Countries to visit for XC skiing.

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AUSTRIA

Austria’s best XC regions are located in the Tirol and to the south of Salzburg. Snow falls start in late December and may continue until April. Although many regions promote XC skiing the majority of areas are centred near towns located in the valleys at an altitude of about 500 metres where good quality snow does not last for very long. If you are interested in XC skiing avoid all these lower areas.  Lermoos at about 1000m can usually be relied on until about mid February and is located in a 20km long valley that may have better snow in neighbouring towns and also has some trails at a higher level. Seefeld is located on a plateau at 1180m near Innsbruck and has reliable cover but it can become light towards the end of February and dependant on more snowfalls to prolong skiing. The adjoining district of Leutasch is connected to the same trail system and has a similar snow profile. Ramsau is at about 1300m and nearby, the higher Dachstein Glacier offers year round skiing. Lienz, 720m, in East Tirol is in the south near the Italian border in the shadow of the Dolomites and usually has good snow for the Dolomitenlauf Loppet in mid January but can be disappointing in February. Nearby the secluded village of St Jacob in Defereggental at about 1350m has more reliable cover. Many other resorts offer good snow conditions but have limited XC trails whereas those named here all offer a variety of trails from 50 up to 250km. The popular alpine resorts generally do not have much XC to offer and are busier and livelier than the quieter XC resorts.   Click on the thumbnail  pictures for a clearer view of (left to right), Seefeld, Lermoos, Leutasch and Lienz.

Skiing in Europe is interesting as everything is so different, the mountains, trees, people, farms, houses, churches, towns, shops and so on. There is the variety of tastes in food, different methods of preparation, varieties of wine and many different styles of beer. There are horse sleighs, baby sleds instead of prams, buses that seem too big to negotiate the narrow streets, plenty of skiing to be viewed on TV, different musical sounds, squirrels and birds, but there are crows there, do they migrate from Perisher? It seems all the women wear fur coats and everyone has a dog with them and the only thing to complain about is that nearly everyone smokes in restaurants but there are non-smoking train carriages. Because it is so cold there are hoar frost patterns in the trees that might last for days and when it snows the snow just falls gently straight down. The council workers clear snow and the postman carries the mail in an electric wagon that he walks in front of. There are horse troughs everywhere with water running to stop it freezing but often it freezes anyway. There are trout to be seen in the streams and ducks feeding in the near freezing water. The train sends up a cloud of snow dust as it rushes past. Paragliders descend from the alpine ski fields high above while hot air balloons rise up into the sky and are blown gently along, often over the mountains into the next valley. There are sounds of ice hockey and curling and the swish of ice skaters.  The spout of your water bottle freezes on a cold day. Helicopters fly injured skiers for treatment. Avalanches are set off with explosives. Church bells ring each quarter hour and chime each hour even at night when you try to go to sleep. You may get to stay in a hotel built in 1650. You will find plenty to interest you every day and every village is slightly different.

The local language is German and a pocket dictionary is useful when eating out. Some restaurants have English menus but may not include the full range of food or chef's specials. Some English is spoken at most railway stations and many shops but many bus drivers, landlords, hotel staff and waiters, especially in smaller communities do not understand English. Nevertheless most people find that they can cope and get around without too many problems by using sign language and a smile and when the going gets tough a bystander will often offer to assist.

  Vienna, Frankfurt and Zurich are convenient cities to commence your holiday. Lauda, Lufthansa and other airlines fly to these cities and usually offer two additional internal flights at no extra cost. There are regular flights to Innsbruck and Salzburg and train links from Munich.

Trains are the best way to move around and they are reliable, comfortable and run frequently and are reasonably priced. It is often easier and more relaxing to take a train instead of a connecting flight to an airport especially on the homeward journey. Payment can be made by credit card (except for very short cheap journeys). For longer journeys where a change of train must be made ask for a printed timetable (Fahrplan) which gives arrival and departure times and sometimes platform numbers. Some platforms have an indicator board and some trains have the destination on the side of a carriage or look out for the conductor who will step out on the platform at each stop. Allow plenty of time for travel as it takes time to navigate around some stations and connections may be missed. Ticket office staff are usually helpful. It is handy to know that if you are dashing to catch a train that tickets can be bought on the train with cash. It is useful to have a map as a check that you are travelling on the correct train and to let you anticipate arrivals. Be aware when buying tickets that some towns exist in different districts with the same name; they are differentiated by including the district in the name, and pronunciations are often misinterpreted so one could finish up in Linz which is a long way from Lienz.

  On the other hand bus stops are difficult to find, buses usually run late and one has no idea which way they go or where the next stop is located. Fares are paid in cash when boarding. If you have to travel by bus try to get written directions in advance from the hotel or tourist office to give to the driver. Buses are orange and bus stops are indicated on a post by a green on yellow sign with H in a circle with a timetable underneath. Village bus stops are usually at the Post office (and possibly the railway station) as well as other locations. If a train connects with a bus then the bus will wait if the train is late but leaves as soon as the driver thinks that all passengers are aboard.

