Money, Trophies, Reindeer? The FIS' World Cup Stop In Finland Gives Skiers A Chance To Win A Unique Prize

by Brendan Rourke

Mikaela Shiffrin (right) celebrates her win in the women's slalom event at the 2022 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup on Nov. 23, 2019 in Levi, Finland.


Sports fans know the drill. At the end of competitions, the winners shuffle towards a vast array of cameras and microphones and await their prize. For most events, it’s a trophy paired with an oversized check on a poster board. However, the prize for the women’s and men’s slalom winner at Levi Ski Resort has a bit more fur than usual.


Since 2013, competitors in the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) northernmost world cup stop all battle for a piece of Finnish history, a living reindeer.


For a country roughly the size of Montana, reindeer have been a part of Finnish culture for hundreds of years. Reindeer herding is the country’s oldest livelihood. It still remains an integral part of life for those who reside above the Arctic Circle.


In the “home of Santa Claus,” they are utilized for transportation, meat markets, and clothing. Additionally, they are a symbol in many historical Scandinavian spiritualities. The country has held organized reindeer races since 1932. It’s a sport similar to dog sledding or horse racing. A person, known as a “jockey,” wears skis and holds on to two ropes connected to their respective reindeer, hoping to cross the finish line first. Competitors can reach up to 37 mph while being towed behind these majestic animals.


However, fear not, animal lovers. The people of Finland recognize the importance of reindeer care. The prize is symbolic. Given that a professional skier’s work schedule is loaded with training and travel, the reindeer stay in their home country and live at Ounaskievari Reindeer Farm. While there, the reindeer are trained to live among humans and sustain a regular life. Some become sled pullers for tourists and locals alike.


The winners earn the right to name their reindeer and are encouraged to follow its movements on social media. Of course, they can also visit their new pets whenever they return to the Lapland Region. Most often, it is when the world cup stops in Levi the following year.


Over the past handful of races, the battle for the reindeer has come down to two skiers – Petra Vlhová from Slovakia and elite U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin. After winning two reindeer in 2021 (Levi held two world cup events), Vlhová holds a one-reindeer edge over Shiffrin, 5-4. No skier other than Vlhová or Shiffrin has claimed the top spot since 2014 when Tina Maze of Slovenia emerged victorious. 

Mikaela Shiffrin pets her reindeer, Ingemar, after winning the women's slalom event at the 2022 FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup on Nov. 23, 2019 in Levi, Finland.


Shiffrin will be pursuing her fifth reindeer this weekend. She secured the first one in 2013 and named the reindeer “Rudolph” after the movie. She explained her reason for the name in an interview with CNN.


“If I have a reindeer, I have to name him ‘Rudolph,” she remarked. “Because then everybody knows, no matter how old or young you are, Rudolph the reindeer exists.”


Shiffrin’s second reindeer came in 2016. The Edwards, Colorado native opted for the name “Sven” as an homage to the reindeer in Disney’s “Frozen.” In 2018, she secured reindeer number three, naming him “Mr. Gru” after the character in the animated movie, “Despicable Me.” Then, she repeated as the slalom champion in 2019 to earn reindeer number four.


Straying away from the movie theme, she named her fourth furry friend “Ingemar,” after legendary Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark. Stenmark held the record for most slalom world cup wins with 40. That is until Shiffrin won this Levi race, marking her 41st career slalom world cup victory. After the race, she explained she asked for Stenmark’s permission to use her name beforehand.


“Even though the idea of naming my reindeer after Ingemar was born from the talk of ‘breaking’ the record,” she said to media members. “In the end, that is not why I chose to do it. It is simply a tribute to one of the absolute greatest ski racers to ever live.”


This year’s race will take place on Nov. 19. Shiffrin and Vlhová are again the top contenders for the cutest prize in skiing.

Mikaela Shiffrin greets her reindeer, Ingemar, during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup on Nov. 23, 2019 in Levi, Finland.





Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) – Rudolph (Named after the movie, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”)

Marcel Hirscher (AUS) – Ferdinand (Named after his father)



Tina Maze (SLO) – Victor (Named after the word “Victory” in English)

Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – Lars (Named after his father)



Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) – Sven (Named after the reindeer in the movie, “Frozen”)

Marcel Hirscher (AUS) – Leo (No specific meaning)



Petra Vlhová (SVK) – Igor (Named after her father)

Felix Neureuther (GER) – Mati (Named after his daughter)



Mikaela Shiffrin – Mr. Gru (Named after a character in “Despicable Me”)

Marcel Hirscher (AUS) – Mr. Snow (No specific meaning)



Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) – Ingemar (Named after the Swedish ski legend)

Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – Trenkki (Named after his trainer)



Petra Vlhová (SVK) – Pepi (Named after her psychological coach)

Petra Vlhova (SVK) – Lujza (Named after her neice)



Petra Vlhová (SVK) – Michal (Named after her boyfriend)

Petra Vlhova (SVK) – Boris (Named after her brother)

Brendan Rourke is a Digital Media Assistant for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Previously, he spent three years writing for the NBA's Indiana Pacers, and is a graduate of the IUPUI Sports Capital Journalism Program.