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.
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.
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.
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, offering cross-country ski vacations to Europe. Lumi Experiences is partnering with the National Nordic Foundation to offer trips to the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld.