Greetings Moonies! Garrott Kuzzy here, kicking off a series of monthly photo blogs, sharing some insights into life in Europe with New Moon readers. This month, I’d love to introduce myself through a little story about riding the Transalp…
The what?! The BIKE Transalp is one of the original mountain bike stage races — 7 days of riding across the Alps from Austria, through Switzerland and finishing in Italy. Each day consists of around 60 miles of riding and 10,000 feet of climbing (the Chequamegon Fat Tire is 40 miles with “just” 2,000 feet of climbing). Don’t worry though, I wasn’t actually crazy enough to attempt all 7 days.
I retired from racing a decade ago after competing as a cross country skier in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and have only put on a handful of start numbers since then. For the Transalp, I entered the beginner category — racing just the first stage. Before the start, I had a general idea of where the 60 mile course would take us, but I had no idea the race course would connect so many parts of my life.
A Specialized Stumpjumper 29” hardtail has been my only mountain bike since I bought it while I was working at New Moon, from 2006 – 2011. When I got it, Chris Young put a sticker on the top tube that says “front” — that way I never forget which direction to ride.
The start of the BIKE Transalp © Markus Greber
Of the 1,000 riders on the start line, I was the only American. The race was in June and at that point, no Americans were allowed to enter Europe (now the borders are open to vaccinated Americans again!). Fortunately, I’ve been living in Innsbruck, Austria for the past 5 years, where I run Lumi Experiences cross country ski vacations. The start of the race, on the border between Austria and Italy, was just an hour drive from home.
The first big surprise of the race was crossing the border into Italy. I’m used to open borders in Europe, but Covid restrictions prevented travel into Italy for most of 2020. At the top of the first 3,000 foot climb, the single track took us through vicious concrete spikes as we crossed from Austria into Italy, remnants of previous wars and a reminder that we can’t always take open borders for granted.
Dropping down to the next village, we rode around the shores of Lake Resia. In 1950, the village of Curon was flooded to build an electric dam, leaving only an iconic 14th century bell tower rising from the water. In the winter, a 10 km ice loop is plowed around the lake for ice skating — one of my absolute favorite places to take my Nordic skates.
In the distance beyond Lake Resia, the Ortler Mountain rises as the highest mountain of the Easrtern Alps. On the western slope, the Stelvio Glacier is a summer paradise for cross country skiers. Before moving to Austria, I was the Nordic Director at the Green Mountain Valley School (GMVS), a ski academy in Vermont. GMVS has a partnership with a ski academy in Mals, Italy. Every spring, the Mals skiers spend two weeks training in Vermont. Every fall, the GMVS skiers spend two weeks training in Italy. Last week, I got to meet up with the team for a day of skiing on the Stelvio Glacier.
Riding the Transalp, looking up at the snow on the Ortler and Stelvio helped take away some of the burn I was starting to feel in my legs.
As if one border crossing weren’t enough, the Transalp continued across the border from Italy into Switzerland. Some diehard skiers will recognize the village of Val Müstair as the start of the Tour de Ski. It is also the home of Olympic Gold Medalist Dario Cologna. The billboard featuring one of my old competitors added a little extra motivation as we started the next 4,000 foot climb back into the mountains.
In high school, I spent a year as a foreign exchange student living in Switzerland. That’s where I learned to speak German, living with a Swiss host family and going to high school. It felt good to be back in the land of cheese and chocolate.
By the time I reached the top of the pass, five hours into the race, I was bonking hard. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at a mid-race feed stop — it was basically a 4-course lunch, plus coffee and cake for dessert. Yum!
From there, we rode back across the border and all downhill to the finish in Livigno, Italy. The first time I visited Livigno was to compete in a World Cup race in 2009 — a Nordic paradise high in the Italian Alps. The village is so hard to reach that it has a special tax-free status to incentivize people to live there. In the Nordic world, Livigno is best known for its snowfarming loop, which opens every fall for skiing in mid-October. Yep. Although I knew about the snowfarming in Livigno, I was still taken by surprise when I saw the big white mirages strewn about the farm fields on the way into town. I can’t wait to head back for some skiing in a couple of weeks!
Arriving in Livigno to the sight of snow
By the time I reached the finish, almost 7 hours after starting, I could barely tell which direction to go. Fortunately, I had a friendly reminder of which direction to face on the bike — thanks, Chris! Perhaps next year, with a little more training, I’ll try to complete all 7 stages.
For now, I’m looking forward to the ski season this winter. Travel to Europe is currently open to vaccinated Americans and we are planning to run all of the Lumi Experiences trips to the EU this winter. If you’re interested in joining, we still have limited space available on several of the trips, including the Dolomitenlauf & Marcialonga Trip to Austria and Italy and the Seefeld & Engadin Trip to Austria and Switzerland. We’d love to have you along. Send me a quick message and I can send you a detailed trip itinerary or let you know about future trips as well!
See you on the trail,
Garrott Kuzzy is the founder of Lumi Experiences, Olympian, and former New Moon employee. Garrott will be posting from Europe all ski season. We look forward to enjoying his adventures.