The last event of the Visma Ski Classics Season IX is only a few days away. The race will take place this Saturday, and the final preparations are well under way. The conditions are perfect, and our pro skiers have just finished Reistadløpet in Norway and moved to Finnish Lapland. Ylläs-Levi has quickly become one of the most popular and respected races among the elite and amateur skiers. The great course, breathtakingly beautiful scenery and the magic of Lapland are again bringing the record number of participants to enjoy the wonderful event.

Last year’s winner Andreas Nygaard, Team Ragde Eiendom, says that Ylläs-Levi is the best place to finish a long and taxing season. He also thinks the course is one of the best in the pro tour, and he wishes to face a hard competition from the Finnish National Team members, of whom the World Champion and the Olympic Gold medal winner Iivo Niskanen, Team Mäenpää, is again putting up a good fight against the double-poling experts.

There is still time to take part in Ylläs-Levi, and the chief of course and a former elite skier Mikko Koutaniemi is convinced that this year’s race will be the best so far. Mikko is just about to start his hectic final week before the D-day, but luckily everything is in order and no mishaps or problems are in sight. Hence, he had some time to sit down and answer our questions and tell us why Ylläs-Levi is the perfect way to finish the winter season.

How are the final preparations proceeding when we have only less than a week before the race?

“It always makes a bit nervous when dealing with Mother Nature. We’ve been lucky in the previous years as the weather has been perfect. But I’m well aware that wind, lack of snow or warm weather can cause some problems. However, it is looking extremely good right now, and I believe that we can deliver the best possible race for everyone.”

What kind of a race are you expecting for this time as this is the third consecutive year?

“I hope that everything will go even smoother and better than before. In terms of the race, I wish that we will see great breakaways, attacks and thrilling action.”

From a former elite skier’s perspective, how would you describe the Ylläs-Levi race course?

“The course is certainly one of the most beautiful with a wonderful scenery, particularly in sunny and clear weather. For the elite skiers, there are some challenging parts and long climbs, and the spring weather can soften the tracks and make the race even harder. The last kilometers of the race are quite easy, but as the 2017 winner Petter Eliassen said there are many places on the course to make a decisive move.”

You have participated in other Visma Ski Classics events, but what are the best assets that Ylläs-Levi can offer?

“The nature of course! The clean air and the amazing landscape. In the national park area, it is quite common that you run into a reindeer rather than a scooter. I appreciate the fact that there are different types of courses in Visma Ski Classics so that skiers with different qualities and skills can succeed. I also like that ski races are organized in contrasting places such as in the middle of a city like Drammen or in the middle of nowhere as our race.”

How is your work as the chief of course and what are your duties?

“My responsibility is to ensure the best possible conditions for our skiers. The most challenging is naturally fighting the weather whenever that happens. I also need to make sure that all participants have a safe and clear course. That goes for both elite and amateur skiers. For example, we could groom tracks on every downhill for elite skiers, but we have to take our recreational skiers into account and enable them to slow down their speed in steep sections.”

Can you describe us your day just before the race?

“The day before I go and check that both the start and finish area are in tip-top shape and that we have enough tracks and that they are smooth and straight. I also check the sprint points. I close the course, which means that I take a scooter and go through the entire course and close all crossroads and make sure that all signs are in place. At night, I either sit inside the grooming machine or stay in touch with the drivers via my cell phone. I give them directions and tell them when to stop grooming tracks and when to continue and how many tracks we need for each section of the course. I also need to make sure that we have enough space for the TV crew, the scooters, to go alongside the pro skiers.”

What is the importance of Ylläs-Levi for the surrounding region?

“Because of the international television broadcast the exposure has been enormous. The video image that’s been sent to the world is the greatest marketing tool for Lapland and for Finland. The viewers watching the race can see that there’s still perfect winter in Lapland even if the spring is taking hold in Southern Finland and in Europe.”

What tips would you like to give to Ylläs-Levi participants?

“The race is demanding, but it is also rewarding. When you cross the finish line, you will feel extremely proud of yourself. Just remember to pace yourself, have good skis and get enough energy and drinks during the race. Start the race with your own pace. If the elite skiers go double-poling, that may not be the way for you. Make sure you have sufficient clothing on you, don’t put too much clothes on as you need to avoid unnecessary perspiration. You can feel a bit cold at the start, but by the time you reach Kukastunturi, you will feel warm!

Text: Teemu Virtanen