the Diverse Career of Garrott Kuzzy – FasterSkier.com

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Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of FasterSkier’s “where are they now” features devoted to former standouts from Team USA. This article features Garrott Kuzzy, whose presence on the 2010 Olympic Team helped the American Men’s relay to a 13th place finish. Kuzzy is also a principal in Lumi Experiences, a consistent and generous supporter of FasterSkier.com.

Garrott Kuzzy, in action as a member of Team USA. (Photo: FasterSkier archive)

In the 1965 Broadway hit, Mame, the titular character Auntie Mame pronounces the famous line, “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” The utterance, however, certainly does not apply to Garrott Kuzzy, who is one of the rare people who revels in all that the world has to offer. And, illustrative of the person he is, Garrott wants to share it with the rest of us.

A lifelong traveler—first with family and then as a professional ski racer—Kuzzy’s background has provided a unique roadmap in living, skiing, and experiencing the wonders and wow factor of Europe and destination ski resorts worldwide. Building on a background steeped in traveling and the corresponding industry, Kuzzy has a master’s degree in business with a focus on Alpine Tourism. In shaping his business, Lumi Experiences, Kuzzy has created the perfect marriage between his passions and professional work, and the result is a company that designs vacations ostensibly centered on cross-country skiing. Upon closer look, however, Lumi offers its guests not only great skiing but total immersion in the culture and character of the places they visit. “There are so many incredible things to do and see in the places where we travel,” Kuzzy says. I try to curate the trips to feature activities that capture the essence of this.”

This dazzling array could be learning to make apple strudel with olive oil in Italy, yodeling with a World Champion yodeler in Austria, stopping in a trailside hut for a beer in Germany, relaxing in a hotel’s wellness area, or exploring a city with a local historian. Lumi offers bespoke travel with a highly-personal touch. “The idea of stopping into a trailside hut for a beer or apple strudel is foreign to most North Americans, Kuzzy said. “So I love to introduce our guests to new experiences and new friends here in Europe. I love to share the European ski experience with North American travelers . . . Lumi is the Finnish word for snow, so Lumi Experiences are all about winter experiences like skiing, saunas, mulled wine, and warm fires. I like it because it’s a word that everyone can pronounce and also has a bright connotation. We refer to our travelers as ‘Luminaries.’”

Early life

A native Minnesotan, Kuzzy’s family consisted of parents, Jim and Beth, and two younger sisters, Laura and Martha. Hailing from Northern Wisconsin, Jim grew up skiing and participating in the American Birkebeiner, seemingly a prerequisite in a state whose official motto is “Forward.” The whole family seemed to adopt the mantra, and all three Kuzzy kids grew up to be formidable athletes, with Laura cross-country skiing at the University of New Hampshire, and Martha a Division I rower and two-time NCAA champion at the University of Virginia. “Surprisingly, I wouldn’t say we grew up in an athletic family,” Kuzzy said. “As a kid, the things you do with your family are all you know. I always enjoyed biking, skiing, tennis, and soccer. My sisters were always dragged along to my games and races. I don’t think they had much choice, but fortunately, they enjoyed themselves enough to do many of the same activities.”

Beth worked for Northwest Airlines, and her benefits allowed the family to fly at a steeply discounted rate, which launched the family across the pond on a consistent basis. “When my dad found out about the Worldloppet, many of our early family vacations included going to various international ski marathons,” Kuzzy said. “My folks traveled to Japan, Canada, and Norway together for Worldloppet marathons. My first overseas trip was to Switzerland with my folks to ski the Engadin Ski Marathon. Since then, my dad has taken each of us kids to one of the events when we were old enough to ski them. I went to Italy and Germany for the Marcialonga and König Ludwig Lauf, my sister Laura to the Transju in France, and Martha to the Jizerska in Czechia.”

Inspired by his trip to Switzerland as a kid, Kuzzy spent his first senior year of high school as a foreign exchange student living with a Swiss host family. It was a seminal experience for many reasons. “I learned German, fell in love with living in Europe, and spent most of mytime running, biking, or skiing in the Swiss Alps,” Kuzzy said. Matriculating to Middlebury College in Vermont following high school in 2002, Kuzzy was a member of the cross-country ski team and earned his B.A., majoring in Geography and German with an Economics minor. Beeindruckend!

