The Classics

Nope, this isn’t about the Paris Roubaix or Tour de Flanders. This is about Ski Classics: the Worldloppet and the VISMA Ski Classics. What are these international events? How can you participate?

The Worldloppet is an international series of some of the world’s most popular ski marathons. In 2019, the Worldloppet celebrated 40 years since the organization started with 10 events in 1979, including the American Birkebeiner. Since then, it has expanded to include 20 ski events in 20 countries.

Worldloppet events offer the opportunity to experience skiing and culture in a foreign country. Each event uniquely highlights the aspects of the host country, whether that’s savoring brown cheese and waffles after the Birken in Norway, skiing through snow gum forests during the Kangaroo Hoppet in Australia or a fresh pour of Benedikter Lager after the König Ludwig Lauf in Germany.

Stacks of gjetost, brown Norwegian goat cheese and heart-shaped waffles await hungry skiers.

Stacks of gjetost, brown Norwegian goat cheese and heart-shaped waffles await hungry skiers.

After completing an event, skiers can have their Worldloppet passport stamped. Collect 10 stamps, symbolic of the original 10 event series, and a skier can earn the coveted title of “Worldloppet Master.”

Adding to the collection. Getting a stamp after the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland.

Adding to the collection. Getting a stamp after the Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland.

In Europe, the Visma Ski Classics are perhaps the most popular series of marathons, for both elite skiers and spectators. All the Ski Classics are broadcast on Eurosport. The series is going into its 10th year and features 13 events for professional teams, including many of the Worldloppet events. As the name implies, Ski Classics focuses on classic marathons, like the Marcialonga, Vasaloppet and Birken. In 2019, it added its first skate marathon, the Engadin in Switzerland. The 13 events for the 2020 season are being announced over the next two weeks: SkiClassics.com.

Want to participate in an international Worldloppet or Ski Classics event? Lumi Experiences offers trips to both. Check out www.lumiexperiences.com for more information.

What's in a name?

By Garrott Kuzzy

In March 2016, I  took a short train ride from my home in Innsbruck, Austria to Seefeld. My former coach, Bryan Fish, was at the Europa Cup finals with a group of athletes from the US. I wanted to catch up with Bryan and help test wax for the team. While the skiers were racing, we discussed the opportunity to ski race in Europe. Thanks to the National Nordic Foundation, these racers trying to make the jump to the World Cup were able to receive world-class support.

Coach Bryan Fish, along with athletes on the National Nordic Foundation sponsored Europa Cup trip in Seefeld in March of 2017.

Coach Bryan Fish, along with athletes on the National Nordic Foundation sponsored Europa Cup trip in Seefeld in March of 2017.

But these elite athletes are not the only ones who should be able to ski in Europe with first-class waxing and support. What if we share that experience with other skiers as well? Lumi Experiences was born. Lumi is the Finnish word for snow. As the name suggests, Lumi focuses on travel to experience winter in some of the world’s most spectacular places.

Our first Lumi Experiences trip brought a group of skiers from the US to compete in the Dolomitenlauf Worldloppet ski marathon in Austria. We also skied the famous Via Ferrovia railroad trail from Cortina to Dobbiaco, Italy, and cheered on the US Ski Team athletes in the Seefeld World Cup. Skiers on the trip had the opportunity to forerun the course before Sophie Caldwell and Jessie Diggins went on to win their respective races in the last World Cup competition before heading to the 2018 Olympic Games. That was a fitting conclusion to the trip that was inspired a year earlier on the same trails in Seefeld. The trip also raised over $10,000 for the National Nordic Foundation to help support junior skier development in the US.

Guests on the inaugural Lumi Experiences “Trip to Tyrol” helping to benefit the National Nordic Foundation, after taking a tour of the US Ski Team wax truck with coach Matt Whitcomb.

Guests on the inaugural Lumi Experiences “Trip to Tyrol” helping to benefit the National Nordic Foundation, after taking a tour of the US Ski Team wax truck with coach Matt Whitcomb.

As Lumi grows, we are excited to share more opportunities with travelers from North America. Our 2020 trip to the Marcialonga in Italy is already full, but there are other trips that give skiers the opportunity to bump elbows, literally, with athletes on the World Cup.

Did you know that US Ski Team skiers don’t shake hands in the winter? No. To stay healthy, they bump elbows when they greet friends and meet people. It looks like everyone is doing the chicken dance.

For 2020, Lumi is offering three trips that include chicken dancing at the World Cup:

First, the City Sprints in Dresden where athletes ski past the VIP grandstand 72 times on the team-sprint day (yep, count ‘em!);

Second, the pre-World Championships World Cup in Oberstdorf (did you know the World Championships are not the same as the World Cup?);

Third, the Minneapolis World Cup, the first on US soil since 2001 (this one isn’t even on the Lumi website yet--you heard if here in our Stories first! … send us a message if you’d like to be first to receive the itinerary). In the video below, Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall previews the course for the Minneapolis World Cup.

