Each winter, Tirol’s cross country ski races attract thousands of cross country ski enthusiasts of all levels, from casual day-trippers to elite superstars, from 20K to 42K or more. It is that yearly craving for the excitement, camaraderie and challenge that can only be satisfied by clicking into a pair of cross country skis and lining up at the start line with ski pals from around the world. It is an annual test of personal endurance. One of these skiers has been kind enough to share his experience participating in Tirol’s best-loved Nordic ski races…
Dressed in a black suit and a white hat, Lukas is not easily recognizable. Lining up for the start with hundreds of other skiers, Lukas is alongside the professional racers in their speed suits and the locals in their loincloths. As soon as the gun goes off, the nervousness is lifted and the only thing that matters anymore is getting out in front. “Come on, Lukas…” he is cheered up by people he doesn’t even know, strangers who shout out his name, which is written on the bib, in encouragement. Tirol’s oldest signature cross country skiing race, the legendary annual Ganghofer Race, has begun.
“Nothing quite compares to the feeling of cold air filling your lungs as the gun gets off and people on the course support you in your endeavour.” Born in the Austrian Province of Salzburg, 31-year-old Lukas lives in Tirol and is an engineer with an international company. Ten years ago, he caught cross country ski fever by watching the Nordic Combined events at the Winter Olympic Games. “I liked it that much that I decided to start cross country skiing myself,” he says. The fever soon became chronic by getting up into the mountains and enjoying the freedom of the sport.
Lukas is running a good race. He climbs the hill and glides forward, fast. “It’s fun to see how I’m doing compared to others, to step up my skiing a notch,” says Lukas. Sitting here and sharing his race experience with me, he seems quite relaxed and I wouldn’t guess that he’s the competitive type.
How come? One day, he thought it was nice to see where he stood and he started to compete against others. This happened in the year 2008, when Lukas lived in Sweden for a year. Cross country skiing is the national sport of Sweden. He decided to compete in Sweden’s annual Vasaloppet cross country ski race, one of the world’s largest cross country ski marathons with more than 40,000 entries. When Lukas moved to Tirol in 2010, he participated in the Ganghofer Race in Leutasch (Seefeld Olympia Region), opting for the 42K skating distance.
Suddenly, he was short of breath. Lukas had to slow down, his legs felt like jelly and his heart was pumping fast. “Up to that point, I skied really well but then I pushed too hard and collapsed. The marathon distance was simply too long for me, too exhausting. Nevertheless, it was a great experience.” I get short of breath just from listening!
This was when he realized that was better at shorter distances. That is, 20 kilometers of skate skiing. In Tirol, Lukas has participated in many races, including the Koasalauf XC Ski Run, the Achensee Lake 3-Valleys-Run, the Raiffeisen-Steinöl Trophy and the bespoke Ganghofer Race.
Having completed 42 kilometers in skate skiing style in slightly more than two hours, Lukas finished the race in eighth position. Slowing down and taking a breath, realizing he just mastered the demanding Ganghofer Race; there is nothing quite like it! “At the latest at the third race of the season you know your limits.” He knows his fellow skiers who can ski as fast as he can. “After each race, I analyse which section I completed faster or slower than the others.” Anyway, there is nothing to lose or win, says Lukas: “A folk run is not about fierce competition; it’s just about getting out and participating. Everyone can enter.” Everyone, from casual day-trippers to elite superstars.
Well, casual day-tripper is not the word to describe Lukas; I’d rather say he’s a super athlete. He skis an average of 50 days a winter. He loves nature. That’s why he and his Swedish girlfriend live in the Achensee Lake Area, where the cross country ski tracks are just a few steps away. “Yes, cross country skiing was one of the reasons we moved here from Innsbruck.”
Two years ago, he and his girlfriend mastered the Ganghofer Race together for the first time, says Lukas, “half distance this time.”
Tirol hosts an exciting range of cross country ski events every winter from January through March. There are many opportunities to compete for your chance at glory or to yell yourself hoarse by cheering for your favourites in the Heart of the Alps: www.tyrol.com/top-xc-ski-events