Cross-country skiing really took off last winter. Beginners eager for exercise and fresh air during the pandemic have made their way to local cross-country ski centers. Those who had left their skis in a dusty corner of the garage rediscovered the sport, making trails in the White Mountains, the Minnesota Hills and the mountains around Lake Tahoe. Those striving to improve their fitness have eagerly embraced the discipline, which rivals swimming for aerobic results.
This winter promises to be just as promising. Better yet, it might only be winter to travel to Europe and cross-country skiing in the Alps and Dolomites, where the sport was born. Lumi Experiences, based in Innsbruck, Austria, offers a list of organized cross-country ski trips that connect skiers to the source of the chase. I recently caught up with founder and former Olympian Garrott Kuzzy to find out more.
Everett Potter: Garrott, what is your background and how did you come to cross-country skiing?
Garrott Kuzzy: Growing up in Minnesota, winter is a big part of life. There were 120 students on my high school cross-country ski team. We were chasing snow in places like Hayward, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Eager to travel beyond the Midwest, I spent a year as an international student in Switzerland. A Swiss rail pass could take me anywhere in the land of cheese, chocolate and mountains. In addition to learning German, my knowledge of the Alps grew every weekend and my skiing improved a bit too, enough to earn a ski racing spot for Middlebury College in Vermont. After 4 years of trying to adapt skiing to school, the opportunity to run for the US ski team presented itself after college. That meant training full time and competing in World Cup competitions, skiing places like Lillehammer, Norway, around the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden, and competing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
After retiring from ski racing, I worked for VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers, expanding their cycling and hiking trips to German speaking countries. Most of the villages we took cyclists to were the same places I had skied in the winter. Yes, cycling in the valleys of the Italian Dolomites is wonderful, but I always wished I could share the winter experiences with our guests: cozy huts serving mulled wine and the sunset over the snow-capped peaks.
Potter: When, where and how did the Lumi experiments start?
Kuzzy: I moved to Innsbruck, Austria in 2016 to pursue a Masters in Winter Tourism. It was the perfect time and place to launch a dream that I had had for at least 15 years: to help people fall in love with winter.
Lumi started with just two groups the first winter and has grown quickly with many regular travelers bringing friends for their next trip as we expand to new destinations.
Potter: Tell me about your small group trips.
Kuzzy: Lumi is the Finnish word for snow – we aim to share the best winter experiences with our travelers: Local tour leaders share stories from growing up in the places we ski. We stay in three and four star hotels where the owners can guide our guests on a walk through their village, sharing its traditions and history. Cooking classes and wine tastings allow you to discover regional specialties. Apple strudel in the Dolomites, for example, is often vegan, as Italians use olive oil rather than butter in their crust.
Other highlights are winter activities like sledding on wooden slides, the Eisstockschiessen (the Austrian version of curling) and relaxing in a hot sauna after a day on the snow. A Favorite Hotel is built in a former monastery and has a beer tap in its sauna. A day or two of downhill skiing is also a great option as an alternative to a full week of cross-country skiing.
Potter: How proficient does a skier have to be?
Kuzzy: Cross-country skiing is by no means the only focus of travel. Most of our customers are comfortable on “skinny skis” as they are affectionately called, and are able to ski up and down. That said, we often have partners or travel companions who do not ski. Non-skiers often walk on trail systems prepared for winter walking and meet skiers at the refuge for lunch. They can still participate in many other activities.
For skiers, the route options are generally short, long, flat, or hilly. Our guides help clients choose the best option for them every day. No need to ski in a group, if you prefer to go at your own pace, this is your vacation. The trips are designed for the recreational skier, not the Olympian.
Potter: What about self-guided travel? For experts only?
Kuzzy: All of our trips are on trails designed for cross-country skiing – there is no off-piste or off-piste / off-piste skiing. We design the self-guided itineraries according to the wishes of every traveler, from the beginner to the expert. A beginner’s trip can focus on a flat, sunny valley like Leutasch, Austria. An expert trip can be at a higher elevation or have longer climbs and descents like SilverStar, BC. Regardless of your skill level, logistics are taken care of, so you can relax and enjoy your trip, knowing that you are visiting the right trail systems, taking the right transportation, staying in the right hotels, and having dinner. in restaurants according to your needs. wishes. If a traveler wants to learn or hone their skills, we can also arrange lessons with a local instructor. Most of our self-guided clients are couples or groups of friends.
Potter: Are your trips built around touring skis or skate skis?
Kuzzy: Most of the destinations we travel to have groomed trails both for touring skis on classic parallel trails and for skate skiing on wider trails. If you’re looking for more than one style, we can recommend a trip that’s right for you.
Potter: You’ve skied in the US and now live in Innsbruck. Would you say cross-country skiing is more popular in Europe than in the United States and if so, why?
Kuzzy: Cross-country skiing is experiencing a big resurgence in Europe and the United States, especially amid the Covid pandemic. What better place to stay active in winter and keep your distance than on a Nordic ski slope? In Europe, a cross-country skiing holiday embodies the Hygge and GemÃ¼tlichkeit in areas where these terms were coined. You can grab a hot bite at any number of cabins along the trail and afterwards relax in a comfortable wellness hotel by the trail.
Potter: Can you name some of your favorite places for cross-country skiing in Europe?
Kuzzy Timing is really important. I love Seefeld, Austria, in December and January for its morning snows and festive Christmas market, plus it’s easy to get to from Munich or Innsbruck. You’re in the Alps, so taking a day or two of downhill skiing on the alpine slopes is a great addition to cross-country skiing.
Seiser Alm in Italy is gorgeous in January with more sunshine than anywhere else you can Nordic ski this time of year. You can watch the sunset over the peaks of the Dolomites from the ski slope or while sipping an aperitif at the bar. Access Seiser Alm via Verona or Venice during off-peak times in January or make your trip coincide with the tumultuous Carnevale in February.
In March, Norway is the perfect destination with long days and skiing late in the season. Start with the Holmenkollen area, offering an urban ski vibe with views of the Oslo Fjord below. End your journey in Lillehammer, the gateway to SjusjÃ¸en, on the Hedmark plateau, with hundreds of kilometers of trails groomed at the end of the season.
No matter where you decide to ski, Lumi Experiences can help you get the most out of your next cross-country ski vacation.