Accommodation in Austria is bed and breakfast, half board with breakfast & dinner or possibly full board. Good private accommodation is available in pensions at a reasonable rate for b& b (see picture) and family apartments (Ferienwohnungen) with cooking are available. Expect to pay the equivalent of from $40 per day per person or $130 for two in an apartment. (2001)  Most pensions and hotels are clean, modern and comfortable with reasonable space and have private toilet and shower and have to meet an acceptable standard to be listed. Most private accommodation, supermarkets and many restaurants do not take credit cards. Cash can be withdrawn with a credit card from ATM’s that are plentiful. Avoid interest charges by having one credit card in credit and note that daily cash limits apply. 

  Contact the Austrian National Tourist Office in Sydney for lists of accommodation and maps and details of the towns you wish to visit.  oewsyd@world.net  Make bookings inquiries direct to the tourist office that is located in every Austrian village or town and they will post brochures if needed. Some tourist offices will make the booking while others will give you the details to make your own booking. All the towns listed here have a bank, post office and supermarket and plenty of restaurants for the evening meal. When choosing accommodation ask how far it is to the XC trails (Loipen) and the town centre and if it is on a hill otherwise you may find yourself  2 km from the nearest restaurant or XC trails and have to walk up a steep hill to get home.

Eating out costs are very reasonable and there are cheaper pasta and pizza places in most towns. Many supermarkets sell a variety of cooked (hot or cold) take away food. Lunch can be prepared from bread etc from the supermarket or bought at trailside restaurants that are located in every village and every few kilometres along the way. There is a multitude of local and German beers in the supermarket. In bars and restaurants it is served in 300 or 500ml glasses. Austrian wines are worth trying and are available in a variety of sizes of carafe as well as bottles.

  The local tourist office, called by many names but identified by a big green “i” for info sign is a good source of information about facilities and services in the town as well as special events, concerts, art shows etc. XC skis, toboggans and ice skates can be hired from many outlets. There are downhill areas at each of the towns and plenty of downhill ski hire outlets for those who want to downhill. Great slopes for telemarking or parallel skiing with freeheel. It is worth a visit to some of them just to see the sheer size of the area and the variety and length of the slopes but be prepared as the ski out down to the valley may be very steep and narrow in parts.

Ski trails are well groomed and well marked. Ask for a trail map (Loipenkarte) at the tourist office. The use of trails is usually free to people staying in the area who are provided with a guest card to show eligibility. Skating trails (with or without a classic track groomed) are wide and easy to ski on downhill sections. Most trails are one way but there are many two way trails, sometimes indicated by bi directional arrows or a sign that says “gegenverkher” and many that have no notice. On all trails KEEP TO THE RIGHT and where there are two classic tracks ski IN THE RIGHT HAND TRACK and overtake in the left. Difficult sections are indicated by a sign of a black triangle with an exclamation mark in it or a small sign “stark gefalle” or “stark gefahr”

Classic only tracks are only two or three metres wide and often wind through a hilly area of forest and have lots of curves. Even in good snow conditions the amount of traffic on downhill sections scrapes the snow and produces a smooth track the width of a snowplough. A snowplough does little to slow down progress but they can be skied in control if one ski is stemmed in the snow that piles up at the side. When these trails are icy or have snow free patches they are very challenging to the point of being frightening and the skis cannot be controlled. When this occurs find another trail to ski. Skiers should approach all these narrow trails with caution until some experience of them is gained and always be prepared for someone stopped or fallen just around a blind corner.

Many people ski these trails and a large number are not confident of the downhill sections and queue up at the top of a slope and ski down one by one as each person slowly negotiates the slope. It is a local convention that faster and more capable skiers ski past this queue, taking care when passing anyone going down the slope.

Other hazards include places where the trail crosses a roadway or walking trail where the surface may be free of snow or spread with gravel grit or the trail crosses a railway line. Beware of underpasses where the trail goes under a road or railway as visibility is restricted and oncoming skiers cannot be seen until you meet in the middle. Avoid if possible, or slow right down and keep to the RIGHT even if it is a one way trail. And to confuse skiers more there is one two-way underpass at Seefeld where traffic is directed to keep left.

In some areas there can be avalanche danger and some trails may be closed. Usually there will be a barrier across the trail with a brightly coloured sign with the word Lavingefahr included. (Lavin = avalanche) Even if not in English it is clear that the barrier marks a no go area.

click on links to  [ Lermoos ]   [ Leutasch ]   [ Seefeld ]   [ St Jacob ]   [ Lienz ]       

ITALY

The Italian cross country areas are found in the Dolomites near the borders with Austria and Switzerland. 

 
click on link to [ Dobbiaco ]

SWITZERLAND

There are XC trails all over Switzerland in eight district regions and covering more than 100 locations but the only area that can be reliably recommended is St Moritz in the Engadin valley at 1770m. The valley extends about 40km from Maloja to Zuoz and is flat.