Check out www.lumiexperiences.com to learn more. Sign up by May 31 to save $200 on any trip. Also, what travel tips are you interested in hearing? I’ll be sharing more insights on ski travel in the coming weeks and months. See you on the trail soon! - Garrott

PS. For those Shakespeare fans out there who caught the title to this post, you can visit the city of the Capulets and Montagues on the post-trip of our Dolomitenlauf-Marcialonga trip.

Dresden City Sprint World Cup - Torsten Püschel Interview

In the lead-up to the Minneapolis World Cup, there are some parallels to the City Sprint weekend in Dresden, Germany. Both are urban events, relatively new to the World Cup circuit.

Andy Newell (19) and Kevin Bolger (28) compete in the 2019 Dresden City Sprint World Cup

Andy Newell (19) and Kevin Bolger (28) compete in the 2019 Dresden City Sprint World Cup

What are the motivations and goals behind hosting a World Cup? What does it take to get a new event on the calendar? What has the Dresden World Cup learned and how is the event changing after the first two years of their five-year contract?

 We talk with Torsten Püschel, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Dresden World Cup to learn more about hosting a City Sprint World Cup. Püschel grew up in Dresden as an elite athlete when the city was part of East Germany.  He has spent the past 20 years working as a sports commentator for German television and radio, including the past six Olympic Games.

 Launching a World Cup City Sprint: “Bring Skiing to the People”

 Garrott Kuzzy:

What was your inspiration for bringing a World Cup event to Dresden?

Torsten Püschel:

First and foremost, because Dresden is my home. My co-founder (René Kindermann, also a German television sports commentator) and I are enthusiastic fans of our hometown. In 2014, the Mayor of Dresden, Helma Orosz, came to us and said: ‘Torsten & René, you both travel the world for sporting events. Do you have any ideas for promoting the city in the winter?’ Dresden is known for the Striezelmarkt, Germany’s oldest Christmas Market, in December. In the spring and summer, it is full of cyclists and travelers. But things were a little quiet in January. 

Dresden World Cup Chief of Competition Georg Zipfel (L) and Co-Director Torsten Püschel talk about the event.

Dresden World Cup Chief of Competition Georg Zipfel (L) and Co-Director Torsten Püschel talk about the event.

René and I were announcing at the World Cup in Lahti, Finland, where the Nordic venue is within walking distance of the city. We thought, ‘Hey, how about we host a Nordic World Cup in Dresden?’

 We had conversations for over a year with all possible constituents before announcing our idea. We didn’t want anyone to feel left out. This was one of the keys to the success of the event.

 The regional ski clubs loved the idea of bringing the World Cup to the people in the city, rather than bringing people to a more remote ski area in the Iron Mountains (Erzgebirge mountain range about 50 miles from Dresden, on the border with the Czech Republic). That also fit with the German Ski Federation’s mission to bring more winter sports to the cities.

Hannah Halvorsen competes in her first World Cup event

Hannah Halvorsen competes in her first World Cup event

 GK: Once you decided you wanted to host a World Cup, how did you make it happen? What were the challenges?

 TP: There were three big challenges. First, we had to find a weekend that fit into the FIS calendar. Second, we had to get all of the permits from the city. There were over 10 different departments who had to sign off on our proposal. Finally, we had to achieve the FIS requirements like organizing accommodation, paying for athlete’s travel expenses and, of course, to build a venue in the city. It took over three years from having the idea in fall of 2014, to approval by FIS in May 2017, to actually hosting the event in January 2018.

GK: You mentioned that Dresden is known for its cycling. Rock climbers are also likely familiar with the famous sandstone Bastei rock formations. Cross country skiing is not as synonymous with the region. What are winters like in Dresden?

TP: Dresden itself is cold, but does not always have snow in the winter. Instead, people typically travel around 45 minutes into the surrounding Erzgebirge mountains to ski. Rather than make people travel to snow, our inspiration was to bring the World Cup to the people.

Aerial view of the race course in front of the State of Saxony’s Ministry of Culture building.

Aerial view of the race course in front of the State of Saxony’s Ministry of Culture building.

Creating a Sustainable Event

GK: Has it been hard hosting a World Cup in a city without consistent snow? Are you taking into account environmental concerns?

TP: Creating an environmentally sustainable World Cup has actually been one of the most interesting parts of the project. From the beginning, we wanted to make sure the event was ‘green’--in the environmental sense at least. FIS actually has a Green Event Manual. We used the manual, along with the input from several local, environmentally focused non-profits, to make the event as sustainable as possible.

For example, it is actually better to host a city event, than a rural event in the mountains because everything is so central. The athlete hotel is located right next to the course, so racers and coaches can walk to the venue. Tickets for spectators include public transportation.

