Ernst Alm - Vasaloppet's first victor
His childhood was the same as that of most boys in the Norrbotten inland - participating in the work on the farm early on, and by the age of 15 starting to work in the forest during the winter. Along with a few of his brothers, Ernst also worked as a navvy at Inlandsbanan for some time.
Remarkably early, Ernst showed an incredible stamina in the ski tracks. At a mere 21 years old he became the Swedish team master at 60 km, and today, in 2015, he is still the youngest victor of Vasaloppet - which he later on went to prove was not a coincidence. His brother Arvid was a good skier too, with good results in Vasaloppet and the like.
Ernst developed his own, strange workout methods. For example, to build strength in his back and arm muscles, he tied his row-boat to a suitably pliant young birch and rowed with all the strength he had, observed by the astonished villagers. He also practiced his ability to withstand lactic acid, which was fairly unknown at the time. He used to lay a training track on a nearby mountain, consisting only of a tough uphill stretch and a steep downhill stretch. His ability to force through tough uphills was one of his strengths as a skier.
When the invitation came for the first ever Vasaloppet, Norsjö IFK did not feel like they could afford to send any skiers to participate. However, after the newspaper Västerbottens Kuriren had offered to pay for the trip and accommodation for one skier, money was raised to send three skiers: Ernst Alm, Oskar Lindberg and Johan Bergmark. They showed their appreciation by finishing the race in 1st, 2nd and 18th place, and they also won the team competition with a 14-minute gap between them and Dala-Järna.
Ernst Alm was 174 cm tall and muscular, and some reporters called him “the bear”. He did not say much and he was very withdrawn, except when in the ski track of course.
Signature “Mr. Jones” describes his encounter with the first victor of Vasaloppet:
“In the afternoon the young Ernst Alm was seated on the couch in Helmer Landeck’s study, surrounded by a group of journalists. The 22-year old forest worker was not used to being interviewed. He was so shy, I almost felt shy myself when talking to him.
– This was a lot of fun, he said, but it wasn’t that remarkable was it. You do your best and somebody has to win.
Alm was mostly quiet with his eyes cast down, saying nothing on his own accord and looked neither happy nor sad. Certainly not sad! But his entire person made such an impression that one said to oneself: Gustaf Vasaloppet is not won by any undeserving skier.”
When the train carrying the three Vasaloppet winners arrived at the station in Bastuträsk in 1922, many locals had gathered on the platform to celebrate them. However, the victor was nowhere to be seen as he had got off the train on the opposite side – because that was the way he was going!
It has been told that when Ernst Alm was going to the Winter Olympics in Chamonix in 1924 he was, as usual, skiing the 20 km of roads and ski tracks to Bastuträsk. After about 5 km he started to wonder whether he had managed to bring the tie for his representation suit. After a search in his backpack he realized that he had not, so he left his backpack and went back and got the tie – it was only an extra 10 kilometers after all!
When Ernst and his brother Elof, who was a very skilful ski maker, and their club mate Oskar Lindberg started their ski factory in Skellefteå in 1926, Ernst and Oskar transferred to Skellefteå IF. When glued skis started to put birch skis out of business in the mid-1930s, and the factory’s sales decreased, Ernst left the company and was employed at Rönnskärsverken, where he remained until his retirement.
When his skiing carreer was over, Ernst engaged in shooting and became a successful field shooter. Unfortunately, biathlon had not yet been invented as a competetive sport at that time.
A few other of Ernst Alm’s merits worth mentioning:
SM in 1924: 1st place at 60 km.
SM in 1925: 1st place at 20 km.
Vasaloppet in 1923: 15th place.
Vasaloppet in 1924: 17th place.
Vasaloppet in 1925: 5th place.
Vasaloppet in 1927: 10th place.
Vasaloppet in 1930: 11th place.
The Olympics in Chamonix: 6th place at 50 km.
Holmenkollen in 1926 and 1927: 12th and 8th place.