As the clock ticks down to the Merino Muster Loppet on 31 August, I look at the world of Loppet ski races, sharing why I love-a-Loppet, especially in New Zealand.
No excess weight required
Loppet origins lie in romantic folklore. 800 years ago in war-torn Norway, the life of a prince was in peril. Two warriors rescued 18 month-old Prince Haakon carrying him on their backs to safety, skiing in deep snow across mountains wearing leggings of birch bark (‘birkebeiner’). Haakon became a great King bringing peace and prosperity to Norway.
This story offers little consolation to skiers in today’s Birkebeiner Loppet, who now have to carry a backpack weighing 3.5kg symbolising the weight of the baby Prince.
I’ll have enough of a challenge lugging my bodyweight around the Merino Muster. I’m so relieved I don’t need to add any surplus kilos.
Top 300 placement guaranteed
It must be slightly intimidating to have over 17000 skiers cross the start line in front of you, knowing that you are likely to end with a placement in the thousands. Across Scandinavia, Loppet races are massive events commanding national support and prime-time TV coverage. Cross-country skiing is an integral part of national life in many European countries.
I’m happy to forgo the TV spotlight and finish in the hundreds not thousands of the Merino Muster.
Back for morning coffee
Some Loppet courses are ultra-endurance races with distances up to 90km. The last finishers could take 12 hours to complete such a gruelling course and finish in darkness, with the pros already tucked up in bed with cocoa. Respect to anyone who can stay upright and moving forward on a pair of skis for 12 hours.
I’m relieved that the Merino Muster offers distances between 7-42km, with that unbeatable Kiwi-combo of a morning flat white and date scone beckoning at the end.
No two Loppets are the same
Each of the 20 World Loppet events are imbued with different cultures and quirks. The Swedish Vasaloppet finishes down the village high street; the German Loppet skis through a Bavarian castle, and the French race is powered by cheese and wine.
Disclaimer: the World Loppet Passport belongs to my husband Gary who has completed 10 Loppets in 10 countries. I have been a mere observer…until now.
Ski Musteress ready to slide and glide
Ten weeks have slid past since I first put on skate skis and tottered around, Here is how things stand as I approach the Merino Straggler event this week.
Hands up, I avoided competition and didn’t enter the weekly club races, competing just isn’t my thing however much I try to embrace it. I wavered about increasing my ambition and attempting the 21k race, everyone around me seemed to be aiming higher. And I’m not as fit and skilled as I imagined I would be at this stage, skating up hills effortlessly is still work in progress.
On the upside, I stuck at it through all-weathers and all-frustrations. I’m smitten with the Pisa Mountain Range; I feel so vital and alive out on the trails, and I love the friendliness of the cross-country skiing community. Oh, and I can actually cross-country ski skate style.
I’m not ‘in it to win it’, but I’m so happy to be involved and able to participate. With the bonus that I’ve embraced a fantastic new snow sport which will stay with me for life.
Good luck to all Musters and Musteresses taking part in the 25th annual Merino Muster. Race your own race, enjoy the occasion, see you out there!
Margaret Batty, Ski Musteress, 28 August
A bit about me:
After 30 years of commuting, career and city life
in crowded London and travelling to over 90
countries, I moved to wonderful Wanaka with
Gary, to pause, breathe and reconnect with the
mountains – and my muscles…We’re totally
smitten with New Zealand, immersing ourselves
in all four seasons, biking, hiking, kayaking and
skiing, for a precious year-off (an ‘OE’ in our
fifties) before heading back to England,
Attempting the Merino Muster is my nod to the famous Kiwi ‘give it a go’ attitude.