FIS now requires that every World Cup venue has snowmaking, so every event is making snow--not just city sprints. We make our snow at the Dresden Airport with non-potable water collected from the roof of the airport. Snow guns make the snow inside an airport hanger, so no moisture is lost to wind or sun. The energy used to make the snow is 100% renewable; from hydro-, solar- and wind power.

Snowmaking container set up outside a hanger at the Dresden Airport.

Snowmaking container set up outside a hanger at the Dresden Airport.

Indoor snowmaking means no moisture is lost to wind or sun

Indoor snowmaking means no moisture is lost to wind or sun

It takes about a month to make all the snow for the event, which we can even make in temperatures above freezing. Two days before the event, we transfer the snow from the airport to the venue. A short 650m snow loop has several advantages. First, it means we do not need to make much snow. Second, racers ski two laps, which is more exciting for spectators. On the team-sprint day, racers ski past the spectators 72 times--more than any other World Cup event.

The total carbon required for our snow production is about the same as one person in Dresden would use in two months of normal living.

A family heads out for an evening ski after the races

A family heads out for an evening ski after the races

A Family Winter Weekend

GK: In Minneapolis, the race organizers are creating a four-day festival around the World Cup. How do you use the snow when World Cup racers aren’t racing?

TP: One of our goals is to help put Dresden on the world stage. The course runs along the banks of the Elbe River with the city skyline in the background. Of course, promoting the city and sport is a big part of our event.

As part of bringing skiing to the people, we leave the course set-up for 10 days. After the race weekend, we open the track to everyone. Elementary school kids come during the week to learn to ski. Tobias Angerer (Olympic Bronze Medalist and two-time World Cup Overall Champion) has connections to Dresden and spends the week teaching lessons. The German National Paralympic team teaches skiing to people with disabilities. A junior championship event brings over 450 kids for sprint races. We also host an event for the Special Olympics. The hill is used for sledding. The VIP hospitality ‘tent,’ which is actually a beautiful, temporary, two-story glass building, is perfect for companies to host team-building events, which is used for all 10 days as well.

Racers line up for the Team Sprint in front of the VIP hospitality building

Racers line up for the Team Sprint in front of the VIP hospitality building

Looking toward the future

GK: After two years, what have you learned? How will you evolve as you move forward?

TP: For the event, we will continue to add activities. For example, we will have a sponsor village next year, where people can sample Gruyère cheese, or try laser biathlon. We will also lower the ticket prices, aiming for cinema pricing--where spectators can access the event for the same price as a movie ticket. We really want this to become a family winter weekend.

Photo finish for second place in the women’s team sprint

Photo finish for second place in the women’s team sprint

GK: What is the athlete perspective of the event?

TP: Athletes have appreciated how firm and fast the course was; and how well the conditions held. That was very positive feedback. They also appreciate being able to walk, or run, from their hotel to the course.

Regarding the loop itself, the qualifying times were slower than FIS wants, so we are shortening the course by about 200m and making the whole venue more compact--which also improves spectating. We are reversing the direction of the course, putting the uphill at the beginning to try spreading out the field more. We are also adding more berms and bumps to make the course more challenging for athletes and exciting for spectators.

Men’s team sprint podium celebrates with champagne

Men’s team sprint podium celebrates with champagne

GK: Why should someone travel to Dresden for the World Cup?

TP: There are several reasons. First, the event is quickly becoming a tradition in Dresden. The local community is excited to host the event. People are very friendly excited to host an international event and spectators. Second, everything is within walking distance. It’s special to be able to experience the World Cup during the day and the city of Dresden, including their restaurants and culture at night. Most importantly, the event is a lot of fun. There is opportunity to interact with some of the best skiers in the world and watch them compete on one of of the most iconic World Cup courses in front of the city skyline.

GK: Thank you, Torsten. Good luck as you prepare for the World Cup next winter.

Julia Kern (L) and Sophie Caldwell after finishing fourth place in the team sprint.

Julia Kern (L) and Sophie Caldwell after finishing fourth place in the team sprint.

About Garrott Kuzzy

Garrott competed in the 2010 Olympic Games and raced several years with the US Ski Team and the CXC Team. He is founder of Lumi Experiences, specializing cross-country ski vacations. Lumi Experiences is offering a trip “Dresden to the Dolomites” with VIP tickets to the Dresden World Cup and the opportunity to ski the Dolomitenlauf Worldloppet Ski Marathon in Austria.

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Lumi Experiences – Nordic Skiing in the Alps

Back in the fall, we featured an article about Lumi Experiences, a company founded by New Moon alum and cross country Olympian Garrott Kuzzy. Lumi Experiences offers cross country ski vacations to some of the world’s renowned destinations and events.

