Vasaloppet and IBM - An exciting collaboration for more than 50 years

Vasaloppet is one of Sweden's oldest and best-known brands. Through continuous change of both business model and technology, the organization Vasaloppet has established a culture that is not limited to "sticking out in the track" in a classic way, but rather about "striking out into the unknown", always focusing on delivering a world-class experience.

IBM has been Vasaloppet's innovation partner since 1966

The strength of the partnership lies in how IBM and Vasaloppet together have created an exciting mix of strategy, ecosystems, flexible cloud solution and technical methods that changed the Vasaloppet for both participants, the crowd and loved ones who follow the race from a distance.

Vasaloppet's digital strategy provides engaging user experiences

For several years, IBM and Vasaloppet have worked in close cooperation on Vasaloppet's digital strategy, developing solutions for engaging user experiences. Here we have jointly, with the help of the IBM Design Thinking methodology developed different personas to see how we can make the experience of Vasaloppet the best for every unique participant. We have also focused on attracting more skiers and, in the long run, to make the summer week as big as the winter week.

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Reflections about Vasaloppet

The IBM Sweden THINK blog is a place where we raise thoughts and highlight interesting solutions. Take a look at the posts that our experts have written about Vasaloppet and the various projects we do together.

The joint history of IBM and Vasaloppet

5 different smartphones

2022 - Your Vasastory and analysing 100 years of data

This year Vasaloppet and IBM decided to increase the user experience for the skiers by developing “Your Vasastory”. This gives the skiers a resumé of the race data, comparisons, personal pictures and more. All in a nicely designed and sharable format.
We also put a team of skilled data scientists on analyzing data from Vasaloppet all the way from the start of Vasaloppet up until now. Looking into cluster data as well as serving personalized data.

2019 – Compare your performance

Your end time in Vasaloppet is influenced by many different factors such as weather, wind, starting point, track quality and more. Some years are said to be easier or harder than others. So how do you compare your time from one year to another when having different conditions to consider? In 2019 IBM produced a web service for Vasaloppet, where you as a participant could enter an actual end time from one year and get a simulated time for another year.

2018 – Vasaloppet TV

Just in time for Vasaloppet's winter week 2018, Vasaloppet TV was launched, a service built in collaboration with IBM and which was part of the digital strategy that Vasaloppet developed together with IBM. Vasaloppet TV provides the opportunity for participants, relatives and anyone who is interested and curious about Vasaloppet to follow several races.

2016 – Anniversary year and IBM Diversity Race

This year, IBM and Vasaloppet celebrated 50 years of partnership. Since 1966, IBM has been Vasaloppet's innovation partner.

In 2016, we could follow IBM's employees from India and Romania, when they took the Swedish challenge Stafettvasan without having any previous experience of snow or skiing. With just three months of preparation, the team trained on skies the distance from Stockholm to Hamburg - that's 950 km of training! The IBM Divercity Race proudly reached the goal in Mora, despite zero degrees and heavy snow.

2016 - My Vasalopp mobile app

In 2016, IBM and Vasaloppet developed the mobile application “Mitt Vasalopp”. The app contained several years of statistics from Vasaloppet's rigorous history books. It estimated your end time by matching your profile and shape to previous years' results. With the estimated end time as a basis, you could adapt the training, prepare better and get started with realistic expectations.

2013 - Vasaloppet in the cloud

Prior to 2013, Vasaloppet chose IBM's cloud service IBM SmartCloud Enterprise for hosting Utilizing that cloud technology gave Vasaloppet further flexibility to adapt capacity to demand. As Vasaloppet's web is very heavily loaded during the actual Vasaloppet week, large capacity with very good performance is required, while the load during the rest of the year is much lower. Vasaloppet could handle this reality with the flexibility provided by IBM's cloud technology, without compromising on quality and accessibility.

2010 - Predict your end time

The IBM SPSS software platform offers advanced statistical analysis that gives you better insights and a more reliable decision basis, both today and in the future. With SPSS, companies can become more efficient and achieve their goals, by identifying and exploiting new competitive advantages through predictive analysis - knowledge of future events based on historical data. This forecast helped the skiers during Vasaloppet 2010 to stay ahead of the competition.

2009 - Statistics by length

New for the 2009 edition of Vasaloppet was the IBM Cognos 8 Business Intelligence tool, which made it possible to extract data from the huge amount of information gathered about the participants during the nine races of the Vasaloppet week. This could be used to make comparisons and keep statistics or just for fun. Interesting for the riders themselves of course, but also for sports journalists, statisticians, and for ski enthusiasts.

2008 - Results in new channels

In 2008 it became possible to follow individual skiers with intermediate times, forecasts of end time, distance to the leader, etc., on an interactive map on Vasaloppet's website. This was made possible through a collaboration between IBM and Google Maps. Through a so-called mashup that collects data from various sources, applications and web services in a combined service that presents information in the user's browser.

2007 - manage the pressure

The result service at is available - and has visitors - all year round. But during the Vasaloppet week, the site has approximately 60 million hits from visitors from all over the world. To cope with the enormous load, IBM 2007 created a computer solution that could output data on the Internet at a speed well above 100 megabits per second.

2006 - Unused power for research

Research to find cures for epidemics and starvation requires vast amounts of computing power. The enormous capacity of IBM's System p5 servers is never fully utilized, not even when the traffic on is at its most intense. Therefore, in 2006, IBM and Vasaloppet donated all unused data capacity for research through the World Community Grid project.