Access is by private jet or more likely by train from Zurich or from Austria via Arlberg and Buchs. Trains run about every hour.

Languages spoken in the Engadin are Swiss, German and Italian and in most establishments someone will speak English. The German dictionary will be useful here also as the written language is German but some restaurants have Italian menus only. The cost of living is slightly higher than in Sydney but apartment accommodation and meals can be had for about $280 a day for two (2003).

In most respects details given above for Austria also apply to Switzerland.  

click for more information  [ Engadin ]    

 

THE WORLDLOPPET SERIES

The Loppet’s are a series of races held annually in Austria, Italy, Germany, Japan, Estonia, Canada, France, USA, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Falls Creek Australia. Planning to ski in Loppet events should start about a year in advance as race entries close about mid year and accommodation and travel services are stretched with up to 30,000 competitors in some races. It is physically demanding and quite expensive to enter successive Loppets in Europe as the events are held at weekly intervals in the above order. Travel between events may take two days leaving little time to relax, recover and check out the course of the next event. It is useful to have a non competing travel companion who can help with travel arrangements. Events can be skied over successive years and still qualify for the Loppet Master's award. The events are extremely well organised, accommodation is arranged if required and transport to and from the start and finish is provided where necessary. For details of all Worldloppet events follow links on the Kangaroo Hoppet page at http://home.netc.net.au/~hoppe

CANADA

Canada is an easy choice of destination when compared to the USA as the Aussie dollar buys much more in Canada and the quality of snow is usually better at the more northern latitudes. It is usually colder and the sky is greyer, what happened to the blue? but you can't have it both ways.

Like most places high in the northern hemisphere there is plenty of snow and XC skiing all over Canada but Australians will find British Columbia and Alberta the most accessible. Most skiing is on groomed trails. Some off trail skiing is possible and skins are advisable and for the adventurous there is plenty of heli-skiing. Many areas have avalanche danger so get local advice on this as trails do not usually have warning notices. Warning signs such as slopes denuded of trees by avalanches are usually plain to see, explosions setting off avalanches will be heard and the sound of naturally occurring avalanches echo around the mountains. Trail maps and information for off trail skiing, often following forest roads, are available from ski shops or visitor centres and these usually show avalanche danger areas and avalanche dangers are sometimes broadcast in radio reports.

Arguably the best place for XC is at Silver Star Resort. About 1 hours flying time from Vancouver, guaranteed snow, a village atmosphere and a huge variety of trails make it the best. There is no avalanche danger. A great place to telemark using the lifts.

Banff is primarily an alpine ski resort with skiers being bussed daily to the downhill lift areas but it is a good place to stay as it is central to many XC areas. Because of distances involved and a lack of suitable transport a car is essential. Within 50km are the ski areas of Lake Louise, Kananaskis State Park and the Canmore Olympic XC centre.

Jasper has many cross country trails set in magnificent lake and mountain scenery but a car is necessary for transport and it is a long way from anywhere. A full day from Banff and a longer day from Silver Star. It takes a day to drive from Silver Star to Banff. Roads may be snow and ice covered and chains are not necessary as winter tyres are fitted to hire vehicles. Speed may have to be reduced for safety, overtaking is not possible on many mountain roads and roads are sometimes closed (for hours or a day) by heavy snowfalls, ice or avalanche clearing. Beware of avalanche protection tunnels where the road is often icy and you are suddenly plunged into darkness as the car headlights are covered in mud from the road.

The following e-mail was received in August 2002:

Hi, how are you. I am and Australian who has been living in Whistler, BC for a few years. I am a cross country ski instructor and coach here in Whistler. I just happened to be looking at your website this morning to check out the snow and noticed that you had no info on the Cross Country skiing in Whistler. There is over 40km of fantastic ski trails groomed daily for skate and classic. I work for the Cross Country Hut that is situated at the entrance of the trails. We rent high performance skis and offer high end and beginner ski lessons. You may wish to look at the web site and post it on your web site- I was very happy to see the Cross Country ski page so well done for Aussie Skiing- good job...
Our site is www.crosscountryconnection.bc.ca  If you have anyone from Aus coming over here feel free to let me know.

Have a great winter.
Regards,
Joanna Harrington

click on [ Silver Star ]   click on [ Banff ]      click on  [ Mt Washington ]   

 

NORWAY

Cross country skiing is possible almost everywhere in Norway. The easiest access is through Oslo which can be reached by air, train from Europe and Sweden and ferry from Copenhagen. Currency is the Norwegian Kroner. Credit cards are accepted in most places. ATM’s may not be found in small villages. Beer is available from supermarkets but wine and spirits are only sold through state operated liquor stores.   It is difficult to get information on Norway from Australian travel agents and from the internet unless one can understand Norwegian but most Norwegians speak English so it is possible to write to hotels in English and get an answer. If time permits the coastal ferry trip from Bergen to Kirkenes in the far north (or part of the trip) is enjoyable even in winter and the train from Bergen to Oslo travels through some mountainous country..

click on  [ Sjusjoen ]

 

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