts, Vasastory provides each participant with a unique account of their race day through a personalized web page that can be shared on social media. Racers, in turn, can access their Vasastory through a congratulatory email that is sent out within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line.

Initially, Vasaloppet worked with IBM and IBM Business Partner Atea to build a pilot solution, powered by IBM data integration technologies and cloud-native IBM® Db2® Warehouse. A team from IBM iX®, the experience design practice within IBM Consulting®, focused on the front end and design for the new Vasastory, while an IBM Client Engineering team and Atea split the workload for the back end.

“We worked together as a single unit to get this out the door,” clarifies Berndt. “We had a Java developer working directly with the IBM experts to build out the back end—databases, APIs, things like that. It was very collaborative.”

And based on the success of this first iteration, the organization went into full production of Vasastory for all its major races in 2022. “We still have some work to do for our relay events,” adds Berndt. “And there is a specific challenge for our night-time race—it’s hard to create a compelling Vasastory if we don’t have any pictures.”

A public IBM Cloud® environment hosts the new infrastructure, and IBM Db2 Warehouse consolidates and stores the various silos of captured race data. Vasaloppet also uses IBM Cognos® Analytics software to gain insights into this information pool, identifying trends and drawing out key statistics to share with sponsors, media and the public.

We worked together as a single unit to get this out the door. Marcus Berndt Technology Coordinator Vasaloppet
Tell me a story

On race day, you wake up early and check the weather—perfect conditions for a day of cross-country skiing. You quickly eat a light breakfast at your hotel and then make your way to the Vasaloppet arena. And when you arrive, the atmosphere is electric. You—and every racer there—are weaving yourself into a tapestry of national history that stretches back centuries.

As you sign in at the event, you are handed an RFID tag that you attach to your ski boot, and an hour later, the race begins. You dig deep and progress along the historic Vasaloppet route. And as you journey, that tag is recognized by sensors throughout the course, tracking your time and making it possible to match event photographs and video to your personal experience.

After a few long hours of grueling exertion, you pass the finish line. And as you celebrate your achievement, the Vasastory system starts a 30-minute timer. You change out of your race attire and grab a quick bite. And as you finally begin to relax and reflect on the day, your phone notifies you that you have a new email.

You open it and are congratulated by the Vasaloppet organization and provided with a link to your own personal Vasastory.

“The majority of our races are long,” explains Berndt. “So the individual moments can sometimes be lost in the whole experience, which is why we designed Vasastory to guide racers through their whole day.”

The story begins with details about the day—course maps, weather information and photos of the starting area. And then it shifts its focus to the race itself, tracking the participant’s progress throughout the event and sharing checkpoint times and accompanying photos until they cross the finish line.

“We also share some nice to know facts that connect the racer to our rich history along with general stats about their individual race,” adds Berndt. “How many participants? Who were the winners for the male and female categories? Things like that. And based on their race history, we also provide some advice about what next challenge the participant should consider.”

Since launch, Vasaloppet continues to enhance its Vasastory solution, adding in digital medals for racers who completed the course and making it easier to share the story on social media.

“We have some wild plans,” continues Berndt. “We’re looking at letting participants upload a GPX [GPS Exchange Format] file from their smart watches or other devices to share a more nuanced and detailed course history. We’re also exploring how we can open up Vasastory to our partners and sponsors and how we could use it to supply additional services to participants.”

The majority of our races are long. So the individual moments can sometimes be lost in the whole experience, which is why we designed Vasastory to guide racers through their whole day. Marcus Berndt Technology Coordinator Vasaloppet
Continuing a national legend

Over the course of 2022, Vasaloppet consistently drove increased interest and participation in its various races with over 35,000 participants sharing their personal Vasastory online through social media.

“We’re now in a position to use storytelling to build an unprecedented sense of connection with our participants,” notes Berndt. “We’ve been seeing for some time that racers have been increasingly interested in telling the world about their participation—like taking screenshots of their congratulation emails in previous years to post on Instagram. They want to share that they are part of this event. That they are part of this history. And Vasastory makes that easy for them.”

Of course, having the congratulatory emails available in less than 30 minutes was also a marked improvement. “Throughout the years, it hasn’t been that fast,” notes Berndt. “We concentrate most of our races during a week in the winter and a week in the summer. Before, we would wait until the week had ended before sending out all of the emails together. It could be a couple of days to over a week before we contacted participants. Now, the storytelling happens almost instantly.”

As part of this project, Vasaloppet also digitized its historical race records and imagery, making it possible to broadcast its expansive history more easily. And these details can be better integrated into individual stories to build a sense of community and connection.

“Innovation is just a part of what IBM does,” concludes Berndt. “And we’ve seen that over the years that we’ve been working together. And Atea fit nicely into the relationship. I’m looking forward to the stories that we can share and explore moving forward.”

    Vasaloppet logo
    About Vasaloppet

    A Swedish cultural institution—every year, nearly 100,000 competitors participate in a Vasaloppet (link resides outside of ibm.com) event. From its first ski competition in 1922, the organization has grown over the past century to now host over a dozen ski, bike and foot races—including one of the largest cross-country ski courses on the planet—during concentrated “race weeks” in the summer and winter.

    About Atea

    Focused on the Nordic and Baltic regions, IBM Business Partner Atea (link resides outside of ibm.com) provides IT services and solutions, specializing in product management and infrastructure. Altogether, the business employs over 7,500 staff distributed across 85 cities in seven European nations. And in Sweden alone, Atea maintains more than 30 local offices, powered by 2,700 direct employees and consultants.

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