2004 - Now computers are part of the race

IBM continues to use computer technology to enhance the experience of Vasaloppet amongst participants, their families and friends. In 2004, it became possible to follow each participant via SMS and receive messages from each check area together with the estimated finish time in Mora. This year also the first control in Smågan got included in the service. Since there is no electricity nor fixed telephony in Smågan, the times was sent from there to Mora via GPRS. Daladatorer manage Vasaloppet and its website with servers and 30 personal computers. During the Vasaloppet week, 70 IBM ThinkPad are added in a temporary network.

2000 - Faster Vasaloppet time takings than ever

In 1990 timekeeping with the help of ChampionChip replaced the barcode reading completely. Each participant now had a transponder attached to the ankle. Sensors at the various controls identified the skier’s and sent starting numbers and intermediate times to a computer in the Vasaloppet building in Mora. From there, the data was passed on to IBM in Kista where it was compiled into time reports that were accessible to everyone via the internet.

Thanks to the new technology, it was now possible for family, friends and other interested to follow each individual skier throughout the race, from one check area to another, on the Vasaloppet website. In 2000, it became possible to do this on the mobile phone, via WAP.

1989 - Personal computers take over the race

The personal computers entered Vasaloppet in 1989. On behalf of IBM the Mora based company Daladatorer developed a personal computer-based system for result service.

The speaker now got access to an IBM PC where he could see the skiers locations and times directly on the screen. Just beside the looker rooms, the participants now could print out their diplomas on demand on site, complete with name, club, position and time.

The system was refined over the years and from 1994 the elite participants got equipped with ChampionChip transponders which made it possible to get their intermediate times at the controls completely automatically.

1983 - Electronic timing speeds up reporting

A major step forward in terms of safety and speed in time reporting was taken in 1983 when electronic timing was introduced. The time was recorded when the skier passed a camera on the finish line, but the starter cards were still taken care of manually. The results were transferred via a modem from the target directly to the IBM computer, so they did not need to run with floppy disks.

1975 - The hole card leaves the race

Sending data back and forth between Stockholm and Mora via modem was a bit too slow, so IBM again moved up a computer to Mora. This time it was a small and neat System/3 that could fit in a single truck along with the 15 displays with floppy disks that now replaced the old hole cards.

One problem that IBM have had over the years is that the skiers' starting cards were difficult to read after many hours of snow, sweat and blueberry soup. Now they were provided with a barcode that allowed them to be read by machine.

The speed of the system impressed, among other things, Svenska Dagbladet, who wrote: "The huge result list of over 9,000 names was complete already an hour after the last skier has passed the finish line. It would not have been possible without IBM's data service.

1974 - Lap in track but full speed in goal

During the slippery year of 1974 only 7,853 of just over 9,300 registered skiers completed the entire race. Despite this, there was a fierce stream of skiers in the goal area at five o'clock in the evening when about 20 people per minute passed the finish line, one every three seconds. A hectic period for the officials who tore off the starter cards, stamped them and put them on a skewer, and for the youngsters who ran with the skewers to Strandens skola where IBM had their temporary data center.

1971 - Space technology in the track

When IBM ran its fifth race in 1971, the at that time very old-fashioned hollow-card machines got replaced by modern mainframes - two IBM System/360.

At the goal in Mora, however, hole cards were punched just as manually as before, but the information was now sent from card-reading terminals via the telecommunications network to the computers, which were in IBM's data center at Gärdet in Stockholm. All data was processed using a system that had been developed for the US space program a few years earlier (HASP - Houston Automatic Spooling Program) and the results lists were printed on stencils in Mora.

1967 - Punched-cards make holes in the 60's

The participants in Vasaloppet 1967 had a small but important news attached to their number tag - a wrap-in card with their starting number. By today's measure, the IT solution was not very sophisticated, but it worked:

• When a skier arrived at the finish line in Mora, a functionary tore off the starter card and stamped the finish time on it. The cards were collected on skewers and transported to IBM in the assembly hall.

• Monitors were mostly featured in science fiction movies at this time and there were definitely none in Mora. Instead, volunteers from the IBM sports club punched in starting numbers and time on hole cards.

• Then the hole card machines extracted information about names and clubs from the directory with 6,857 cards - one per participant - which had been punched when the registrations were received. Result lists were compiled and printed on stencils.

• Like a modern computer network, both in the collection and distribution of data, fast-footed schoolchildren acted as runners between the finish line, the assembly house and the competition expedition.

• When the last skier had finished, IBM produced participant lists, in name order and club order, which impressed both the Vasaloppet management and the contemporary press. Those lists where created in just a few hours!

The hole card machines were heavy - only one so-called tab weighed 1.5 tons - so the assembly home´s parquet floor was covered with bits of laminated wood to protect against the pressure. Two large trucks were needed to transport the machines to Mora.

1966 - Chaos and queues in the tracks of fathers

"The Swedish queuing society" was a concept in the 1960s. Rarely has it been illustrated as clearly as at the goal in Vasaloppet 1966, when a lot of skiers were forced to queue for several kilometers before finally being allowed to finish.

By the end of the 1950s, Vasaloppet had attracted some hundreds of skiers every year. But then the race grew rapidly. Between 1964 and 1966, the number of registrations doubled, from 3,240 to 6,857, and the manual system for result reporting was simply too slow to handle the pressure at the finish line.

The organizers faced a lot of criticism and realized that they needed help from something that was faster than humans, namely computers. Therefore, they contacted IBM who then handled the results at the Tokyo and Innsbruck Olympics and the World Ski Championships in Oslo in 1966.