The Transjurasienne has become a legend amongst Nordic skiing races since it was founded in 1979. It is the biggest in France and the second longest in the world after the Vasaloppet in Sweden.
This year the race takes place Feb. 13-14, 2011. Competitors from across Europe race between Lamoura and Mouthe parallel to the Franco-Swiss frontier through the scenic Jura Mountains in February of each year. It is known to skiers as the 'Transju' for short and brings together world cup champions with weekend skiers, pensioners, and children.
Over the years it has become a sort of festival of events that caters for all levels with the races over 50, 25 and 10 kilometres held over four days. There is a separate race for female competitors over 50 kilometres. The idea is to give as many skiers as possible the chance to take part and not just the big names.
Competitors from across Europe race through the scenic Jura Mountains in February
The Transjeune race for children is the warm up event. 3000 kids, aged from 7 to 19, swarm all over the mountains in a series of races geared to different age groups. It takes place two weeks before the main event and children can sign up on the day on a first come first served basis. The enthusiasm amongst the would be future champions is tremendous. 11-year-old year old Favrot says "It's great: it's my third year and I want to go on competing until I am 19 if I can. I will never forget the race."
The main race is tough, not least because you have to leave your hotel at 5 a.m to be sure to be ready for the start gun. Perfect snow is not guaranteed particularly if you start number 4500. The winners are Olympic standard marathon skiers and recently have come from Belarus, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and of course France. There are competitors from 29 different countries this year, including Britain and the United States, and the top skiers finish the race in just under four hours. ‘Sunday skiers' can take all day and the temptation to give up is strong especially slogging through the aptly named Forêt du Massacre. Dominique from Pontarlier recalls "I really wanted to stop but the encouragement from the spectators kept me going a bit further every time."
The main race is tough, not least because you have to leave your hotel at 5 a.m
Les Rousses is the base for the operation. It is an attractive traditional downhill skiing resort made up of four villages with slopes between 1100 and 1650 metres not far from Geneva. What it lacks in altitude it makes up for in climate. Nearby Mouthe where the Transjurasienne finishes, holds the record in France for low temperatures at -41C° degrees Jan. 17, 1985.
Even so global warming has taken its toll. After the 2001 race had to be cancelled it was decided to launch a summer event for rollerblades or roller skis in September. Known as Transroller, it too has been a big success with many skiers using it as a focus for summer training.
Nordic skiing is steadily growing in popularity. It has the great advantage that it is doable in the lower mountain ranges. North Eastern France has produced a number of Olympic Champions that grew up in the Jura and the Vosges to the north. Long gone is the genteel idea of the sport as a refuge for those too old to carry on with downhill skiing. Entries for the ‘Transju' are up 5 percent this year.
Nordic skiing is steadily growing in popularity. It has the great advantage that it is doable in the lower mountain ranges
The search for ever tougher events seems endless. For real sado-masochists there is the new Ultra Trans which combines the 50-kilometre race and on the following day the 76-kilometre ski skating marathon. Competitors have already entered for this from overseas including four very tough ladies. The organisers are not exaggerating when they say that "you need to be in a high state of physical fitness to compete". If that is not extreme enough, there is now a foot race in the summer in June and you can run all 76 kilometres.
Even so the Transjurasienne remains essentially a huge get together for ordinary skiers of all ages who love the mountains.
The race website www.transjurassienne.com is in French, English, German and Italian. Accommodation can be a problem but the organisers run a special bed and breakfast scheme with local residents.