When you saw the cover of this year’s New Moon catalog, you might have thought the photo of skiers on wooden skis with bamboo poles was straight from the 1970s. But no, that photo was taken at the Marcialonga Story, a vintage cross country ski race in the Italian Alps, in January 2022.
Walking to the start of the Story, the smell of pine fills the air like a tree farm during harvest season. But the only pine around the Lago di Tesero stadium, the site of the annual Tour de Ski and 2026 Olympic Games, is the fresh pine tar heated into wooden skis for kick and glide at the start of the Marcialonga Story.
Around 300 skiers toe the line for the Story. That’s only a fraction of the 8,000 starters for tomorrow’s 70 km classic-only Marcialonga ski race. As they wait for the start, Dean Martin’s rendition of Volare streams through the loudspeakers. Nel blu, dipinto di blu; the blue painted in blue, describes the sky as the sun rises over the Dolomite spires to the southeast. Several skiers hum along to the tune as they line up for the 11 km Story, a non-competitive ski event. Vintage equipment and clothing help initiate conversation in gregarious Italian, melodic Norwegian and broken English. Everyone here is skiing on equipment that dates back to at least 1976.
The inspiration for the Story comes from the Eroica classic bike race in Chianti, Italy. Cyclists from around the world show up to ride the 209 km route through central Tuscany. The first Eroica was held in 1997 by a group of 92 cyclists. It now attracts thousands of international riders annually. L’Eroica is also not a race. Simply finishing the ride is an accomplishment. The average cyclist rides for close to 15 hours.
Most of L’Eroica travels along Strade Bianche, white gravel roads, connecting historic villages and refreshing aid stations offering organic wine and homemade pasta. The ethos of the event is that cyclists use Bici Eroiche, historic bikes, to complete the route. All bikes must have been built prior to 1988. Those bikes with gears typically have downtube shifters. Toe clips and straps are common. Clipless pedals are not allowed. Clothing also falls into these requirements. Wool jerseys are standard. Anything lycra is prohibited.
The Marcialonga ski marathon has its own history. One of the original ten Worldloppet Ski Marathons, it was inspired by the gold medal performance of Italian Franco Nones in the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Games. The first rendition of the “Long March” was held in 1971, connecting the valleys of Fassa and Fiemme on a course similar to today’s. Participation grew, but when the event switched from freestyle to classic-only in 2003, its popularity exploded–especially for Scandinavian skiers. The last weekend in January turns out to be an ideal time to head south from Norway, soak up some of the notorious alpine sunshine and compete in a long classic-style event. It is ideal preparation for the Scandinavian classics: the Swedish Vasaloppet and Norwegian Birkebeiner.
As the popularity of the Marcialonga grew, so did side events in the preceding week. The first Marcialonga Story vintage ski event was held in 2013, inspired by L’Eroica. Prizes for the Story are awarded not to the fastest skier, but for the oldest equipment and best dressed. Just a few hundred kilometers from the fashion capital Milan, these skiers take the competition seriously.
Ski equipment must be certified before the event. Skis are then photographed and cataloged in an online vintage ski book. It is perhaps the most extensive resource for vintage equipment. A scroll through the archive reveals the evolution from wooden skis with leather straps to fiberglass skis with three-pin bindings. Skis dating back to the early 19th century and brands like Fiemme, Fischer, Splitkein, Järvinen and even Lamborghini can all be found in the collection.
When the starter pulls the trigger, skiers with leather, duck-billed boots and three-pin bindings cruise from the start, experiencing the joy of skiing in a bygone era. Sure, the odd pair of neon Briko sunglasses are a reminder that the race organizers are not as strict with their rules as the set directors for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but wool knickers, sweaters and dresses create a unique atmosphere rarely found in a ski race.
The historic venue is unique as well, straddling past and future. Lago di Tesero hosted its first Nordic Ski World Championships in 1991. In 2003, Johnny Spillane won the Nordic Combined Sprint–the first gold medal for the US in any FIS Nordic Ski World Championships. In 2013, Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall paired in the freestyle Team Sprint, earning an unexpected win and a first gold medal for the duo. Today, Lago di Tesero is the start for the final stage of the Tour de Ski, which finishes atop a notoriously demanding climb up the Alpe Cermis alpine ski hill. Looking forward to the future, Lago di Tesero will be the Nordic sports venue for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympic Games. Yes, more history will certainly be made here in the future.
For now though, skiers in the Story cruise along the relatively flat trail which mostly meanders alongside the Avisio River through the Val di Fiemme towards Predazzo. The tracks, set five wide, make for easy conversation along the way. Most skiers chat shoulder to shoulder, rather than draft in a paceline. Contrary to the double-pole-only technique used by the first thousand or so skiers in tomorrow’s Marcialonga, striding is the technique of choice for the Story; even on flats. The short bamboo poles with leather straps make double poling particularly challenging. The tip-to-tail pine tar offers enough kick and remarkable glide as the rising sun starts to warm the tracks.
As the trail reaches Predazzo, the course leads skiers through the narrow streets of town, lined on both sides by spectators cheering the skiers and taking photos of their vintage look. Simply spectating the Story is an event in itself. As skiers cruise under the Arrivo banner, a band in traditional dress greets them with Italian folk songs. No high-tech electrolyte drink is provided to finishers. Hot coffee and warm brioche are the reward as they cross the line. The Story may not take the 15 hours many expect for L’Eroica, but it is a festive warm-up and course preview before sharing the track with 8,000 skiers in tomorrow’s Marcialonga Ski Marathon.
Garrott Kuzzy is a retired Olympic ski racer, living out his golden years in Innsbruck, Austria, where he dreams he had been born in a simpler time when only a blowtorch and pine tar were needed to prepare skis. Kuzzy spends his spare time running Lumi Experiences, a travel company offering cross country ski vacations to some of the world’s best destinations and events, including the Marcialonga Worldloppet in Italy.
As an Official Tour Operator of the Worldloppet, Lumi Experiences offers guaranteed entry for all guests who sign up for the Dolomitenlauf & Marcialonga or Marcialonga & King Ludwig Trip. Sign up by March 31 and save $300 per person!