"Fem-mila" – a mythical exercise
With the World Cup weekend in Holmenkollen 9 – 13 March 2023, the stage is once again set for a public celebration. 135 years after the first 5-mile in history saw the light of day.
Skiing as a sport is deeply rooted in the Norwegian soul. And one of the highlights of the year is undoubtedly the five-mile race at Holmenkollen. Both here at home, but also internationally, the fivemila in Kollen has gained legendary status.
With a fantastic atmosphere from the audience along the trail, who have spent the night in the forest, with music and flags, life and movement.
The profile of the course in cross-country skiing's top discipline has changed quite a bit since its inception. The route has become shorter and the finish is now at the stadium.
But the spectators can still experience that our best skiers walk on a huge crack up close. However, it would take many years before femmila became a folk festival, as we know it today.
The first ever 50-kilometre ski event was held on February 7, 1888. From the start in Sørkedalsveien at Majorstuen, it went to Gaustad, Holmenkollen, Bogstad, Ullernåsen, Skøyen and back to Majorstuen.
Skis and bindings tended to be homemade. The warm-up consisted of pipe smoking to increase lung capacity and there was compulsory beer served at the finish.
Torjus Hemmestveit, who became the very first winner, went in at a respectable 4.5 hours, considering that they walked with only one pole at the time. (By comparison, the winning times of 50km today are well under two hours...) The premium of NOK 400 was equivalent to eight months' wages for a forester.
The race was a one-off event and it would be several years before another five-mile was walked. But from 1902 it was the start at Holmenkollen. The first editions were a lonely test of manhood through Nordmarka. Among snowy fir trees, it was the runner's battle against himself.
Admittedly, you stopped by a food bank — often on Kikut — and you might catch up with a runner or two, or were caught up yourself, but then you were left alone in the woods. Nevertheless, the event contributed greatly to shaping skiing as a form of competition, both nationally and internationally.
In a World Cup context, five miles of skiing is a rare distance. It requires great effort, toughness, and most importantly endurance. The trick is not to "crack." And in Kollen in particular — which is at the end of the season — it's often difficult to do as well.
The demanding, hilly terrain also makes it extra difficult. Anyone who has skied in Nordmarka knows that you either have to work the uphills, or just as hard to stay on your feet on the descents. In the old days, therefore, it was not uncommon for runners to fall along the way, and on some hills almost all fell.
Every year, participants tumbled across the finish line with blood on their faces after ugly falls.
It provided room for good entertainment and led to people pulling out into the field to watch the runners pass. With 2x25 km stages, it was important to place yourself where you saw the most. It inspired standing in fixed places, and laid much of the foundation for the custom of sleeping outdoors the night before the 50-kilometre.
Now there is — sadly, many would say — an end to the days when the five-mile runner went into the woods and was gone. Poorer snow conditions and new TV requirements forced changes. The world's most beloved – and most feared – ski trail slowly but surely expired.
The old route was primarily too narrow and perhaps also too hilly. Two laps of 25 km, where the runners went out one by one, was also too slow for TV. Instead, they wanted a course where the runners passed the same camera many times.
Today it is the joint start that counts, in six rounds of 8.8 km. With fiberglass skis, sports drinks and high-tech (fluoride-free) ski wax. In ten to twelve meter wide trails. Where the participants used to struggle in the heart of Nordmarka, they are now barely moving beyond Holmenkollen.
There is still respect for the five-mile, and he who wins (because it's still only a men's stage) can really call himself a proper cross-country skier.
For a few years, a bunch of enthusiasts banded together to clear the forest to pave the way for one original track. If you want to measure forces on the old trail yourself, this is the short version of the routes:
The traditional 25-kilometre route went from Holmenkollen, to Frognerseteren, Tryvann (on the trail south of the lake) and past Nordmarkkapellet, to Blankvann and on past Studenterhytta.
The trail turned just north of Kobberhaugen and went back via Blankvannsbråten, Skjennungen (lake) and on the east side of Frønsvollen to Frognerseteren, Gratishaugen and to the finish line at Holmenkollen.
The 16.7-kilometre route, which was used in 1998, runs from Holmenkollen past Frognerseteren and follows the light trail down to Ullevålseter.
There the trail turns and goes back up Skjennungslia to Frønsvolltråkka and past Frognerseteren to Gratishaugen and Holmenkollen.