Just in case you’ve been dreaming of a fully-curated Nordic Ski vacation of your own, take a look at some of these amazing photos of Lumi’s trip to the 2019 Nordic World Championships. Caution, skier or not, these pics are normally the stuff of dreams. But they are all, indeed, up close and very real! Look closely and you might recognize a few faces. Enjoy!

Full stands and big mountains at the Seefeld World Championships

Full stands and big mountains at the Seefeld World Championships

The women’s 4 x 5 km relay kicks off on a bluebird day.

The women’s 4 x 5 km relay kicks off on a bluebird day.

Guests dress the part to cheer on the women’s relay team with fresh face paint and relay socks.

Guests dress the part to cheer on the women’s relay team with fresh face paint and relay socks.

Skiers take some time away from the race trails to explore the Olympic city of Innsbruck, Austria.

Skiers take some time away from the race trails to explore the Olympic city of Innsbruck, Austria.

Upcoming trips for 2020 include Dresden to the Dolomites and the Best of Bavaria and Tyrol trip, which includes the Oberstdorf World Cup and the Konig Ludwig Lauf Worldloppet. The Best of Bavaria and Tyrol Trip benefits the National Nordic Foundation, an organization that makes sure up-and-coming skiers have the high-quality racing and training opportunities required to be successful. Lumi Experiences has been able to donate over $16,000 to the NNF, supporting athletic excellence in developing US Nordic athletes.

They can even plan custom trips just for you and include the places and events you’ve always wanted to visit. Here’s what New Moon customers Mike and Jane Mandli said about their trip to Tyrol with Lumi Experiences:

“The trip had an exceptionally talented group of trip leaders. It was well-planned and full of fun surprises that enhanced the experience. Sledding was a hoot, and skiing to our hotel afterwards was awesome. I love the Dolomites and the Tyrol. Austrian curling was a blast. First class care and attention to detail made this a trip of a lifetime for us.”  - Jane & Mike Mandli

“The trip had an exceptionally talented group of trip leaders. It was well-planned and full of fun surprises that enhanced the experience. Sledding was a hoot, and skiing to our hotel afterwards was awesome. I love the Dolomites and the Tyrol. Austrian curling was a blast. First class care and attention to detail made this a trip of a lifetime for us.” - Jane & Mike Mandli

You can find Lumi Experiences on their website or Facebook page. If 2020 is the year you want to experience amazing race access, rub shoulders with WC coaches and athletes, and ski on fresh corduroy under snow-capped peaks, contact Garrott.

Garrott Kuzzy and US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld

Garrott Kuzzy and US Ski Team coach Matt Whitcomb at the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld

Take advantage of Lumi’s expertise in cross country skiing and professional travel design. They take care of the details and logistics so you can relax and enjoy your vacation. Have fun…and send back pics!

The Week Before the Big Event

Originally published in Master Skier Magazine

By Garrott Kuzzy


The Week Before the Big Event

Your preparation the week before the big race will not help you have the best race of your life; leave that to the other 51 weeks. The week before is for you to enjoy. It’s the best week of the year, when you can enjoy the fitness you have worked so hard to achieve. Planning your training, meals, sleep, equipment and travel will help you prepare, so you can glide to the start line with confidence. Ready to fly.

The start of the Engadin Ski Marathon in St Moritz, Switzerland

The start of the Engadin Ski Marathon in St Moritz, Switzerland

First, there is a fundamental question that will help keep the big event in perspective.


Why do you ski race?

This question is distinctly different from “what are your goals?” Ski racing has a different

purpose for everyone. For me, it gives an opportunity to test my training, spend time with friends and see new places. So, why do you ski race? A clear, written answer to that question will help you leading into the big event more than anything else. If I know my training has not been ideal, I am okay with less than ideal results--I still love skiing with friends and exploring new places.

What has worked in the past?

Before looking forward, think about past races. Do you keep a training log or journal? Previous training and events are all part of the preparation for this one. The big event. Each day of training should have a purpose. Write down today’s goal. “Today, I’m working on pacing. Each interval will be faster than the previous” or “today, is an easy day. I’m biking with friends and sharing stories from the weekend.”

At the end of each day or race, write down three things that worked well and three things to improve upon. Three is too many? Okay…pick one of each. Review those goals and assessments about a week before the big event.

What is your plan?

Now that you know what has worked in the past, you can make your plan. This is the best part. Your plan allows you to move confidently into the big event. This is not the time to look at skiers around you and wonder if perhaps maybe you should be doing something differently. You know what works. You know what you need to do. Write it down. Follow it.

Your plan may be to the nearest hour a week before the event. On race day, it should be to the minute. Each time you accomplish a part of your plan, you are achieving a small goal. Each of these small goals adds up to preparedness, and confidence, when you glide up to the start line. There are five primary categories to consider when writing your pre-week plan: training, meals, sleep, equipment and travel.