Garrott Kuzzy leading the pack in a US SuperTour. (Photo: FasterSkier archive)
Racing career

The year Kuzzy graduated from Middlebury in 2006, the CXC Team (Central Cross Country) was launched, operating in the 10-state Central Region of the U.S. with a mission of creating opportunities for athletes of all ages and abilities—including elite- level skiers—with the objective to qualify at least one CXC skier on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2010. “CXC’s goals aligned with mine,” Kuzzy said. “At that time, the primary professional skiing opportunities in the U.S. were the Subaru Factory Team and the Fischer Factory Team. With those two programs, athletes basically trained on their own and competed with the same race suit. CXC modeled their team to have all the athletes live and train together year-round with a full-time coach.”

By the time the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver arrived, Yuriy Gusev, the CEO of CXC, doubled his initial goal of one qualifier with two athletes earning Olympic berths: Kuzzy and Caitlin Compton Gregg (a three-time Boulder Mountain Tour champ). Kuzzy and teammates Simi Hamilton, Torin Koos, and Andy Newell skied to 13th place in the men’s 4x10k relay. Individually, Kuzzy was top 50 in the classic sprints and top 60 in the 15k freestyle.

Kuzzy spent five years with CXC, including two years on the U.S. Men’s Cross Country Team, and life abroad became the norm. So did chronicling his travels for family and friends back home. “I was always on the lookout for interesting things to write about,” he said. “When you are writing, you look at the world differently. My training logs are basically my journals in some places. As a professional ski racer, I think it’s really easy to get into the bubble of eating, sleeping, and training. And yet, for at least half of the year, you’re training and competing in some incredible places. I wanted to share that with ski fans and friends who couldn’t travel to these places. Taking photos and sharing stories from my travels helped take my mind off racing and better appreciate the places I was traveling.”

By age 28, Kuzzy was evaluating what he wanted to do with his life. “At 28 years, I was the oldest I’d ever been, and much of my life had been spent ski racing,” Kuzzy commented. “By competing in the 2010 Olympic Games, I had accomplished one of my biggest goals as a ski racer. For me, the next goal would have been an Olympic medal. That fell pretty far out of reach, and there were so many other opportunities in life.”

 

The Climb

Following his professional ski career, Kuzzy began working as a product director for VBT Bicycling Vacations, which arranges bicycling trips throughout the world. He was responsible for developing the company’s trips to German-speaking countries and the U.S. National Parks. “My five years training trip leaders and developing trips for VBT helped me better understand the travel business,” he said. “The places I discovered as a ski racer certainly influenced where I wanted (and didn’t want) to bring people.”

While working in Vermont, Kuzzy met Catherine Collins, and the pair married, relocating to Innsbruck, Austria, in 2016 (where they had honeymooned). Garrott undertook his master’s degree and started turning his dreams of Lumi into a reality. “That provided the time and skills to grow Lumi Experiences,” Kuzzy said. “It was the perfect time and place to launch a dream I’d had for at least 15 years: helping people fall in love with winter.”

The inaugural Lumi trip in 2018 traveled to the final World Cup in Seefeld, Austria, before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Guests were treated to a front row—and historic—seat to watch American Sophie Caldwell tie with Laurien Van Der Graaff of Switzerland in the 1.1k sprint freestyle.
"Guests got to watch her win that race, and they also got to forerun the race, going out in every heat. They could barely stand on their feet when it was over. It was a unique and very cool experience, though I’m not sure we’ll have guests forerun World Cup races in the future,”he said.
A day later, Jessie Diggins served notice to the rest of the women’s field, skiing to victory in the 10k mass start freestyle. Talk about a grand slam in your first at-bat. Two U.S. victories in as many days, and Lumi guests were on the sidelines for both. (Two weeks later, Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall captured gold, winning the women’s team sprint freestyle. The victory marked the first Olympic medal for American women in cross-country skiing and the first U.S. athletes to win gold in the sport.) Luminaries will be on the World Cup sidelines again in 2024 as Lumi travels to Minneapolis for the first World Cup on U.S. snow in more than two decades. And you don’t even have to pack your skis as ski rentals and transportation are included on this bespoke, five-day trip with special access at the venue and insider insights into Kuzzy’s hometown.

