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Lorax lives a calm reindeer life at Levi

Winners of the Levi World Cup receive a reindeer that then heads out to live at the Ounaskievari reindeer farm until summer and six months of freedom arrive.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s prize reindeer Lorax from winning the World Cup lives at the reindeer farm Ounaskievari at the village of Köngäs. Kuva: Janne Pussila

Levi’s downhill skiing World Cup competitions are not just known for their exoticism and snow conditions but also for their unusual prizes, since the winners are given a reindeer as well as medals.

As well as the official FIS medals, every competition host is allowed to give out a prize they deem suitable as a memento for the competitor. Other countries see prizes such as crystal vases, cheese, plates etc.

Before 2013 in the Levi World Cup the winners were given reindeer skins, reindeer fur boots and Sami hats, which were handed out to bring forward Lappishness and local culture.

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The reindeer is a symbol of Lapland and Levi and exudes the image that the organisers want to send out to the world.

Since it could bring problems for their flight home and the local conditions of their destinations are unknown, the reindeer that the winners receive continue their lives at Levi, at the Ounaskievari reindeer farm located at the village of Köngäs.

The reindeer stay in Ounaskievari and are not taken away from Lapland. Winners of the previous years can see their reindeer at the current competitions, since all prize reindeer are brought out to Levi for the competition. As an example, during the competition number draw the competitors are brought out on the stage by the winner’s reindeers from previous years.

In reality, the foreign alpine skiers are more like godparents to their reindeer since to legally own one in Finland one would need to live in a reindeer herding area.

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Johanna Hietanen from Ounaskievari reindeer farm selects the reindeer for that year’s winners during the reindeer separation in the autumn.

Hietanen tells us that in the autumn they choose 4-5 reindeer from which they will then choose the ones given to the winners.

“We chat to them and look for the right one. We do not look for anything special really, just a normal male reindeer of a larger size.”

After being chosen, the reindeer wait in their pens for the World Cup competition and the footlights of the awards ceremony.

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Winner’s reindeer are well known internationally, but they themselves are not aware of this.

“They do get different treatment from other reindeer and in that sense they might know that there is something special about them. Some even know how to pose for a camera.”

The winner’s reindeer from Ounaskievari have been seen by hundreds of millions of people behind their TV-screens. For example, alpine skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin was a guest at the great American talk show The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where the reindeer were also mentioned. Ounaskievari sent photos to Shiffrin as a thank you,

Alpine skiing is a huge global sport which brings visibility.

“Petra Vlhova tends to visit us to see her reindeer, Marcel Hirscher brought some deer food for their reindeer. Austrian customers know to ask about Leo and Ferdinand,” tells Hietanen.

The reindeer take a long holiday from being in the spotlight starting in springtime when they are let free in nature. They do wear GPS-devices and so cannot be lost.

“Their summer holiday starts as soon as the snows melt and the forests have something for them to eat. We cannot let them out into nature too early or they will go into people’s yards. Halfway through May they start to wistfully gaze over the fences, trying to tell us to let them out, but it all depends on the amount of snow,” Hietanen advises us.

Mikaela Shiffrin is a well known sight at the winners’ podium at Levi.
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