Training

This is not the week to train more or harder. This is the week to enjoy the fitness you have achieved. Use previous pre-race weeks to test variables. Personally, I perform better after a hard effort the day before a race. This is not the case for everyone. Know what works for you. Continue to do the same number of workouts you normally would, but keep them shorter and sharper. If you are doing intervals (and you should), do them on downhills, flats or rolling terrain. If you are doing strength (and you should), keep the weight lighter and your movements powerful. If you are going easy, think about staying relaxed and using your best technique. Take the time you gain from the shorter workouts and spend a little more time stretching and taking care of your body afterwards--including what you eat.


Nutrition

Plan your meals early in the week. Buy groceries accordingly, so you do not need to make unnecessary trips to the store. Keep your meals balanced: grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables. You may want to increase your carbohydrate consumption this week, but not to extremes. Too much pasta can make you tired from having to digest so much. Also, remember to stay hydrated, without overdoing it. Salt and electrolytes are a good idea to help your body absorb liquids and keep a fluid balance in your body, as you lose salt through sweating--especially on race day. Include a snack in your bag to facilitate recovery immediately after you finish. Most of the pros travel with hand sanitizer. It’s a good idea to apply it liberally and often.

Sleep

Sleep is your secret weapon. Especially this week. If you can add an extra hour of sleep every night this week, that almost adds up to another night of sleep (and recovery!) that you would not normally get. If there is ever a time to treat yourself to sleep, it’s this week. The book “Power Sleep” by James Maas is an excellent resource with many insights about the benefits of sleep. One anecdote that has helped me: we benefit from sleep, so long as our eyes are closed and the lights are off--even if we are not actually able to sleep.

Equipment
If there’s anything that wakes me up at night, it’s not pre-race nerves; it’s the fear of forgetting something. Pack the night before and use a checklist. You will sleep better knowing that everything is ready. Make sure that you have enough dry clothes, especially a warm hat and socks, for after the race. Know the weather forecast and triangulate with several weather sources.

How are your skis getting waxed? Ideally you have looked at the forecast and prepped most layers on your race skis earlier in the week. Waxing late into the night before a race will hurt you more than it helps. Ideally, you just need to add one or two quick layers the afternoon before the race. Or better yet, have someone who knows more than you do about wax prepare your skis for you.

Travel & Race Day
Most of us are not lucky enough to live in Hayward, Sun Valley or St Moritz. That means we are often traveling to the big event. Leave plenty of time in your plan for travel. On the morning of the event, when your plan is to the minute, aim to arrive early. If there’s a day when external variables will impact your plan, it will inevitably happen today. One way to keep adversity in perspective? Think about Norwegian Simen Krueger, who fell at the start of the 30km Pursuit in PyeongChang, then skied past everyone in the race to win gold.

When it’s time to warm up, know when you are going to start and what you are going to do. I prefer a basic warm-up: 10 minutes easy. 3 x 3 minutes at race pace with equal rest. 3 x 1 minute at last-kilometer pace with equal rest. Then 10 minutes for final prep and getting to the start line. It takes about 45 minutes total. For a long marathon, this warm-up could even be shorter.

Throughout the week, you have methodically checked off each line in your plan. Each check mark is a goal that you have accomplished. Your training has been sharp. You have been eating well and sleeping well. You have your skis, boots, poles and bib. You know your purpose for being here. You can stand at the line with confidence. The gun goes off. Now it’s time to fly.

---

Garrott competed in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. He currently lives in Innsbruck,

Austria where he offers cross country ski vacations through his company, Lumi Experiences.

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Looking for inspiration for your next ski trip?

Check out Lumi Experiences Cross Country Ski Vacations. Lumi Experiences was founded by former New Moon staffer and Olympian Garrott Kuzzy. Garrott currently calls Innsbruck, Austria home and offers a number of cross country ski trips to the alps. Last winter, skiers on Lumi trips got to ski in the Dolomitenlauf Worldloppet event, cheer on the US Ski Team at the World Cup in Seefeld and ski in the Swiss Engadin Worldloppet.

On the Engadin trip, guests skied in the 50th anniversary of the Engadin Worldloppet in St Moritz, Switzerland, plus many other trails in the week before the event.

On the Engadin trip, guests skied in the 50th anniversary of the Engadin Worldloppet in St Moritz, Switzerland, plus many other trails in the week before the event.

Hayward locals Jane & Mike Mandli, shortly after finishing the Dolomitenlauf in Austria. Jane got a podium in her age group and had time to put on warm clothes before cheering husband Mike across the finish line.

Hayward locals Jane & Mike Mandli, shortly after finishing the Dolomitenlauf in Austria. Jane got a podium in her age group and had time to put on warm clothes before cheering husband Mike across the finish line.