Arrived

Of course, viewing World Cup events is just one facet of a Lumi trip. As an official tour operator of the Worldloppet and the only one from North America, guests have the opportunity to participate in an array of 20 iconic marathon races (a point-to-point race of more than 40 kilometers). Currently, Lumi offers eight winter trips, with most vacations lasting 7-10 days. Countries on the log include France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, Minneapolis, and Iceland. Trips are designed to meet people where they are. You don’t have to ski in a Loppet or even ski with the group. You can go at your own pace, opting for terrain suitable for your skill (or lack thereof) level. Trip leaders help guests choose the best option for them each day with full knowledge that most people are recreational skiers, not former Olympians —although that usually only applies to Lumi’s guides, one of whom is former World Cup skier and two-time Olympian Holly Brooks. “In conjunction with a high degree of familiarity with where they are traveling, trip leaders all possess excellent ski credentials,” Kuzzy remarked. “The leaders include the mom of an Olympic Gold Medalist in France, Worldloppet masters, event directors, and local coaches. “Our trip leaders are often friends or friends of friends. It results in excellent trip leaders and is completely word of mouth. They usually guide one or two trips a season. Although it’s a lot of work to lead a trip, they are fresh and really enjoy the time they spend leading the trips.”

As far as people traveling with Lumi, Kuzzy sees many similarities. “Sharing the European ski experience with our North American travelers is perhaps the biggest highlight for me,” he said. “And there are so many cool places to ski and unique activities in the wintertime.”

Two-time American Birkebeiner champion Muffy Ritz of Ketchum, a skier for the U.S. Ski Team (1980-84) and member Team Rossignol for 40 years remarked, “I chose Lumi because they were the only company I’ve ever heard of that takes nice vacations based around the Worldloppet races.” Kuzzy says although he shies away from strictly a race-based focus when designing trips, it doesn’t mean when there is a race day, there is not a focus. “Ski racing is also ingrained in me, so I want to provide World Cup level support to our guests, which is why we often bring in World Cup wax techs for race days,” Kuzzy said. “The weeks are also planned to the right pace, often with longer days followed by short or travel days, or skiing at a lower elevation earlier in the week to acclimate before traveling on to a place with a higher elevation.”

“I have never seen another company do these Worldloppet races and hold your hand the whole time. They sign you up, you get a good starting position, they prep your skis and transport you there,” Ritz said. “You are also going with a great group of people.” Given the first cross-country ski race on record took place in Norway in 1842, European traditions and racing experiences are as unique as the villagers who inhabit the towns the race trails wind through.” Skiing through villages with people cheering you on and each village trying to one-up each other is a highlight. At the Engadin in Switzerland, each town has its own special atmosphere, whether that’s a local band playing traditional tunes or food stations with local treats reflecting the area. In Norway, you have Lefse with butter and cinnamon or Norwegian waffles with brown cheese.

“Any person who is an enthusiastic Nordic skier should travel with Lumi. It was one of the highlight trips of my life,” Ritz said.

“The passion for cross-country skiing is contagious,” Kuzzy said. “But not everyone has to click into
skis to experience all Lumi offers. Most of our travelers are passionate about skiing, but they also enjoy the finer elements of travel like comfortable accommodations, excellent dining, and cultural activities. We try to set up the trips so they are enjoyable for both the passionate skier, as well as the spouse or partner who might not be as into skiing but might really enjoy simply spending time outside.

“Our philosophy is ‘it’s your vacation’; so we encourage and facilitate people doing activities that suit them outside our main itinerary as well.”

Forward

Luminaries can book fully-guided trips, self-guided trips, or custom trips, where Kuzzy and staff provide all you need to experience the vacation you envision. “We get it,” Kuzzy said. “You’re independent and want a bit more flexibility with the program or simply prefer to travel with the companions you choose or dates that don’t match up with your schedule. We design and set up everything for you, including a selection of routes, maps, hotels, taxi pickup, luggage transfers, and a point person to get you ready to glide.”

Gliding can be of the Nordic or Alpine variety. Kuzzy admits to skiing more lift-serviced terrain of late. Highly understandable for a man who, from his front door, views the Patscherkofel mountain, site of the famed downhill run where Austrian Franz Klammer captured the Olympic Gold Medal in downhill in 1976. “You’re in the Alps, so taking a day or two of downhill skiing on the alpine slopes is a great addition to cross country,” Kuzzy says. Be it Nordic or alpine, there is no shortage of fantastic ski terrain in Europe, but what makes his job so amazing owes just as much – if not more – to the people, not just the places.

“Some of my favorite guests (if I’m allowed to have favorites) are parents traveling with their adult children for whom a week of skiing together is really a special time. It is really fun to have young kids on trips; maybe it’s a college graduation trip or post-college kids on their own. Grandparents and parents and kids together. Parents playing cribbage with their kids. You can tell how valuable the time together is. It reminds me of travels with my own parents and sisters that inspired my ski racing career and passion for travel.”

“Everything does all fit together. I am doing what I am meant to be doing.”

Garrott Kuzzy during his tenure as GMVS nordic director. (Photo: GMVS)

 



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