Chances are, if you are reading articles on FasterSkier, you are part of the small world of Nordic skiing. We all enjoy the routine of putting on our boots, clicking into the bindings, and feeling the sensation of gliding on snow in the beautiful outdoors. The differences we experience while skiing are based on the locations, techniques, and intentions of the day. In March 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to Switzerland and race the 51s t Engadin Worldloppet ski marathon. Our group of friends from Minnesota and Wisconsin traveled with Lumi Experiences, a cross country ski travel company run by US Olympian, Garrott Kuzzy. A number of other skiers from several generations (even a couple of non-skiers) from around the US and Canada were on the trip as well, and we became fast friends.
The week-long ski trip started in Seefeld, Austria, which had just finished hosting the Nordic World Championships, so many amazing young Nordic athletes were still in the region – more on that later. We did the familiar putting on of our boots and clicking into our bindings, but then had the privilege of gliding in the beautiful Leutasch Valley. We stopped mid-day for a typical lunch of wiener-schnitzel and Radlers (half beer, half lemonade). Each day was a new Nordic adventure in a “pinch-me-this-is-spectacular” setting. Lunches were often a lovely outdoor sit-down event at trail-side cafés with delicious hearty fare in the bright March sunshine. We were surrounded by a community of people from all over the world, who were brought together by a love of cross-country skiing.
Mid-week we traveled to the Engadin valley, literally the Valley of the Inn People, nestled in the Swiss Alps. The valley is home to the Engadin Ski Marathon, started in 1968. We stayed in a small village outside of St Moritz, which was conveniently located in walking distance to the Engadin trails. While previewing the famed Mattress Hill two days before the Swiss race, I unexpectedly bumped into friends from home who recognized my Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) headband. Small world.
The Swiss are nothing if not efficient. 13,000 people participate in the Engadin race events, traveling by highly organized buses and trains to the start. On arrival there are a few heated tents and many starting pens holding 500-1000 people; far larger than the gates of the American Birkebeiner. The Swiss course is essentially flat, which makes it a very fast race traveling along the valley starting in Maloja. The 42 kilometers wind through St. Moritz down Mattress Hill (a slalom of a downhill, past trees protected by mattresses). In Pontresina, the half-way point, 21 km short race skiers finish. Full-length skiers continue through Samedan, to the finish in S-chanf. On the morning of the race, imagine my surprise when I spotted a fellow Minneapolis native also wearing an LNR hat, boarding my bus to the start. Lining up at the start, I noticed another skier behind me wearing our local Gear West race uniform. The small world is getting smaller!
The 2019 Engadin was included as a special skate race in the Visma classic marathon series. This brought additional talent to the race, along with other athletes fresh off the World Championships in Seefeld. I was granted a preferred wave start based on my American Birkebeiner results and found my way to the starting pen with 80 amazing young (did I mention young?), strong women. We women started 15 minutes in advance of the men’s elite wave. Thus, I had the privilege of being passed by the likes of many notable male skiers such as Dario Cologna, the Swiss national favorite and Olympian, who would win the race in 1:22.22. The women’s race was won by another Swiss skier – Nathalie von Siebenthal in 1:30.41.
After a week of ski touring, hilarious yodeling lessons, eating, drinking, and crazy mountain rodeln rides, I was hardly in “race mode” for the Engadin. But the gun went off, I relaxed into the race, and I had a wonderful time. There is a relatively small community of people who find joy in putting on their skis and going for a tour, or pushing their limits in a race, whatever their intention is for the day. You can find those people all over the world – on the metropolitan trails of my home town Minneapolis, around the maple trees in Vermont, in the sunny Sierra mountain range in California, or racing the Engadin on the stunning trails amidst the alps of Switzerland.
I’m sure many skiers were disappointed when the 2020 Engadin was cancelled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. We all hope for healthier times when we can gather again in the Swiss alps or wherever your ski adventures take you in this small world.
Mindy Benton’s resume includes a lot more than lining up next to women over half her age in the elite wave of international ski marathons. Mindy serves on the Loppet Foundation board and spends time coaching and volunteering at the foundation with her kids and family; that’s when she is not at work as a Podiatric Surgeon (that’s feet & ankles, not kids).
If you are interested in joining Lumi Experiences on a trip to the Engadin or one of several other Worldloppet events, you can find more information at www.lumiexperiences.com. Save $300 on all 2021 trips by signing up before March 31, 2020.