At the Seefeld World Cup, the last event before the 2018 Olympic Games, guests got a behind the scenes tour of the US Ski Team wax trailer with women’s team head coach Matt Whitcomb.

At the Seefeld World Cup, the last event before the 2018 Olympic Games, guests got a behind the scenes tour of the US Ski Team wax trailer with women’s team head coach Matt Whitcomb.

Guests also had the opportunity to cheer on Jessie Diggins and the US Ski Team in their last World Cup races before winning gold the 2018 Olympic Games.

Guests also had the opportunity to cheer on Jessie Diggins and the US Ski Team in their last World Cup races before winning gold the 2018 Olympic Games.

The trips are not only about racing. Trips, such as this one to the Toblach in the Italian Dolomites, feature recreational skiing through some of the most scenic villages in the Alps.

The trips are not only about racing. Trips, such as this one to the Toblach in the Italian Dolomites, feature recreational skiing through some of the most scenic villages in the Alps.

The Lumi Experiences trips for 2019 are already full. Garrott is currently curating the 2020 itineraries and would love to hear where you want to go next.

Visit www.lumiexperiences.com or send an email (info@lumiexperiences.com) to get more information on upcoming trips and to let Garrott know where you would love to ski on your next vacation.

Garrott (right) with several of the guests forerunning the 2018 Seefeld World Cup .

Garrott (right) with several of the guests forerunning the 2018 Seefeld World Cup.

Talking World Champs with Seefeld Chief of Course Thomas Unterfrauner

Article originally posted on Fasterskier.com

With the 2019 International Ski Federation (FIS) Nordic World Ski Championships the next major championship on the docket, Garrott Kuzzy, a 2010 U.S. Olympian who lives in Innsbruck, Austria, interviewed the chief of course for the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Via email, he asked Thomas Unterfrauner about preparing for the event, which will run from Feb. 20 to March 3. 

***

Garrott Kuzzy: How is the atmosphere around Seefeld leading up to the 2019 World Championships?

Thomas Unterfrauner: The atmosphere is very interesting. The whole village of Seefeld is focused on the championships next winter. Everybody seems to have a role in preparing for it for it. We all know that this is a big opportunity for us to showcase the whole Olympiaregion Seefeld to the world.

The pre-race scene at the 2018 World Cup in late January in Seefeld, Austria. The venue will host 2019 World Championships.

The pre-race scene at the 2018 World Cup in late January in Seefeld, Austria. The venue will host 2019 World Championships.

GK: In 2017, Seefeld hosted the OPA Cup finals. There was ankle-deep standing water in parts of the stadium. Big changes were made in the stadium and on the trails and it seems to have worked. What changes did you make?

TU: We reviewed the course in detail after the OPA Cup finals last spring. There were several challenging areas on the course, especially the water in the stadium. We worked with several specialists to analyze and make changes to the stadium and the course.

GK: What changes do you still plan to make before next winter?

TU: Our biggest change will be to make the stadium even wider. There are many things we need to fit into the stadium, such as start and finish lanes and a wide section of race course going between them, plus bleachers that we did not have for the World Cup this year. At this point, 90 percent of our work is complete. We are mostly making some finishing touches now.

GK: The courses for this year’s World Cup in Seefeld seemed to really appeal to the U.S. skiers, especially Sophie Caldwell and Jessie Diggins, who both won races. What did you learn about the course at the World Cup this winter?

TU: We learned many things from the World Cup this winter. We approach most events, such as National or OPA Cup level competitions, with athletes and teams in mind. With World Cups and World Championships, we have the additional considerations of television and marketing partners. Some of our new questions we consider are where to place sponsor banners, cameras and how to get power to them. Television and marketing partners work with us to make sure all of the additional hardware is in place.

GK: What was the general response from the athletes?

TU: The reaction to the courses was positive from all sides. Athletes and coaches both commented how easy it was to access the trails, wax trailers, and the start and finish areas from the course for warming-up, cooling-down and testing skis. The stadium is also close enough to Seefeld that teams can get to and from the skiing without having to take a bus. With our improved rollerski loop, there are many teams coming to Seefeld for their summer training, to spend more time getting comfortable with the course and the surroundings.

Left to right: Mikaela Sundbaum (assistant technical delegate), Annmari Viljanmaa (TD), Christian Krepper (chief of competition), and Thomas Unterfrauner (chief of course) at the 2018 World Cup in Seefeld, Austria.

Left to right: Mikaela Sundbaum (assistant technical delegate), Annmari Viljanmaa (TD), Christian Krepper (chief of competition), and Thomas Unterfrauner (chief of course) at the 2018 World Cup in Seefeld, Austria.

GK: How many spectators are you expecting for the 2019 World Championships?

TU: We are expecting around 15,000 spectators per day for the World Champs, around three times as many as we had for the World Cup races last winter.

GK: You were at the 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland. In your mind, what is the difference between a World Cup and the World Championships?

TU: The size of the event and the length of time are the biggest differences. There are more athletes, coaches, support staff, media and spectators, all of whom stay for up to two weeks or more. Everything down to how we dispose of trash has to be considered. That is to say, there is a lot of housekeeping to be done for a full two weeks–much longer than one World Cup weekend.

GK: Why should someone travel to ski in Seefeld? What makes Seefeld unique?

TU: Seefeld and the whole Olympia Region (Seefeld hosted the cross country events for the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Games) is made up of several different towns, valleys and trail networks, including Seefeld, Leutasch, Mösern, Scharnitz, Buchen and Reith. In total, there are over 200 kilometers of trails. We can offer skiers of all levels terrain that matches their wishes, whether that’s challenging World Cup trails through the woods or flat, relaxed terrain through open valleys. The quality of life here on the Seefeld Plateau is very high, with clean air, amazing nature, spectacular scenery and most importantly, good snow conditions.

GK: Finally, there are some big hopes for the U.S. team, coming off a gold-medal performances in Seefeld and PyeongChang. That said, there are also some skiers flying under the radar who could challenge for the victory. Teresa Stadlober will surely be aiming for a big performance in her home country. Therese Johaug has not competed in 2018, but will be back in 2019. There’s a rumor she was in Seefeld for a World Champs simulation training camp while the rest of her competition was at the Olympic Games. Do you have any predictions for next winter?

TU: Nope, I have no predictions. My aim is to offer fair and safe races for all athletes. Off the trail, we will have a host a huge celebration of cross country skiing. I would love to draw more attention to our sport, especially here in Austria. So, I suppose it would be pretty special if Austria won a medal 

GK: Finally, you work as an electrician in the summer. Are there any skills or attributes from your summer job that you put to use in the winter as chief of course?

TU: Yes, there are many parts, especially working under pressure and attention to detail. If an electrician makes a mistake, it can be very hard, or impossible, to go back and fix later. In the worst cases, the house could burn down. We use similar structures in preparing for big events, so that details are not overlooked and everything runs exactly as it should when you turn on the lights and welcome the world.

Women’s field starts in the 4 x 5km relay at the 2019 Nordic World Championships in Seefeld

Women’s field starts in the 4 x 5km relay at the 2019 Nordic World Championships in Seefeld

Interview with Elias Walser - Head of Seefeld Tourism

Seefeld in Tirol, Austria will host the 2019 Nordic World Championships. The small town in northern Tyrol sits on a plateau nestled in the alps, about two hours by train south of Munich and about 30 minutes north of Innsbruck. Seefeld has a long history of hosting international Nordic competitions, including the 1964 and 1976 Innsbruck Olympic Games, as well as the 1985 World Championships and 2012 Youth Olympic Games. Seefeld holds the historic distinction as the venue where American Bill Koch won his Olympic silver medal in the 30-kilometer event.

We got out for a ski with Elias Walser, the managing director of Seefeld Tourism, on some of the 270+ kilometers of trails he oversees to learn more about the region and the upcoming World Championships.

Seefeld in Tirol, Austria, will host 2019 Nordic World Championships

Seefeld in Tirol, Austria, will host 2019 Nordic World Championships

Garrott Kuzzy: You have been the head of Austria’s two largest cross-country ski destinations, Ramsau am Dachstein and Seefeld in Tirol. What makes cross country skiing in Austria unique?

Elias Walser: In my opinion, what sets Austria apart from Scandinavia or North America, is that the cross-country ski trails are surrounded by a dramatic mountain landscape and a fairytale natural environment. At the same time, the trails pass through farms, huts and villages where skiers can stop for refreshment. I believe this combination of nature and access to traditional life in the alps makes Austria one of a kind.

GK: Now that the 2017 Lahti World Championships are complete, the eyes of the nordic world are on Seefeld…well, except for a couple of events in Korea next February. How is Seefeld preparing for the 2019 World Championship?

EW: Our trail construction and renovation for the world championship began in August 2016. We do not want to build buildings that no one needs after 2019 and are making our biggest investments in trails and infrastructure, such as lights and snowmaking. We updating our trail network to provide even more fun and enjoyment in the future, for both beginners and elite athletes alike.

GK: Seefeld is hosting the European Continental Cup (OPA Cup) Final in late March. Many of the big events in North America this winter have been impacted by a lack of snow. How are the winters trending in Seefeld? What are you doing to ensure snow for these big events?

EW: We also notice a change in our winters and have taken steps to adapt. We operate an active snow-management system. This means that we are already working in the summer on what can we do to offer the best cross-country ski trail with as little snow as possible. In the winter, we farm snow from higher elevations. We also have extensive snowmaking for the race trails and the most popular touring trails.

