Blue eyes, black nose and four paws. This is the typical portrait of a participant in Finnmarksløpet, the longest dog-sled race in Europe. Finnmarksløpet takes place in Finnmark, the northernmost county of Norway. Every spring, locals are looking forward to welcoming mushers from all around the world. The race creates regional pride, catalyses tourism in Northern Norway and puts Finnmark in the national media spotlight. The dog sled race helps to unite and develop local communities of the North.

World Championship in Finnmark

Finnmarksløpet takes place in Finnmark, Norway’s largest county in area and the smallest in terms of population. The race is unique both because of its length, but also because of the pictural Arctic nature running through. Mushers cross mostly wild and untouched landscapes punctuated by small Arctic villages and checkpoints along the trail. They face extreme artic climate which can vary swiftly from clear skies and northern lights to violent storms and heavy snowfalls. With temperatures below -35 °C, braving the cold is part of the challenge while the dogs enjoy it very much. Mushers sign up for 1200 km-, 600 km-, or 200km- races. Every year, the International Federation of Sledding Sports (IFSS) selects a dog-sled race around the world to host Longue Distance World Championship. In 2023, Finnmarksløpet was the one.

Distances: 1200 km, 600 km, 200km. Start and arrival in Alta, the Finnmark’s capital. Source:
A catalyst for the regional development

For people living in Northern Norway, Finnmarksløpet means the same as Tour de France means for French people. Hundreds of mushers, handlers, veterinarians, and volunteers from various countries participate and the event is nationally covered. Finnmarksløpet unites the locals around an annual time of festivity and a shared sense of territorial identity. Indeed, it creates unity and a sense of belonging for this Norway’s northernmost county, populated by 75.000 inhabitants, which translates to 1,56 inhabitants per km².

Under the applause of the public, the mushers start the race in Alta, Northern Norway. Photo: Léa Ricard

Economically speaking, the race attracts tourists to the Arctic and creates marketing and destination branding for Northern Norway. Local dogsledding tourism companies, hotels, shops, camping sites, car and bus rental companies benefit from the event. Finnmarksløpet catalysts tourism during the race but also during the whole winter season. It has a spillover effect on tourism economy in Alta and all of Northern Norway. The national TV channel NRK integrally covers the race since 2009 with daily programmes. More than 350 000 people follow the race every day on TV. Also, everyone can directly follow the mushers’ position on the race web page. This social media attracts one million visitors during the race, which is impressive in a country of 5,4 million inhabitants. Finnmarksløpet is nationally appreciated because of the unique nature of this Arctic race.

A challenging human adventure

Finnmarksløpet gathers hundreds of people coming with different backgrounds but with the same dedication and purpose for one week: making the event a success. Looking back decades ago the scope of Finnmarksløpet was much smaller. 2001 marked a milestone in race history. That year, the Norwegian Princess Märtha Louise travelled specially to open the race in Alta, putting since then the event under national spotlight. It happened exactly twenty years after a Swedish musher, Sven Engholm, organised the first race together with a small group of passionate mushers. The event grew in scale and participants putting Northern Norway on the international sporting arena.

The scope of the event is massive nowadays. In 2023, 113 mushers and handlers of nine different nations such as Sweden, Finland, France, or Germany, as well as dozens of veterinarians took part to the event. During the race, Finmarksløpet organisation expands from four permanent employees to more than 500 hundred volunteers. One should also not forget about the 1084 dogs racing in the teams.

Participating at Finnmarksløpet is an adventure. Volunteering is an integral part of Finnmarksløpet and a unique experience. Most of the volunteers come from Finnmark, but also from across Norway and abroad. They can work in Alta, the start and arrival city, as well as in one of the many checkpoints along the trails. One of the busiest checkpoints is Levajok, located at the Finnish border.

A well-deserved rest for the dogs at the Levajok checkpoint.Photo:Léa Ricard

There for instance, volunteers do the check-in and check-out of mushers, handle the dogs, and help putting and removing hay for them. Dedication, challenge and freezing cold, these words can sum up the week. As a group the volunteers have day and night shifts with minimal sleep and extreme weather conditions. They stay outside for hours with temperatures below -35°C and lower on the Alta River. Volunteering at Finnmarksløpet is an experience which challenges limits, strength, and endurance. At the same time it offers a unique Arctic, sporty, and human adventure. Seeing the sled dogs running in the night under a starry sky in the icy immensity is a memorable moment. By thriving northern communities, developing tourism and highlighting Finnmark on the national level, Finnmarksløpet definitely provides a source of regional success for the Arctic County of Finnmark.

Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta, the main municipality of Finnmark with around 20 000 inhabitants. Photo: Léa Ricard
Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta, the main municipality of Finnmark with around 20 000 inhabitants. Photo: Léa Ricard