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Rodeling and Yodeling through Winter Adventure
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Friday, May 19, 2023
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MUFFY RITZ

While others were trying to will the snow away this winter, Muffy Ritz was doing what she always does: Chasing it around the world.

Ritz is adamant about endowing her winters with adventures that include snow, culture and challenge.

This past winter she raced at the 2023 Masters World Cup in Seefield, Austria, with seven other Sun Valley skiers. Never mind that there was so little snow that skiers were racing on ribbons of snow snaking through Austria’s snowless mountains that often took them through ponds of snowmelt.

Ritz toughed it, out winning a relay event in her age group and medaling in the 7K skate, 15K skate and 20K skate races. Then, she and her fellow Sun Valley residents went hiking, toured historic towns, shopped for cuckoo clocks and polished off plates full of knockwurst.

When she was done with Austria, she headed to Norway for a backcountry ski vacation, piggybacking on a trip she’d taken the year before.

“It’s so fun to get out of our element in Sun Valley and experience the European way of skiing, the European races…the spirit, the food,” she said. “You might take a chairlift to one ski area and spend six hours skiing back where you started.”

Ritz came to Sun Valley as an assistant Nordic coach for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. A few years later in 1996 she started VAMPS—Vomen and Muffy’s Program--to encourage women of all abilities and ages to challenge themselves on the cross-country ski trails.

Last winter she and Joney Otteson headed to Europe for a few weeks of skiing worldloppets, including a 70K race and back-to-back 42K skate and classic races.

“Worldloppet is basically a long ski, a citizen ski marathon,” Ritz said. “Serious racers take part in them, but the vast majority are very average folk. We spent nine months ahead of our trip roller skiing, hill bounding and doing strength training in gym. But the snow didn’t come until mid-December that winter so we were nervous that we wouldn’t be in shape compared with those who had gotten on snow before us. But it turned out you don’t go that hard—you just cruise.”

Ritz did a similar trip in 1998 with Tom Pomeroy and Katharine Sheldon, but it was a DIY trip in which they made their own reservations, waxed their own skis. This time they did it the easy way, going with Lumi Experiences, a cross-country ski travel company founded by Garrott Kuzzy, a Nordic Olympian who grew up in Minnesota—Ritz’s old stomping grounds.

The guides included Olympian Holly Brooks, a Seattle native who competed at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics and placed third in a World Cup 4-by-5K relay with teammates Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen and Jessie Diggins.

Transportation was dialed in; hotels were in walking distance of the finish lines. They were escorted to the start lines and met at the finish line with celebratory libations. And World Cup wax technicians prepped their skis.

When they weren’t skiing, they learned to make apple strudel and knodel dumplings, tried curling and yodeling and careened down snow-covered trails on wooden sleds in something called rodeling.

“We’d sled seven kilometers down an icy road, using our feet to brake and steer. It started off easy, then became treacherous. We did it four times anyway,” Ritz said.

The 70K Marcialonga, which went up and down hills in the Fiemme Valley of Italy’s Dolomites, was the funnest ski race Ritz has ever taken part in.

She and Otteson wore red and blue striped socks ala Olympian Jessie Diggins as they toed the starting line along with 8,000 other skiers. Every five minutes race officials would open the gates allowing another 500 to 700 skiers onto the course.

Bands played and spectators rang cowbells as they skied through tiny villages, finally crossing the finish line in the center of town. The race started at 8 a.m.; the last skiers didn’t cross the finish line until about 6 p.m. as fireworks exploded overhead in the dark.

Ritz won her 60- to 69-age group and Otteson finished 12th in hers ahead of hundreds of other skiers. Both felt like they could have skied another 20K, even though they’d skied 42 miles.

“Italians don’t know how to go downhill. They’d stand at the top of hills considering the best way to go down. Then they’d snow plow and everybody would pile up,” Ritz said. “But Italians know how to have a good time.”

The 50K King Ludwig Lauf held in Oberammergau, Germany, took Ritz and Otteson past Bavarian monasteries. They availed themselves of Schnapps at aid stations along the way, and Kuzzy and his crew met them at the finish line with beer.

“There’s no pressure—nobody knows you. You’re just to there to have fun,” said Ritz.

In addition to racing in these and other races, the group visited an Olympic training facility and dined at a hut where they had soup in an herb bread bowl and made their own butter, shaking cow cream in a jar. Some of the alpine skiers skied the Sella Ronda, a 40K ski circuit in South Tyrol, Italy.

Ritz sent friends pictures of the Italian cappuccinos, which she claimed were the best in the world. They skied Toblach to Cortina in the Dolomites.

Then she and friends from Sun Valley headed to Lofoten, Norway—an archipelago on the northwest coast of Norway that boasts dramatic mountains rising 2,500 feet above the open sea.  They climbed up on their skis, returning through couloirs sitting above the fjords.

They stayed in a fishing village where fishermen have fished for cod for centuries. They ate dinners in a lodge built on stilts while they gazed at beautiful sunsets. And they jumped off fisherman’s docks on 38-degree days into the cold ocean water.

“It was very similar to Antarctica except there were no penguins,” said Ritz. “There were seals and whales and opportunities to see the Northern Lights.”

Where is Ritz headed next winter? Try the 2024 Masters World Cup in February in Vuokatti, Finland. There, you’ll find her jumping out of saunas into icy lakes and eating pickles and drinking pickle juice along with pike, perch, bear burger, lingonberry pies and tar bread. And, as always, she hopes others will join her.

“Anyone can do these!” she said.

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