Elias Walser, Seefeld Tourism managing director, with Olympian Caitlin Gregg

Elias Walser, Seefeld Tourism managing director, with Olympian Caitlin Gregg

GK: You were in Hochfilzen for the Biathlon World Championships and in Lahti for Nordic Worlds. What were your impressions?

EW: Yes, the atmosphere was sensational at both events! I was actually in Hochfilzen when [American] Lowell Bailey won gold and in Lahti when [Canadian] Alex Harvey outsprinted the field in the 50 k. The crowd was ecstatic cheering on both North Americans. It is beneficial for every sport when athletes from a variety of countries have the potential to win on any given day. It is also exciting to see the growing strength of the American women’s team.

GK: Seefeld has a long history of cross-country skiing. It first received international attention when it hosted cross country events for the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic Games. When/how did skiing start in Seefeld?

EW: Tourism in Seefeld began in the 19th century, attracting guests seeking an escape from cities during hot summers. It was only after the Second World War that winter became increasingly popular. Seefeld became known for its extensive winter sporting experiences, including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, Eisstockschiessen (Austrian curling), winter hiking, horse-drawn carriage rides and tobogganing. Those traditions continue today, except that the barn lofts where guests used to stay have evolved into hotels with restaurants, pools and spas. Guests not only want to go skiing–they want to enjoy winter as a whole experience.

GK: Do you have/know of any notable stories/history from the 1964 or 1976 Games in Seefeld?

EW: If you see the old pictures, it is just incredible how courageous and sporty the athletes were … ski jumpers, for example, going over 120 meters on early fiberglass skis. 1964 was actually the first year that ski jumping featured both normal and large hill competitions. Overall, the whole effort around the Games was much simpler and less complicated that it is today.

Seekirchl, the iconic church at the trailhead in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

Seekirchl, the iconic church at the trailhead in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

GK: One of the most historic decisions for the sport of cross-country skiing was made in the Seekirchl, the iconic church at the trailhead in Seefeld, after the 1985 Seefeld World Championships. Can you share that story?

EW: 1985 in Seefeld was the last World Championships when skating was not allowed. Despite that, the top athletes all used the “Siitonen-Schritt,” marathon skate named after Finn Pauli Siitonen. After the Championships, FIS officials met in the Seekirchl and decided to recognize skating as its own technique. That’s how skate technique was officially born and Seefeld became the “cradle of skating.”

GK: Seefeld is an annual stop on the Nordic Combined World Cup, but Austria has not hosted a Cross-Country World Cup since 2004 in Ramsau. Seefeld has only hosted two World Cups since the 1985 World Championships (1996 and 1999). What inspired Seefeld to bid on the 2019 Championships?

EW: We want to lead cross-country skiing into the next dimension. We see cross-country skiing continue to evolve as a sport and also grow as a major attraction in our region. After renovating almost all venues and homologating our race trails, it was an obvious choice to submit our bid. We were fortunate that our first application to host the championships was convincing enough to earn the bid.

GK: The 2018 World Cup in Seefeld is considered the test event for the World Championships. Are you nervous for that test? If so, what are you most nervous about?

The tracks at Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

The tracks at Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

EW: Exactly. We will see how well the cross-country trails and venue flow in the competition mode. This can only be seen in a big race. We are optimistic that the new courses will receive praise from the racers.

GK: You worked with Whistler Tourism for a year after the 2010 Olympic Games. Do you see Whistler hosting future international competitions?

EW: Unfortunately, I’m not sure.

GK: Innsbruck is in the middle of a feasibility study for the 2026 Olympic Games. Should the study find hosting the Games feasible, a referendum will be put forth to residents next fall. What are your thoughts on Innsbruck hosting its third Olympic Games?

EW: I believe it is important for the Olympic Games to not just be about the growth and development of new markets. It is also about the Olympic spirit. For this reason, the Games should also return to places where this spirit has been born. I find the application of Tyrol with its unique locations, from Kitzbühel to Arlberg, a wonderful idea.

GK: From your experience with North American skiers when you lived in Canada, how would Seefeld appeal to a skier from North America? What makes Seefeld unique? What highlights are on top of your list?

EW: The combination of gemütlichen Hütten [cozy huts] with good food along the trails and the variety of winter activities is part of what makes Seefeld unique. The accessibility from North America via direct flights to Munich is certainly also a great advantage. Innsbruck is always a welcome host for a day trip. With Seefeld as your base camp, you can really experience the alps.

GK: The name “Seefeld” literally translates into English as “Lakefield.” Is there a lake in Seefeld? Will Seefeld put in a bid to host Waterskiing World Championships?

EW: Ha! We have lots of beautiful lakes. They are all a little too small and pristine for waterskiing. However, stand-up paddleboarding makes for great cross-training in the summer.