Cross country skiing really took off last winter. First-timers eager for exercise and fresh air during the pandemic headed for local cross country centers. Those who had left their skis in a dustry corner of the garage rediscovered the sport, making tracks in the White Mountains, the rolling hills of Minnesota and to the mountains around Lake Tahoe. Those striving for a higher fitness level eagerly embraced the discipline, which rivals swimming for aerobic results.
This winter looks just as promising. Better yet, it might just be the winter to head to Europe and to ski on cross country ski in the Alps and the Dolomites, places where the sport was born. Lumi Experiences, based in Innsbruck, Austria, has a roster of organized cross country ski trips that connect skiers to the source of the pursuit. I recently caught up with founder and former Olympian Garrott Kuzzy to learn more.
Everett Potter: Garrott, what is your background and how did you get into cross country skiing?
Garrott Kuzzy: Growing up in Minnesota, winter is a huge part of life. There were 120 students on my high school’s cross country ski team. We would chase snow to places like Hayward, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Yearning to travel beyond the Midwest, I spent a year as a foreign exchange 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 expanded every weekend and my skiing improved quite a bit as well — enough to earn a spot ski racing for Middlebury College in Vermont. After 4 years of trying to fit skiing around studies, the opportunity to race on the US Ski Team came along after college. This meant training full-time and competing in World Cup competitions, skiing in places like Lillehammer, Norway, around the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden and competing in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
After retiring from ski racing, I worked for VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers, developing their biking and hiking trips in German-speaking countries. Many of the villages where we would bring cyclists were the same places where I had skied in the winter. Yes, cycling through the valleys of the Italian Dolomites is wonderful, but I kept wishing I could share the winter experiences with our guests: cozy huts serving mulled wine and the sunset against the snow capped peaks.
Potter: When, where and how did Lumi Experiences start?
Kuzzy: I moved to Innsbruck, Austria in 2016 to pursue a Master’s degree in winter tourism. It was the perfect time and place to launch a dream I’d had for at least 15 years: helping people fall in love with winter.
Lumi started with just two groups the first winter and has grown quickly with many repeat travelers who bring friends along 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 trip leaders share stories of growing up in the places where we ski. We stay in three- and four-star hotels where the owners may lead our guests on a walk through their village, sharing its traditions and history. Cooking classes and wine tastings offer connection to regional specialties. Apple strudel in the Dolomites, for example, is often vegan, because the Italians use olive oil, rather than butter in their crust.
Other highlights are winter activities like sledding on wooden toboggans, going Eisstockschiessen (Austria’s version of curling) and relaxing in a hot sauna after a day on the snow. One favorite hotel is built in a former monastery and has a beer tap in their sauna. A day or two of Alpine skiing is also an option as a nice alternative to a full week on cross country skis.
Potter: How proficient a skier do you need to be?
Kuzzy: Cross country skiing is by no means the only focus of the trips. Most of our guests are comfortable on “skinny skis” as they are affectionately known, and capable of skiing up and down hills. That said, we often have partners or travel companions who do not ski. Non-skiers often hike on trail networks prepared for winter walking and meet up with the skiers at the hut for lunch. They can still participate in many of the other activities.
For skiers, route options typically include short, long, flat or hilly. Our trip leaders help guests choose the best option for them each day. There’s no need to ski with the group, if you prefer to go at your own pace — it’s your vacation. Trips are designed for the recreational skier, not the Olympian.
Potter: How about the self-guided trips? For experts only?
Kuzzy: All of our trips are on trails groomed for cross country skiing — there is no backcountry or off-piste / off-trail skiing. We design the self-guided itineraries to suit each traveler’s wishes, from beginner to expert. A beginner trip may focus on a flat, sunny valley like Leutasch, Austria. An expert trip may be at a higher elevation or have longer uphills and downhills like SilverStar, British Columbia. Regardless of your skill level, the logistics are taken care of, so you can relax and enjoy your trip, knowing you’re visiting the right trail networks, taking the right transportation, staying in the right hotels and dining in the restaurants to suit your wishes. If a traveler wants to learn or brush up on their skills, we can also organize lessons with a local instructor. Most of our self-guided guests are couples or groups of friends.
Potter: Are your trips built around touring skis or skating skis?
Kuzzy: Most of the destinations where we offer trips have trails groomed for both touring skis in parallel classic tracks and for skate skiing on wider trails. If you’re looking for more of one style, we can help recommend a trip that suits.
Potter: You skied in the US and you live in Innsbruck now. Would you say that cross country skiing is more popular in Europe than in the US and if so, why?
Kuzzy: Cross country skiing is experiencing a big resurgence in both Europe and the US, especially amidst the Covid pandemic. What better place to stay active in winter and keep your distance than on a Nordic ski trail? In Europe, a cross country ski holiday embodies the Hygge and Gemütlichkeit in the regions where these terms were coined. You can grab a warm bite at any number of huts along the trail and relax afterwards at a cozy trailside wellness hotel.
Potter: Could you name a few of your favorite places to cross country ski in Europe?
Kuzzy The timing is really important. I love Seefeld, Austria in December and January for it’s early snow and festive Christmas market, plus it’s easy to reach 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.
Seiser Alm, Italy is great in January with more sun than anywhere else you can Nordic ski at that time of year. You can watch the sunset against the Dolomite peaks from the ski trail or while sipping an aperitivo at the bar. Access Seiser Alm through Verona or Venice during off-peak January or time your trip to coincide with the raucous Carnevale in February.
By March, Norway is the perfect destination with long days and skiing late into the season. Start with the Holmenkollen area, offering an urban ski vibe with views to the Oslo fjord below. Finish your trip in Lillehammer, gateway to Sjusjøen, on the Hedmark plateau, with hundreds of kilometers of trails prepared late into the season.
Regardless of where you decide to ski, Lumi Experiences can help you get the most from your next cross country ski vacation.